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Community: "An embryonic mass movement for change"

[Web 2.0 Expo 2009:  Web comes to its senses] | [Web 2.0 Expo 2009 - Part 1: Sense of self] | [Web 2.0 Expo 2009 - Part 2: Sense of presence] | [Web 2.0 Expo 2009 - Part 3: Sense of place] | [Web 2.0 Expo 2009 - Part 4: Sense of governance] | [Part 5: Sense of community]

Despite the plethora of sessions let by brightly skilled community managers at the Web 2.0 Expo 2009, the point still has to hit home time and again that you can't just stick an online community out there and expect it to automatically come.  Community managers are keys to success of online communities.
Many community luminaries were on hand at the Expo and they tended to have the most packed sessions, so people are listening to and learning about these keys. Though I couldn't be in all places at once (you can watch the amazing Tara Hunt's "Whuffie Factor: The 5 Keys for Maxing Social Capital and Winning with Online Communities" in full, and read coverage of the Owyang - Li - Kim #smfail session on Jeremiah's blog - for just a couple), I offer key points from a combination of four great sessions below, and then look back to the birth of Web 2.0 itself for a little perspective on how we've evolved, in the following sections:

  • "Simple (hard) social steps" -- Christina Wodtke
  • "You are what your customers say you are" -- Ford
  • "If your brand was a person, would you be friends with it?" -- The online arts and crafts world
  • "Secrets of Obama's New Media Juggernaut"
  • And in the end ...

"Simple (hard) social steps"

Christina Wodtke, Principal Investigator at LinkedIn, inspired and entertained a packed and enthusiastic session on Designing Social Websites. In great community fashion, I sat two rows back from a guy from the venerable Instructables and also got to meet community visionary Shara Karasic because it turned out we were co-tweeting the session.

LinkedIn itself has been growing a lot on the social front lately. Taking a page out of Facebook's phenomenal traction with applications, they opened up application development on their platform last fall, and status updates are also becoming more common on LinkedIn. Shortly before the conference, I configured some RSS feeds using new functionality on a group I manage, which was an easy task and invigorates the group. One key here seems to be that LinkedIn recognizes groups as key "social objects:" "Groups are both part of identity as well as part of conversation," said Wodtke during her session. A dynamic speaker and clear communicator, the company clearly benefits from having Wodtke there. 

Along the lines of taking the complex and making it simple, Wodtke shared the simple (hard) steps involved in building online community (pictured above). Why are these so simple, yet so hard? It may sound simple to for instance "have a compelling idea," but it means everything to the success of your endeavor. You can't just create a community just for the sake of it or for your marketing department. For one thing, you need to consider the pivotal role of your social objects themselves.

Jaiku-founder Jiri Engestrom developed the theory of social objects (read more about Engestrom's theory) playing the pivotal role in the seeding of community and Wodtke drew on that during her presentation. "Social objects are the reason people connect," said Wodtke. By interacting via social objects, people meet others they might not otherwise know.

What constitutes social objects runs a wild gamut. They're pictures (Flickr), t-shirts (Threadless), tea (Adagio), a tiny 14-character piece of text (Twitter), a song (Blip), a decision (Hunch), a piece of documentation (SAP's new docupedia) -- and more. They're "the reason people connect with each particular other and not something else.

Once you isolate a compelling social object and begin to build around it, another simple-hard step is to make sure that someone "lives on the site." "Knowing there is a community manager around keeps your community alive," said Wodtke. Your visitors think: "There are people here! They could be listening if I actually said something!"

And the simplest hard step of all, in one of my favorite quotes from Wodtke, is this: "People want to find each other and talk to each other. It's really that simple. Support that. Start there, with conversation."

Lastly, Wodtke also iterated one of the key conference themes, especially in this year of "the power of less" -- when she reminded us that "software is there to help, not shape or create. Launch the smallest simplest thing, then measure whether the community asks for something else."


