BlogHer Con Live Blogging: Life Stages of Online Communities

BlogHer Original Post

Speakers List: Jane Goldman (moderating), Carol Lin, Betsy Aoki, Aliza Sherman. You can find more info about them and the panel in the Day One Schedule.

Pretty full room this year, folks are starting to get seated and find electricity to charge batteries and getting their connections going (so far so good on that end.) We're starting.... No mic? Yes there's a mic but a couple of panelists are having trouble keeping the mic open.

This session is about online communities, (Jane is speaking), she's associated with Chow.com (aka chowhound.com) and Urban Baby. Introducing other panelists.... Aliza is a serial blogger (I think she said), Betsy is a community diva, Carol is creating a brand new cancer social network.

We want to open this up and have everyone talk, how many of you are involved in online communities - raise your hand (whole room).. Shout out your questions - laughter.

What are the keys to success for launch of a new community?

  • After, how do you keep them engage?
  • Community too large?
  • Online safety
  • Rules
  • Too much competittion between communities
    • Carol is talking about losing her husband to cancer, handling that, walking into the newsroom (CNN) and not talking about it everyday but focusing on her job and coming back to work after his death and having a different perspective to her work at CNN. So, she was looking at the boldface "what do I have to offer a greater community - vertical content you won't see on traditional media." The world has changed, having a platform with an experienced journalist and having a safe platform to discuss this in a new way. "Did this exist before you?" - she says no... (personal question, isn't she wrong about that? I believe so...)

      She asks herself how this benefits other people, not just her... People say "you're not a doctor, why are you talking about cancer?" Outreach... her test page has brought in great story ideas and she thinks every news room should give visitors opportunities to provide story ideas.

      Aliza - started because of a personal passion. Webgrrls International was started out of personal need, looking for women's websites - she always found guys or guys posing as women. She finally found legitimate women with websites and started meeting them. Six women at an internet cafe in NYC, she posted about it and Betsy wanted to join and start "one" in Seattle- Aliza said start what? She didn't start out with this planned.

      Betsy now - she wanted to join the Seattle chapter of Webgrrls and Aliza told her she had to start it - so Betsy did. By 2000 Betsy says 3000 Webgrrls in Seattle. "I'm a woman, web professional, where are the other women?", you're embarrassed to ask the guys at work 'cause they won't think you're technical enough. She wanted info and made it happen for other women because there just wasn't anything out there.

      Jane - "How important was the face to face thing?" Aliza said important. Being able to have women mentoring women online and then moving to face to face was important. Online to offline communities have extra glue, something more than straight online or straight offline communities.

      Jane - "What about anonymous activity." Aliza says, "It's important to be visible. Showing your face is powerful. Betsy is real person. Having a monthly meeting f2f helped them more than being anonymous." Carol says "accountability is important, particularly when focusing on health care." She networks with major cancer centers so there's credibility and knowledge - find a balance between asking for minimum info about members but not too much info. Being careful about members who provide harmful information. So she needs more information from members "making an eharmony commitment - willing to fill out the form means you're serious."

      Credibility is important - Betsy has sponsors. She modeled this after Cnn, she'll have code of conduct, standards of practice. She's recommending Organized Wisdom's mission statement. She comes from CNN where people knew her... she has credibility, she's working on CNN and her platform is based on HER journalistic integrity.

      Aliza says Carol is starting a brand new business and has a plan but some communities are built organically - without being planned. Before you know it, you have this huge community and you have to get to work and get serious. But sometimes doing this, taking money or making money can be the death of this organic community. So if you start out intending to make money, then make that known in day one - be clear from the start. Have a conversation with yourself about what you would do if your community became huge....

      Jane - People can be mean, when it's anonymous - urban baby it's anonymous - chowhound is not and its based on people's reputation. Chowhound is heavily moderated.

      Betsy talking about civility and mutiny - you can have moderator burnout (I'm laughing on a personal and professional level), Q&A live.com (windows live) she was scrupulous about moderating but she got burnt out and she did have a team but still felt fried. So she said how can this be fun.... If we had a cod of conduct (that's not a typo) logo is a fish - Norbert is his name/PG Woodhouse tone - he's not a smiter he was the borderline moderator. Sets the tone, British slang. The cod of conduct account is the moderator that makes it lighter but still keeps the community moderated. It was fun for the team and the community - (I've had this experience with a "bot" named Oscar... this works!) Betsy's mood changed when she was writing as Norbert, helped her avoid burnout. Her community members came out of beta testing defending their "code of conduct"/cod of conduct".

      Jane - "How do you keep things moving and conversation interesting and not devolving into "chatroom behavior" (Hey chatroom behavior isn't bad... personal thought again). If you go into it with a lot of energy and presence and open-ness others in the community will pick up that as well.

