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Managing social media for news sites: part three – how to create an engaging online community

Filed under: All Articles > Industry News
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By: NMK Created on: January 23rd, 2012
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News sites are becoming increasingly social, but creating a vibrant online community is much more than simply opening up an article to reader comments. News sites have to start planning for the community before developing it. Community managers must be used to help grow and nurture the sites readership from information consumers to fully-fledged community contributors. This isn’t an instant process, and requires careful consideration. By Tamara Littleton.

By Tamara Littleton

News sites have a great deal to gain from creating an engaging community of readers, contributors and journalists. The greater the investment of time and thought that contributors put into the site, the greater the chance that they will return repeatedly and continue contributing to the community.

The more positive re-enforcement community members receive from community managers – such as being given a trusted status – the greater the chance that they will continue to make positive contributions and serve as an example for other to do likewise.

Community managers specialise in nurturing and developing online communities for brands. Given the right tools, investment and opportunity they can help build a community from the ground up. It’s not enough for a news site to post articles online and open them to comments – those comments should be managed properly, and the community encouraged to adhere to the site’s guidelines for both journalists and readers. Some tips for doing this:

Set the appropriate tone for the community

No online community is the same. Reader communities on news sites can differ dramatically from one brand to the next. A freelance journalist may contribute articles to several different sites, and will be having to respond to a variety of opinions while matching the tone of the site and the article. Make sure they know how you want them to respond on yours.

Set the appropriate tone for the channel

If you engage with the community via external social media channels, any engagement should be done with that community of users in mind. Twitter is a back-and-forth, conversational place where people share and comment on articles and issues often with complete strangers. Platforms like Facebook are more about sharing content with friends or fans, which means that posts made by the news brand get fed to the fan alongside updates from their friends.

Keep journalists involved in the community

News sites these days encourage journalists to participate in the community, and many will respond to comments on their stories. Some journalists may have an impressive personal brand of their own, which they can use to pull new community members into the site via social media platforms - for example, via the Facebook subscribe function. (Facebook also has a dedicated page for journalists users).

However, there’s a risk that if the journalist moves to a rival news organisation, valuable community members may be lost. We find that mostly, comment threads where the journalist is involved tend to be more moderate, with lower incidents of spam and bullying. But it might be a good idea to have a community manager filter reader comments through for the journalist to respond to – avoiding potential friction between the writer and reader.

Provide adequate resource for the community

Popular and successful online communities don’t materialise overnight, no matter how interesting the site content. It takes a considerable investment of time by journalists, community managers and moderators to create content, encourage debate and maintain community standards. Community management shouldn’t be an afterthought; good practice should be established right from inception if the site is to develop a community that is both thriving and respected.

Community is about dialogue, not monologue

News site communities have to get the balance of editorial right. Sites such as The Guardian achieve this by publishing an article on the website (often with comments closed), and producing less formal, more blog style pieces elsewhere (such as within the Comment Is Free section). This allows the main editorial to stand apart from the debate, while providing a more open style of writing for community members to engage with elsewhere on the site. Readers will only become part of the community if they feel listened to, engaged and understood. Some sites are taking this involvement a step further and encouraging people to get involved in the editorial process.

About the author and the company

Tamara Littleton is CEO at eModeration (www.emoderation.com). eModeration Limited is an award-winning social media management agency. Based in London UK, with offices in Los Angeles and New York, eModeration provides multi-lingual moderation and community management services, consultancy and social media crisis management training to clients in the TV, entertainment and digital publishing industry and blue chip clients hosting online communities.

Committed to ethical business practices and to the promotion of child online safety, eModeration's CEO Tamara Littleton recently worked with the UK Government department UKCCIS to produce its guidelines on how to moderate online environments for children.

eModeration contributes to the growth of knowledge in the social media world via its white papers, blogs and seminars, and has a strong roster of returning clients who appreciate the high quality of its services.

Relevant links

eModeration white paper: a guide to managing social media for news sites and media organisations – September 2011 - http://www.emoderation.com/about/publications  

Blaise Grimes-Viort - 60 Insights from Experienced Community Managers - http://blaisegv.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2011/10/60InsightsfromExperiencedCommunityManagers.pdf  

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