"You are what your customers say you are"

In Ford's Case Study: Setting Content Free at Ford Motor Company, Maggie Fox (from Social Media Group) and Scott Monty (from Ford Motor Company) talked about their successes in "setting content free" at Ford.

Surprising dare-I-say everyone in the crowd by saying that there were no legal hitches to overcome in their quest to "liberate content" at Ford, they ventured that their role is as partners in a revolution, and "with any revolution, either you get run over, or you change," said Scott. Not to imply that the road to liberating media was easy, Maggie Fox pointed out that "in essence, the Ford media site was previously in lockdown because Ford was afraid of their own marketing department," in other words, they were afraid that they might actually use social media that might not be approved messaging. 

"Making people less afraid of social media is critical to your success," Monty underscored, but he urged to not make it an all-or-nothing play. Keep offering "traditional" and new media in tandem -- "give people a choice, and let people consume the media they prefer.  Social media is an "add on" -- not a replacement for but a complement to traditional press releases."

Other signs of apparent change in attitude and liberating message control at Ford include these observations:

  • Ford uses Yammer -- an "internal Twitter"
  • Ford embraces Twitter -- @scottmonty is active; #fordw2e was the hashtag employed in the session
  • Ford not only uses YouTube, but also showed off a Common Craft video. "DRM has been an issue with Ford's video usage on YouTube," said Monty, "but what's to stop people from scraping the video and using it anyway?"
  • Ford integrates "social media press releases" into their official PR regimen -- in fact, they said they were among the first to pioneer the "social media press release" for a large brand
  • Ford uses Creative Commons to license this content (which means anyone can take it and reuse it / mash it up *legally* -- for certain purposes), in the fairly profound acknowledgement that "journalists are not the only game in town anymore."

Since everyone wants to know "the goods" -- the details on how successful social media can actually be -- Ford provided a slide with the below information -- which might be helpful metrics to community managers that are asked to quantify success:

Ford's Tangible Results of Social Media Press Releases

  • Content has been used in over 5,000 posts since Sept 2007 - meaning that journalists, enthusiasts and others are telling richer, better-informed Ford stories online
  • Social media press releases (SMPRs) are regularly used as a source of news and assets by (Technorati Top 50), Wired, NYTimes, ABC News & many others, both traditional & "new" media
  • Approximately 1.2 million video views on YouTube, 499 channel subscribers, 120,000 views on Flickr images
  • Enthusiast communities are embedding SMPR RSS feeds into their sites as a credible source of Ford news

To the audience question of actually measuring ROI, though, there was no straight answer.  Community managers continue to suggest not to replace one form of media with another, but use all types together in support of all your channels.

The key for Ford according to Monty in the end and a sentiment we see echoed across social media channels is that "we stopped pretending" that we have control over brand anymore, which, if true, reflects a sea-change. "You are what your customers say you are."


"If your brand was a person, would you be friends with it?"

What I think of as the online arts and crafts worlds featured creatively in a panel called Corralling the Crowdsourced Community. Moderated by conference co-chair Jen Pahlka, panelists Jen Bekman of 20x200, Matt Stinchcomb of Etsy, and Treadless's Jeffrey Kalmikoff shared secrets to successful community, some of which I'll include below:

  • How can you tell if you have online community? Answer "yes" to "If this brand was a person, I'd be friends with it" - Jeff Kalmikoff / Threadless
  • Writing newsletters or sending Tweets is broadcast-only; remember that it doesn't replace in-person interactions with people who actually collect art - Jen Bekmann / 20x200. All panelists actually mentioned the importance of mingling with people in-person and offline in building online community
  • And yet, "Twitter and Facebook help me to interact with the artists; they know that I value their feedback because I can actually write back again," -- Jen Bekman / 20x200 
  • If you're going to moderate (edit or remove a post or comment), it's key to explain that you did it and why you did it - Matt Stinchcomb / Etsy. "Walmart added comments and they moderate them like crazy -- why take people's opinions away from products?" - Kalmikoff / Threadless
  • You can't have a community that's motivated only by money -- "Passion is one of the only reasons community happens" - Jeff Kalmikoff / Threadless -- which echoes the concept of uniting social objects

Such a broad diversity in online communities turns up a broad diversity in opinions and creative, crowdsourced solutions to a variety of problems.


