SXSW 2011: Community Engagement Strategies

The actual panel is called “Community Engagement Strategies: Rational Debate or Herding Cats?” The panelists are from Drew Curtis from Fark, Erik Martin from Reddit and Tucker Max (you know who he is.) “I’m usually concerned about offending people on panels, but I’ve got Tucker with me, so I’m safe,” Curtis said.

WHAT IS A COMMUNITY?

Max: Something real and tangible that accomplishes something that’s of value to people’s lives. Rotary club, web activist group “Anonymous”, etc. A group of people who have common goals and are accountable to each other to take action that adds to people’s lives.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE QUALITY OF THE COMMUNITY?

If all you care about are numbers, and you don’t care if it’s shit, then the community is useless. If your comments suck and detract from your website, people won’t want to go there. Chicago Tribune or Sun Times just shut down their comments section on their comments pages.

LOGISTICAL ISSUES

How are the comments sorted? Chronological or reverse chron? Who replied to my comment? Where are my comments? Why I am hitting “recommend” when it does nothing? What is the point of recommendations if they don’t affect the order or filter of the comments?

TIPS FOR SUCCESS

Strong community sites have FAQs or user agreement pages that are updated frequently, linked out, actively something you can refer people to. They’re user-centered.

Writers should participate in comments. Interact with the audience, update their stories based on comments. “If they’re not bothering to also communicate, then why do you need to even have that section.” Read your feedback. Roger Ebert goes into people’s comments and responds to them. He’s going to argue about movies, spends the time and does it. So his blog is so great.

Care about quality comment sections and the community of commenters. Rageful comment sections give you cheap traffic, and so then mainstream media take less chances. Panelists feel like news organizations dependent on ad revenue have no incentive to improve user experience. “Improving user experience costs them money,” said Max, about news orgs that don’t prioritize user engagement.

Re: Moderation. Have published rules and your unpublished norms. What’s your ethic? Nice? Dickish? Communities are like five-year-olds. Whatever baselines you set, you have to enforce them. The guidelines you set will create the community that you want.

THE DEBATE OVER ANONYMITY

Some people need to have an honest debate without using their real name, but Max argues having ID attached to comments is important for “meaningful debate.”

“Do you see a lot of meaningful debates in the comments sections of political blogs?” Max asks. “What’s the signal to noise ratio? It’s not worth it for me, negotiating with all the angry rageful trolls to find something useful. You cna clearly have a good community where everyone’s anonymous, but toward creating meaningful discourse in a comments section of a political site, name and face are key. Then there’s at least a modicum of accountability behind it. This person can now look at what I look like and know where I might be coming from. I don’t feel like it’s a crucial for a community, but it depends on what kind of community you want to have. You want to have a meaningful debate, you gotta hold people accountable for their opinions.”

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