Community building is an organic, evolutionary process.
I have been working for Thomson Reuters and the Thomson Reuters Foundation as an online news editor since 2005, and in that time social media networks have grown to become a vital part of mainstream journalism.
Most often for news organisations, Twitter and Facebook are used as broadcast tools to send out brief updates with a link to a story that they hope will entice followers to click, read and boost traffic.
Sometimes there’s a fine line between broadcasting and spamming
For a journalist bound by impartiality rules, it is impossible to express personal views on controversial topics.
Despite this, in 2008, I started a few “interactive” Twitter feeds while working in London on the UK edition of the reuters.com website to use for both broadcast and conversation.
Soon after that, we started hosting dynamic Twitter feeds on the homepage during budgets and political debates in the lead up to the 2010 UK general election. The Twitter feeds were soon replaced by live blogs hosted by Scribblelive.com and designed to look like our own websites.
I started inviting people to guest live blog during budgets, political debates and other significant events. I would ask them to write us a short guest blog post in which they stated their basic views on what they hoped would happen during the event. It generated interest in the topic and created a buzz about it ahead of time.
Then, they would watch the event from their own office or home and type their views into the blog as it unfolded.
Some people didn’t want to join in the live debates, but would write a static guest blog or I would do a video interview with them using a Flip camera.
COMMUNITIES RISE AND FALL
This process created satellite communities — I became part of business communities, personal finance communities, political communities, women’s issues communities. I would try to recruit a cross sector of contributors from different parts of society, which created sub-communities.
The benefit of these communities for contributors is that they develop a sense of belonging, build their public profile and exchange ideas. Overall, building these relationships helps generate a conversation as opposed to a one-sided, journalistic monologue.
When I switched jobs to work for the non-profit Thomson Reuters Foundation news websites in 2010, sadly I stopped working with my Reuters.com communities.
Many people followed me on my personal Twitter account and on LinkedIn, but I no longer found opportunities to work with them.
AlertNet — where I serve as communities editor — is a humanitarian news service covering wars, conflict, natural disasters, climate change, food and health emergencies. Now I am part of non-profit sector communities.
On AlertNet, we have content partners and members. The members are from aid agencies and many of the content partners are U.N. agencies.
I use similar techniques as I did on the Reuters website to build relationships, try and generate interest in our stories and to help others get their stories better exposure.
We had a great deal of success with live blogs on the Japan tsunami and earthquake in March 2011, a live blog featuring updates from the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, in Libya during the war and a live blog from Ivory Coast during the 2011 war.
Twitter chats via the live blog platform using hash tags are also popular and a great way to meet people with similar interests.
Sometimes technology is a barrier — either people are intimidated by it or don’t have time to work with it. This can be a limitation with both external communities and with colleagues.
REINVENTING THE WHEEL?
In many ways, my process of community-building is simply the reincarnation of an old-school journalism technique using new media: get away from the desk and go out and meet people, exchange business cards, but tell their stories online using text, video or audio, instead of in a hard-copy print publication.
Many journalists are bound to the desk churning out rewrites of press releases.
Communities also develop online via Twitter or connecting online elsewhere. Sometimes an interesting tweet can lead to a a real-life meeting and a good story.
Unlike social-media marketers, for a journalist the measurable value of these communities cannot be strictly related to numbers and statistics.
These are communities made up of people interested in information exchanges first and foremost. They must be nurtured. This requires a commitment beyond typical 9-to-5 working hours.
The big difficulty is having enough time to monitor and work with online communities on multiple platforms.
Trying to manage personal and professional Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Storify, Audioboo, Soundcloud, App.net, YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Paper.li accounts takes a lot of time, so it is best to focus energies on one or two.
Now every business has its own website and social media platforms, opening up further possibilities for collaboration and community building.
Community-building is cyclical — dependent on a range of factors.
(editor: subscribe for part two)
Follow me @jmollins on Twitter
Follow me @juliem on App.net
Circle me on Google +
Find out more about me on my website re community management.
The views expressed are my own and not those of my employer.
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