      Betsy: Webgrrls is mission driven, technology, they clearly said you can only speak on topic - don't even post about non-profits you are supporting so it doesnt' look like the organization was promoting this. Some of the chapters asked for an extra off topic webgrrls listserv. Very strict about staying on topic and go off topic on the right list. They had a goal and wanted everyone to embrace that. The seattle chapter branched out more .

      If youre open about your community rules and goals, you empower the members.

      Urban Baby every thing evolves to Bradgelina.

      Carol has a media plan - starting with traditional media due to her transition and she could maintain her relationship with CNN and she was somewhat limited in what she could say. But she wants to pursue a clarification - to tell the full story. Telling it all, not being careful due to your business relationships. Be a believer in your story and articulate your passion. She started 5 months ago with an idea - marriage of personal experience and professional. What did she need, what do others need, how do you create a tool, then started networking with people who had those skill sets. Networking at BlogHer Biz, she found someone who could connect her with people who have money to donate. A video blogger interviewed her and this is how she found her way to a guy in UCLA who watched this video and connected her to people who could help her. You just never know when you'll find a resource or when you'll meet a "connector type person." Don't underestimate the power of your voice online.

      Carol's prototype would have cost 100K but people are working for free or deferred fees. Handshake agreement to build the prototype ...

      Jane - Does anyone have any thoughts about attracting money or people of means to you....

      someone says "interview people, someone else is saying connectors
      (wow I just realized this room is standing room only - all seats taken and 20 people standing - maybe more... wow) -

      Amy Gahran: "dont start from scratch participate in other communities

      another in the audience particiipant says: "it helps to seed it with people who already have a following - bring in people who have traffic and/or a reputation and can bring people in."

      Aliza says be generous in promoting others - Betsy agrees re: Microsoft bloggers - be generous, link/trackback.

      Jane: What about the fact that there is a small core of people who always talk, always are heard is that a problem -

      Aliza says this happens, there will always be a group of people who take the lead and talk the most but it is important to encourage the others the "not stars" of the show.

      Someone is talking about 1% are main contributors, 9% are visible contributors and the rest are mostly lurkers (I think her numbers are off) - make sure new people contributing are welcomed properly because the lurkers are all watching.

      Aliza was criticized for not acknowledging commenters when blogging about miscarriage. It became a community when she went into comments and replied and talked to the people there - lurkers did come out and confess their lurkerdom. The same woman talks about setting the tone so when your site grows you you'll have community members who know to do this.

      Another woman talks about someone who called out the lurkers and when they replied she asked them who they were and why they were there.

      Someone else says the community might start out being about you but you need to ask the community what they want or need. Ask them... you can't give them everything but by asking and talking that gives community ownership.

      New question from the audience, what if your tone starts out badly - how do you pull it back and resolve it? Betsy is answering - first Microsoft bloggers had fallen into disrepair, community was angry (rightly so) - she had to bring the site back. (Codeplex now) Have someone say "I'm Betsy, I have the job of fixing this, I feel your pain," (she wrote a blue's song about it - humor helped), taking responsiblity for the problems and accept responsibility for fixing it and being honest that this is not going to happen overnight, she answered all email personally - community in crisis, you have to go that extra mile.

      Aliza says ask for help from your community, she doesn't delete comments except for spam - she doesn't delete personal attacks - she's snarky. A comment "I see why you bitches don't have babies...." before she deleted it, she asked the community if they wanted it deleted. If it had been a personal attack on her, she'd have left it but when it became an attack on the community, she asked them what they felt.

      So about safe spaces - Carol is thinking about this - she finds the community a better policer than the best editor she could hire (disagree - personally on several levels). She doesn't think you can mess with a cancer community and she thinks if someone comes into the cancer community then there is an ethic and the community will out you publicly and you will be named and you'll be gone.... (aye yi yi... she is making me nervous). She's talking about Blue Cross Blue Shield and how they can get their product into the market place and they need to listen to consumers.

      Topic of flaming (Amy G again) it's important to leave comments up and teach people how to deal with those situations - set a good example and don't just shove them off for criticizing you. Make sure your comments are indexed in your search, you want people to find your comments - gives them incentive to comment if their comments appear as important as content.

      Someone in back (Elise Bauer I think) would not allow any comment on her site that you would not allow in your living room. She's a control freak and it works well. She's talking about chowhound (yes it is Elise) and some people saying its over moderated.... there's a huge list of things (including food poisoning) that they aren't allowed to talk about. They are trying to loosen up a little bit, they have a lot of deletions but don't get an explanation for deletions. Aliza says you should take that control if you want it and if you're up front and tell people the rules then those are the ingredients for it being ok to be that controlling.

