Heath Row from Google – Intro to Online Communities

Today (2/1/2010) we met Micki Krimmel, founder of NeighborGoods.net. I created a profile at the website and was immediately impressed by the professional design, Google Maps API integration and the overall utility of the site. Right now I’m trying to pick up a free bean bag chair I found listed near my home. Micki acts as the Community Manager (CM) at NeighborGoods and offered some advice for the class. She has done consulting for many companies and the most common pitfall she discovered is that the CM doesn’t hold enough power in the firm. The CM is very important and needs to advocate for the users and have the authority to make big changes when necessary. They should always use their real names, which I noticed Micki does on her own site. Her model is to serve the community rather than just moderate them; she even goes so far as to call the users on the phone to ask how to improve. I would be shocked if a CM called me to discuss one of my posts – but flattered and empowered at the same time.

Heath Row is a Research Manager at Google. His general insight into online communities is that they police themselves if the users have a strong connection to one another, like within a circle of friends on Facebook. A community is fragile when the core group of users don’t know each other. He also emphasizes the significance of consistent community managers. People get upset or stop participating when the CM changes, and this fact contributed to Squidoo’s growth struggles.

Alex Asselin just graduated from APOC last year. She’s now a CM at NBC and manages EchoParkOnline. She advised us on keeping community moderators happy. She says they often work 60+ hours a week for free, just for recognition or the love of the community. The owner ought to provide cool stuff to unpaid admins who have assisted the most, so they feel like part of the management rather than a competitor with other members. I can certainly relate, as I got promoted to an OP in a few hubs on the Direct Connect network and found myself representing the hubs and helping members considerably more than before I achieved the elevated status.

Erika Shen moved from managing a CBS.com community to product development at Disney.com. She works to resolve struggles unique to Disney, including cleaning up the users’ “dirty chatter,” empowering moderators to advocate for the users to management, and balancing the demands of company execs with the reality of the self-engendered community.

Today’s speakers agreed that CMs should always admit their affiliation with the company, and gently nudge conversations to the direction you want them to go, working with them along the way. In order to scale, a website should empower users to answer one another in order to minimize employee time spent answering questions. In order to survive in the new media world, old school companies need to let relax their outbound communication model and allow themselves to learn from users to better serve them.