Swarmconf 2012 wrap

I’d happily find any old reason to visit Melbourne, but this year’s Swarm conference promised to be a good one. I’ve been helping founders, Venessa Paech and Alison Michalk, put the concept of an Online Community Managers conference in front of more eyeballs, and I’d already known Alison through her professional forum moderation roles in the past. The opportunity to meet in person was something I’d already been looking forward to, but Swarmconf gave us all the opportunity to hear from established Community identities including Laurel Papworth, Yammer’s Global Head of Community, Maria Ogneva, and HuffPo’s Community Manager, Justin Isaf, amongst others.

It was certainly the most comfortable conference I’ve ever been to, complete with hammock, beanbags and in-room coffee cart with baristas; and being at Hub Melbourne’s co-working office, there’s plenty of power for laptop and phone charging. But despite the hipster environs and the hipster-gourmet catering of Kinfolk Café, the functions community managers perform aren’t just the purview of, well, hipsters and their start-ups. There were delegates from “stodgy” financial institutions, “conservative” motoring organisations, other large corporates, plus a healthy representation of not-for-profits and consultants.

Kicking off the event, Maria Ogneva took us through the cast of characters that make up a community and busted some myths common to enterprise social tools.

Maria Ogneva busts community myths

Photo credit @hughstephens

She also highlighted the potential $1.3 trillion in value from untapped internal communications.  We were then onto Huffington Post’s Justin Isaf, who explained how, aided by technology, a team of 28 moderators working 6 hour shifts from home (or anywhere), 6 days a week, pre-moderates 9 million comments a month. Think about the maths on that. Phenomenal. Justin believes in moderation for the safe environment it provides for community participants

The future of the internet

The future of the internet, according to Justin Isaf. Photo Credit @SocialMediainOz

After morning tea academic, Matthew Allen, presented his paper Is There Room For Community in All These Social Networks? As the “person becomes the portal”, we no longer go to Facebook; it goes wherever we go. And so it was good timing that the next speaker, David Hood, concentrated on the always-on nature of our modern lives. Those with community management roles are nourishing their communities often at the expense of their own time to reenergise.

As we moved through the afternoon, Laurel Papworth warned us of the coming “shitstorm”, where community management as an emerging profession will need to navigate legal decisions and changing paradigms. One of the problems is our inability to define the role of community management. As Craig Thomler revealed from a recent industry survey, people identifying themselves as community managers are doing a mix of marketing, PR, moderating and social media management.

These are the comments that have resonated the most since Swarmconf—the emerging nature of community management and its ill-defined parameters. There’s no doubt an industry body will need to form as legal rulings around social networks begin to impact companies and communities in new ways.

In knowledge management, communities of practice are part of the toolkit, but as a greater percentage of employees work remotely, our CoPs will be formed online via company forums or other enterprise social tools. And, as ITSM advances to promote more self-service, the vehicle on offer may well be a self-help forum. Therefore, understanding the functions and concerns of community management comes under the umbrella of KM and, for that reason, I highly recommend future Swarmconf events.

More details

Storify threads by Matthew Cox and Hugh Stephens.

Official Swarmconf blog.

Laurel Papworth’s 9 Step Social media Strategy

Community Management in Government—Craig Thomler’s Best Tips

Craig Thomler, Managing Director of Delib, Australia & New Zealand, is a leading social media and Government 2.0 advocate and practitioner. He’ll be speaking at Swarmconf on Community Management: is it a profession or a task? Like most community management specialists, he’s had a varied background as both a marketer and entrepreneur and has spent five years in the Australian public service improving public governance through the strategic use of digital technologies. Craig is well recognised for his contributions to Government 2.0. In 2009 he was awarded the inaugural Government 2.0 Individual Innovator Award by the Australian Government’s Government 2.0 Taskforce. In 2010 he was named one of ‘The Top 10 Who are Changing the World of Internet and Politics’ by PoliticsOnline and the World eDemocracy Forum.

Craig will be joining speakers covering a range of session topics at Swarmconf including: the key differences between social networks and communities, how to build a movement, scaling online community, what role gender and age plays in social media management, managing an ‘always on’ job, the future of community management as a profession, and more.

Swarm Conference

These are Craig’s 5 best tips for community management in government.

  1. Consider carefully whether you should develop a new community or participate in existing ones. Why would people join your community? What are you giving them that they value that they don’t get elsewhere?
  2. Make the terms of engagement and moderation principles publicly available, simple and clear – and apply them diligently and fairly.
  3. Don’t assume your community will grow itself. Actively seed it with content and market it through other communities in a sensitive and respectful way.
  4. Trust the people in your community to do the right thing. If you don’t trust them, don’t expect them to want to participate.
  5. Be prepared to moderate, manage and participate in your community during evenings and weekends. Few people have time to participate through the working day.

Thanks Craig! Find out more about Swarm Conference.

Venessa Paech’s 5 Best Tips for Tip-top Governance

Well, I’ve just booked plane tickets for Swarmconf. Held at Hub Melbourne in Bourke st September 13-14. The one day conference + one day workshop will feature top community managers and thought leaders, including Justin Isaf, Community Manager for the Huffington Post, Maria Ogneva, Global Head of Community for Yammer (recently purchased by Microsoft for $1.2 billion), Head of Internet Studies at Curtin University, Matthew Allen (no relation of mine); and social media consultant and author Laurel Papworth.

Other speakers include Social Entrepreneur of the Year David Hood, government and citizen engagement specialist Craig Thomler, Conversation.EDU editor Jane Rawson and social strategist Stephen Johnson.

