A group of young people having a chat over coffee.
It's time for a cosy wee chat. 

Folks, we need to talk

The last decade has been a vast experiment proving that great conversations need simple, clear rules. Let's start applying that lesson.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

The last part of the 2000s was all about building online community in news brands. And then we gave it all up for Twitter and Facebook. Things come full circle, though, and community building is very much on the agenda again. People are slowly realising that an active and engaged community is the best support a podcast, newsletter, or any news brand can have.

So, let’s take a little time this week to think again about community.

Relearning the rules of conversation

When was the last time you had a genuine conversation with someone who disagreed with you? And I mean a conversation, an attempt to understand their position and explain yours, to find understanding and even, perhaps, persuade the other to change their views? I do not mean an attempt to dunk on your political adversaries publicly, to gain kudos with your own online tribe.

How about a whole platform devoted to that? It would be almost the mirror universe version of Twitter, wouldn’t it? (Although that would suggest we’re living on the evil side of the mirror, which feels worryingly plausible…) Well, that’s precisely what Sophie Beren has been building over the past four years — targeting Gen Z. And she was profiled in Fast Company:

We’ve built conversation norms, community guidelines, rules, and regulations that we adhere to as a platform. We’ve built this culture within our communities so that our community management team, as well as the Gen Z in our community, now uphold it for themselves.

If everyone understands the rules, they will eventually become self-policing.

Designing for positive conversation

A cartoon of two people talking in a wood.
The right setting has a hug eimpact on the tone of a discussion

The Conversationalist is a fascinating look into what happens when you build a social platform with the rules of conversation built into it from the start, rather than desperately jury-rigged in an attempt to deal with ever-proliferating problems.

Eleven years ago, the then-head of Twitter UK said this:

"Generally, we remain neutral as to the content because our general council and CEO like to say that we are the free speech wing of the free speech party."

Boy, that quote hasn’t aged well, has it? Any platform where you’re building the ability for people to engage with each other directly needs some rule of engagement. Take, for example, Beren’s rules of engagement for appearing on the POVz video show:

“We always ensure that every single person coming onto the show understands why they’re there, how we run the conversation, what the expectations and guidelines are so that we’re all starting on the same playing field,” Beren said. “That’s really helped us to make sure that we’re achieving our mission and having dialogue for the sake of learning, understanding and growing, rather than belittling, arguing or trying to change someone else’s mind.”

If anything should be the lesson for the next wave of social platforms, it’s this: design for positive interaction from the start, and that means building safeguards against toxic behaviour from the very start.

Online Communities in the 2020s

Gary Lineker: a big old distraction from the real issue

Talking of toxic behaviours online, I don’t really need to add to the gigantic pile of electrons used to discuss the controversy about BBC sports presenter Gary Lineker expressing his political views on Twitter. Well, apart from quoting this approvingly from Charlotte Henry:

A tweet on his personal account really does not merit days of coverage. It is a red herring turning people away from the real issue.

It’s shameful that so much of the British press has spent the last week chasing the impact of a single celebrity tweet. It should have been taking a good, hard look at the likely effectiveness and ethics of what the government is proposing. The media is too obsessed with itself right now, and that’s coming from a man who writes a website and newsletter about the media and has been for 20 years.

Not exactly journalism’s finest hour.

Gary Lineker is Not The Story [UPDATED] - The Addition
It is a failure by outlets to lead with Gary Lineker’s comments on the Government’s asylum proposals. It is time to focus on the real story.

SEO: EEATing well

On my to-do list: a deep dive on what Google’s EEAT concept means for journalists, in terms they, rather than SEOs, will understand. But if you feel like getting a bit deep and technical, this is a good primer on the subject:

An SEO guide to understanding E-E-A-T
Dig deeper into E-E-A-T – specifically what it means, why it matters to SEO, and tips to use it to your advantage.

250 not out

The Media Voices team have now published 250 episodes of their podcast (which means 248 good ones, and two with me on them). The 250th ep is an interview with Max Tani, media reporter at news start-up Semafor.

Five years of largely weekly podcasting is quite an achievement. Congrats to Chris, Esther and that grumpy Scottish so-and-so.

Semafor Media Reporter Max Tani on joining a global media start-up
Max Tani tells us how he came to Semafor; the Venn diagram between media, politics, Hollywood, and Semafor’s attempts to balance news and opinion.


Watch: Growing an Instagram Community

I've been reasearching growing communities around social platforms again, and this is a useful short video on building connections via Instagram.

community management

Adam Tinworth Twitter

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.