Joanna Geary: So, that online community stuff - it's all sorted now?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Liveblog of a talk given by Jo at Hacks/Hackers Brighton in September 2012*

## [Joanna Geary]( "Joanna Geary")

In 2010, the last national reporter picked up a Twitter account, and we’re done with online community.

I’ve noted one or two people have been appointed and everyone thinks it’s all done. Back in 2009, we decided that the two-way communication thing with the readers was a good thing. Lots of people got got community-related job title. [Liveblogger’s note: I take issue with some of this characterisation of history. Will post about it later…)Sky appointed a Twitter correspondent. In 2009, the news world’s way in to social media was one person to “deal with the Twitter thing”.

We still considered people who knew how to do this stuff as trailblazing. Trailblazing is nice. You get to go into uncharted territory, noodle around and so on. But we should be past that now. And we were in 2009. What she could do at The Times in 2009 was pointless, unless you could teach other people, and get support for them to do things. We need to get our Brunel on – start creating routes for other people to follow.

Questions to ask:

Why are you doing community?

“Common practice should be a factor that we consider…” came back to her in an e-mail. It’s the heads-in-an-oven principle – we should do it if other people are. It should be there to: improve your journalism, or increase your traffic from social platforms, get people spending more on your sites, improve customer relationships, or get customer data. You need to know what the reasons are.

How are you measuring that?

The Guardian has a suite of proxy metrics – identifying x number of stories helped by readers, or growth in contact lists. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of the metrics you’re using. The Britney Dilemma – if all you care about is unique browsers, Britney’s lack of underwear is the height of your journalism…

Are you paying attention to the results?

Experiments are a good thing – but she’s seen them used as an way of forcing through ideas, that get developed, but never really checked. They shouldn’t be a distraction technique. Know what the results should be.

Are you sharing what works?

So far, they have stand-ups at morning meetings, they have lunch-time talks, they have formal trainings, they have informal training, they have daily and weekly e-mails. It’s not enough. They’re starting community clinics, based on social media surgeries. A session where people can come and get advice and help from those who know, in an informal atmosphere. They’re going to be Guardian-only initially, but they’d like to open them to readers eventually, too. You can never stop – and people forget easily. And new people come in.

Are you doing enough to support them?

She helped get a live stock update option into The Times‘s CMS. She was really excited – but it didn’t get used. It was too much extra to ask people to do without support.


Jo GearyQ. When you’re talking about journalists about social stuff, is it more effective to persuade or tell?

A. In my experience, no-one likes being told what to do. Persuading them that they’ll reach so many more readers is more effective.

Q. Is there a future for hacks who don’t turn into hackers?

A. I’m aware of people who are frustrated because they can’t get their ideas implemented because they can’t code. But… hackers don’t have a preserve on communicating clearly. Neither do journalists. The current culture is that hackers are always right – and they are, apart from when they’re terribly wrong. Sometimes the ways hackers look at data isn’t the best way to communicate it.

*Q. (From me): There was a generation before the 2009 one, who started in 2006 or earlier. Meg Pickard at The Guardian is pretty much the only one left. How do you think the 2009 generation can do differently – and survive better? *

Meg came from a very different view point on community – anthropology – when she came to The Guardian. She knew why they were doing it, and she had a relationship with Alan (Rushbridger, the editor) at the top of the business. But it wasn’t easy. A lot of other organisations never knew why they were doing social stuff – the common practice element mentioned earlier came into play. Meg kept that focus. The journalism business is very good at employing people to do new things, but we need to give them the resources – and keep the high level relationships – to make sure they create the Brunel pathways.

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change managementcommunity managementcommunity strategydigital journalismjoanna gearySocial MediaThe Guardian

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.