      Someone in the audience forced to moderate due to legal reasons - would it work to be honest and say I'd like to let you post about how drunk you got on my wine, but that's not going to work for legal reasons - the panel is suggesting you explain in a code of conduct.

      Someone else treats site as an editor of a magazine, this is a policy statement, moderate comments and she has the last say on her business blog.

      Someone else - comments are so large you can't answer, there are too many - setting a cultural tone helps. But it's interesting as communities grow and your status as a blogger escalates your status in the community can shift as well. As your participation diminishes how does it harm the community or change the community?

      Aliza says it started as her wanting to meet other women with websites - then it grew to women in media - then she became the leader and as it got bigger, she couldn't be everywhere and be everything for everyone - then there were so many leaders turning to her. As she began to step away, to focus on the business to make money to support the org that didn't make money it began to "stray" and that happened at a critical moment when they decided to implement an annual fee. 100 a year... in NYC... NY's money supported everyone so she asked the rest of the community (other areas) but when she did that, she didn't have a relationship with the community any more so the community started saying "Aliza wants to make money off of our work etc..." She should have physically gone to each chapter, and talked to them about how to deal with this. Community in crisis - she was in crisis - and it all blew up (over the money and the lack of her presence in the organization.) It will never grow if it is only you - be able to let it go, let it grow, even if it turns into something else.

      Another person - talking about Aliza stepping back, the community moderated themselves - what about when you want to formally say "I'm going to bring these people in and make them official leaders...." how does that work?

      Chowhound hired paid/volunteers based on community participation, moderator transparency, moderator handbook and rules. CNet owns them, there are more tools. But it's all about transparency. Aliza says if you are making money then spread that around, people have helped you build - dont' rely on volunteers only.

      Someone is asking about level of transparency is there a place where you'd say there are some things you would hold back.... the money thing? your own agenda and moving forward - do you expose the agenda and the money - how do you make that transition.

      Carol says this for profit 'cause there's a lot of money, a lot of money chasing too few good ideas. She wants this to be self-sustaining - how long is your runway? Hers is conservative, she wants it all upside - 3 years to profitablity. She wants it to be self-sustaining because she wants it to last. Carol profit from the death of husband, leveraging your profile from TV, leveraging health in politics - so she's going to disclose - is she really going to tell people how much money is coming in - she says yes, except she sidesteps a little bit... she's talking about providing community tools for free but those cost money so in the mission statement it needs to say that. So community will know why she selects these sponsors, why she's making these decisions. Caring for cancer (she thinks) magazine - all ads are from Pharma - right away she thinks they care about pharma more than people - will she take pharma ads, yes but it won't be the only source of ads - 15 sponsors of excellence. So the community can judge her decisions regarding sponsors and content.

      Aliza says its ok if you don't want to turn this into a business or if you change your mind later - talk to your community and look for their input. Most of us aren't business people. Someone else - themes she's hearing (greenleaf.org - servic leadership) evolve your mission and values. One person catalyst, move to more people leadership, etc.. stages.

      Another person blogosphere is a place of safety - generosity of spirit = there's a glitch when it comes to making money, the safety and generosity of spirit stalls when money gets involved - how do you maintain that generosity and safety once you start making money. Aliza is restating a bit and explaining her experience of struggling with webgirls trying to make money. She still wanted to keep providing for her community but there was a struggle between business and giving and the transition was difficult. The community perceives the person making money is a bad person, all of a sudden greedy. It's delicate balance. Be clear - be focused - diplomatic.

      Microsoft makes money but that doesn't mean they don't have heart - that doesn't mean they won't help you or don't help you. Microsoft MVP program. It's a thank you gives recognition. This helps the community handle the fact that you're making money. Good will. You can be a stuffed shirt activitst - what matters is the dialog you have with the community. Someone has to pay for the servers and the bandwidth. People begrudging you for paying for your server.

      5 minutes to go...

      someone else Scale - when it's important to think about scale all of the time. You should anticipate being successful you should have a plan doesn't have to be concrete - how am I going to .... you should also be constantly investigating new technologies. Always anticipate success not failure.

      Life expectency for communities - 12 years or a few months or never debuted. Aliza tells a death story ---- when you give people the power to build with you then you have also given them the power to destroy. 1) Womenswire local wire. ... controversial founder ousted, new people came in, people with the power to build, deleted it all. 2) webgirls gave leaders power to build and when they were unhappy they moved/killed/renamed and took their chapters with them.

      Last comment - problem bloggers have with makign money "It stains you" cause related markeitng helps overcome that. choose a cause and donate generously - this helps you make a statement and heart of gold and eases making money.

      Aliza don't ever be afraid of making money and making lots of it.

      ~~Denise
      I"ll clean this up later in the day....

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