"Secrets of Obama's New Media Juggernaut"

Which brings me to the last session I cover. In The Secrets of Obama's New Media Juggernaut, Jascha Franklin-Hodge from Blue State Digital gave one of the best and most crowded sessions I attended at the Web 2.0 Expo, which was also the very last session I attended on Friday afternoon. It was part of the free Government 2.0 track, and as far as I could tell generated tons of enthusiasm just like every other session in that track.

The "Secrets of the Juggernaut" included community basics such as:

  • Drive Action
  • Be Authentic
  • Create Ownership
  • Be Relevant
  • Create a Strong, Open Brand
  • Measure Everything

Some of the key ways the campaign drove action included "matching the action to the medium" -- for example, creating an iPhone application and using it to drive calls. Pointing out that social networking is no secret magic bullet, "in a campaign, the last thing you want is everyone spending all their time online," said Franklin-Hodge. You need to "make the action you want people to take clear."

Interestingly, "traditional" channels like email were still seen as the key drivers of action. "For all the value of Facebook, Twitter, etc - email was still the thing that had the biggest impact as far as donations."  There's apparently "no such thing as 'too much email' - only 'too much unwanted email'" -- though you do have to give people value in return for your donation pitch.

Other ways the campaign created ownership included again such "simple but hard" tactics as inviting people's opinions and ideas -- and actually using the good ones, collecting content and reflecting back, and connecting people with each other.

One key community organizing tool the campaign pioneered was called "Neighbor to Neighbor" - which Franklin-Hodge described as a kind of an online self-help package for door-to-door offline canvassing. Neighbor to Neighbor drove 6.1 million knocks or calls. The key here is that "managing large number of volunteers can be hard," and the solution is to empower your audience and create ownership.

The results?  You can see in "Obama '08 by the Numbers" how successful the online campaign was in driving traction both online and offline -- and also, Obama won.


And in the end ...

In the end, themes across all communities -- online or offline -- center around empowerment, not just of the few but across the citizenry.

For a little retrospective before I wrap my series on the Web 2.0 Expo 2009 and how Web 2.0 has "Web 2.0 Expo 2009:  Web comes to its senses," let's go back briefly to Web 2.0's embryonic stage -- if you will. I found the following article linked from coverage of the *very first* Web 2.0 conference  in 2004 -- called Power to the (wired) people:

"Howard Dean's presidential campaign, which ended all too soon, and other new political organizations such as, represent a first generation of powerful Internet-based communities in which the collective power of a mass of people makes a difference. Conventional politicians think the lesson of the Dean campaign is about using the Internet to raise money. While it's true and remarkable that the Dean campaign raised more than $50 million via the Internet, much of it in small contributions, it misses the larger point that the Deaniacs represented an embryonic mass movement for change."

It's easy to say in retrospect that this author had it right five years ago, and also compelling to note that this was part of the official coverage of the nascent "Web 2.0" platform. Remember that Blue State Digital -- the people behind -- came out of the Howard Dean campaign itself. It took awhile before they matured, just like the platform itself, into a successful "mass movement for change." And embryos don't make it alone.

WE together create the meaning in all of these cases: we embody the Web 2.0 Expo 2009 - Part 1: Sense of self, Web 2.0 Expo 2009 - Part 2: Sense of presence, Web 2.0 Expo 2009 - Part 3: Sense of place, Web 2.0 Expo 2009 - Part 4: Sense of governance, and community components that taken together represent the mass movements. And that, in the end, "is a prospect that invites our close attention and dedicated participation as technologists, busines..."

Thanks - most of all - for your attention.