Venessa Paech is an international community management authority and one of the founders of Swarm Conference. She spent four years as global head of community management, social strategy and customer interactions for Lonely Planet, and is a published academic and popular speaker.

Swarm Conference

Here are Venessa’s 5 tips for tip-top governance

1. Self-moderation is a myth

Some communities are proactive in regulating tone. Usually these are communities that have been around for some time, and have had a chance to establish a sense of group identity. But even these groups need a simple scaffold to help them stay safe and stable.

Offline communities need police forces, fire brigades and other specialist groups of people looking out for them when stuff goes awry. Ideally, they’re never needed. But knowing they’re there (with training, equipment and accountability) if stuff happens, is an important comfort that lets us relax and get on with life.

Online communities aren’t much different. Knowing they’re supported acts as a stabilising force.

An external, impartial guiding hand ensures that certain voices or personalities don’t hijack or dominant moderation, and will look out for the community as a whole, rather than special or individual interests.

If you’re a member of an online community, do you really want to be concerned with warning people about bad behaviour, removing spam, responding to copyright take-down notices or defamation claims? You want to get to the point, and let others look after the fine print, for everyone’s safety.

2. It’s all about context

Whether creating criteria for usernames and accounts, community guidelines, terms and conditions, oversight procedures and mechanisms for reporting, you need to ensure your governance acknowledges the legal and social contexts of your unique community.

A support community for a serious disease will have very different attitudes to anonymity than a community of public officials. A community of teenagers will have a different take on when insults cross a line than a community of small business owners. And sometimes you’d be surprised at those differences!

Don’t assume anything. Learn about your community and your members. Work to understand their needs, objectives and where they’re coming from. Do your best to appreciate what makes them tick. (listen to what they’re not saying as well as what they’re saying). Then make sure your choices, your style, the words you write and the processes you put in place resonate with and respect those realities.

3. Consistency, consistency, consistency

Flawless consistency isn’t human, but building a strong community over time means applying the rules equally, repeatedly. It’s even more important to strive for consistency when you’re behind a screen and usually not able to share all the details about a decision or moderation action. Your members will point to any sign of favourites or special treatment, and call you out on it.

A long term member who’s been a great contributor suddenly goes rogue and seriously violates the rules of engagement. Decisions and consequences can’t be lighter than a newcomer, but you might want to spend a little more time explaining the outcome to the community (or them).

Be careful of over justifying your actions in public, and keep it professional. Whlie transparency is the ideal, too much detail about moderation can actually breed dissent and weaken your community over time.

4. Share the burden

Letting community members contribute to their own safety and harmony gives them a critical sense of empowerment. While likely only a handful will step up to do this regularly (and you can’t rely on this alone), you can’t afford not to let your members help you with regulating the space.

As you scale, it’ll become indispensable. And there are legal considerations. You have to give members a straightforward, quick way to report things like defamation, copyright infringement or issues concerning younger users to ensure compliance and protect each other.

Over time, listening to and learning from the way members report bad actors, or behaviour they consider gives you invaluable insight into the true social mores of the group (which may be different than the ones they’d articulate if asked).

5. Consult, but don’t design by committee

Good governance steers but doesn’t trickle down or impose.  If you have the good fortune to develop guidelines and rules of engagement with your members from the start, do so. Involve them in a way that shows you’re truly interested in their ideas about what their community will and won’t stand for, and how that bears out in operational practicalities. It shows you’re wiling to let them truly extend ownership over the shape of the community.

However, manage this input and the expectations around it smartly. For example, offer them input to a draft of guidelines, rather than open slather on creating them. Be careful not to imply that they have responsibilities they don’t, or more power than they do.

Until the law catches up with the realities of our networked lives, those keeping the lights on bear the cost and liability, and get sign off on house rules.


Thanks Venessa! Tomorrow you’ll get five more tips from one of Swarmconf’s speakers, Craig Thomler. FInd out more about Swarm Conference.

Why You Should Open Up Support to Your User Community

A group of Kinder egg working gnomes

Photo from Horia Varlan on Flickr

Do you know you have a ready-made community of practice that could be sharing knowledge amongst each other about your product or service? They might be talking in person, but it’s likely they occasionally talk to each other on Facebook or Twitter, as well. When groups of people get together to talk about your product or service they are commonly using, they uncover neat ideas on how your product can be used in innovative ways. They discover more efficient ways of using your product, based on the experience of others. We like to compare what we’re doing to someone else, just to know we’ve got it right.

Now imagine if you facilitated that by opening up an online user community, where your customers could come together and have those conversations in a space they know you’re available and listening. And I’m not just talking about your customers having somewhere to bring up feature requests or “here’s how we’re using it, what are you guys doing?” I’m also talking about your customers helping each other out when issues arise. Sometimes your customers, in their tinkering with an issue, come up with their own workarounds or solutions.

In December, I wrote a post detailing my predictions for 2012. One of those was an expectation that community management would merge with IT service support. Last night, I listened to a webinar called “Is the Service Desk Still Relevant?” During the panel’s discussion, ITIL author Stuart Rance (@Stuart Rance) and @ServiceSphere‘s Chris Dancy, called for service desks to create a community management role to engage with the user community and build upon the knowledge community members share amongst each other and with the service provider. By engaging with your user community in a searchable, online medium, you already have the basis of a living knowledge base. Some support software solutions provide a forum structure that is ideal for this kind of community, and others provide a social stream, not unlike Twitter, which lacks structure but can be easily tagged and searched.

If you’ve got the means but you’re unsure of the method, and you can get to Melbourne in September, please check out Swarmconf. You’ll get a ton of help and knowledge from experienced people in the online community management field, who can help you map out how to get started.