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29/06/2008

Adam Tinworth: "Community is not a place. Community is an approach to publishing."


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Image: Community: Just because you build a place for it, doesn't mean it will come...

There are a few people working in the media that I follow closely when they blog or speak. The reason is that they are at the absolute edge when it comes to discovery of the new role, or new roles, of media organisations in the time of the social web.

Sounds like a glamorous job, no? And when they reflect on their careers in a few years time it will most likely seem like the most wonderful time of innovation, experimentation and achievement.

But that's memory for you: smoothes out the narrative for you, let's you tell yourself a story that makes sense and hopefully seems like it was all for the best in the end.

Different living though it, though eh? Hard graft.

Their accounts of what they've been up to, new ideas and perspectives are naturally very useful to me in challenging my own ideas and giving me glimpses of what the near future might hold for brands, for marketing communications etc.

And then every now and again one of them blows - geyser like - with a rush of insight, often powered by frustrations, but no less interesting for that.

Here's one now: Adam Tinworth's leading the charge for Reed Business Information, publishers of a slew of trade titles like Estates Gazette, Computer Weekly and Flight International.

Adam's been fighting his way through a major upgrade of the company's blogging platform (Movable Type, since you ask). Possibly the upgrade of his organisation's view of how the web works is the greater challenge though.

Witness his blog post this week Why Media Gets Community Wrong which is presented self-deprecatingly as an alternative to banging his head against his desk in despair (good choice, Adam).

It's a long blog post which is most definitely worth spending some time with, mulling over for a while and then returning to it for another read.

...last Friday that I had an epiphany: most media people don't realise that blogging is a community strategy. They think of it as a publishing process and, perhaps, as articles published with a particular tone of voice. They certainly don't think of it as a conversation.

blogging is all about personal voices interacting with one another, not about personal voices lecturing. And that's something that the media usually misses.

Here's the heart of it:

You either care about your readers, or you don't. Creating forums, and then making that your only point of community interaction with your readers is roughly like inviting some guests round - and then not letting them out of the guest bedroom. It shows that you've heard of the idea of hospitality, but aren't really all that keen on the idea of, y'know, socialising.

*Care* about your reader. Care.

Because caring is human. And in the human networks of the social web you need human behaviours, human emotions earn the right to even be there.

....to really, genuinely engage with your readers you have to embed [community] in everything you publish to some degree.

It's all too easy for people from a traditional media background to see community as a place - something off to the side where the readers go, while the journalists sit over here in the real part of the site.

I had that perspective once. I remember with MoneySavingExpert, a site I'd seen many times and knew well and thought about its most significant parts as being its advice sections and the weekly email from Martin Lewis. There was a link on the home page to the forums, but I didn't think about them much. Now I think of the 340,00+ (I'm sure it was only 25,000 back then - ha!: *only*) strong forums as the powerhouse of that incredible site, which is more influential and agenda setting than any of the personal finance sections of our national newspaper brand.

I was wrong. I was prejudiced by channelthink, by a mental models and assumptions about media made by having lived for so long in a world where the editorial was the most important thing, the voice from on high was what everyone wanted most.