Growing communities in the digital age

Growing communities in the digital age

Posted on January 24, 2013 by Janet Coats

One of the great gifts of the digital age is the ability to build communities in a myriad of different ways.

No longer is physical proximity a requirement for connection. Websites and social media channels allow us to connect across distance based on our work, our interests, our hobbies – a limitless range of factors.

Virtual communities are a powerful way of sharing information, building knowledge and getting work done. In my work with the New Media Journalism Initiative, I’ve seen virtual tools used in powerful ways to help enable community engagement. In the process, I’ve learned the valuable role community managers can play in helping

leverage digital tools as a means of building connection.

Community managers can help to weave together the disparate threads of conversation online. Working in the digital space, community managers combine the skills of a good reporter, counselor, teacher and party host. They help to keep the digital conversation on track, identifying themes that bear further discussion and looking for similar conversations that may be occurring in other venues.

I’ve had experience with the value of community managers in several of our New Media Journalism projects. The Patterson Foundation provided a community manager to help synthesize the conversations of the Block by Block entrepreneurial publishers early in their development. And we enabled the Journalism Accelerator, a project which, at its heart, is an exercise in community management focused on seeding smart conversational threads and extracting learnings to share with journalism innovators.

Every community manager operates differently, based on the characteristics and needs of the community he serves. But after observing community managers in action, I’ve noticed some common best practices that can help communities make the best of their digital interactions.

I think there are three essential activities that form the core of smart community management work. I call them the “3 Ds of Community Management.’’

A community manager:

• Discusses – A community manager keeps a conversation thread going, asking questions and seeking out contributors.

• Distills– A community manager distills what is being learned, making sure key points are identified.

•Distributes – A community manager distributes those learnings back into the conversation.

Beyond those essential activities, there are core values of community conversation

that a good community manager keeps in mind:

• Conversation – The goal is to promote productive conversation. That means keeping a conversation on track while allowing enough latitude to brainstorm and explore possibilities.

• Curation – The truly unique conversation is rare. Relevant conversations are happening in other venues; curate the best and pull them into your dialogue.

• Contribution – Share outcomes from your conversations into the broader stream for impact. Social media etiquette means both listening and responding.

• Credibility – Invite credible participants and stand guard for hijackers. Be transparent in your methodology, acknowledging different viewpoints and correcting errors and misconceptions.

Anyone who has ever tried to run a meeting knows that it can be difficult to keep a conversation on track even when everyone is in the same room. The challenges of doing that in a virtual world, where conversations happen in an asynchronous manner, can be daunting. But a community manager who is a good listener, with an inquisitive spirit and a firm but light touch, can help a community to rise above the din of the digital world to create a working space that is both intimate and productive.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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