I’m capturing notes at the MyPublicServices event from PatientOpinion.  This session is lead by Holly Seddon from FreshNetworks and titled Harnessing and Nurturing Communities.  Use the tag #MPS09 to follow conversations and highlights from others at the event.

Head of Community Management at FreshNetworks, previously at iVillage, Daily Mail etc.; most proud of job at an adoption charity

What do we mean by “community” – question asked to the participants:

  • people
  • support
  • shared interest
  • label
  • conversations
  • reciprocity
  • belonging

When you think about “what is community?” do you think about online or offline? Do you think you are part of a community?

  • We mean people
  • we mean connections
  • we mean support
  • we mean similarity
  • we mean social group
  • we mean peers
  • we mean a group being ‘led’

Community confusion:

  • people rarely consider themselves part of communities offline
  • people are rarely members of just one community
  • communities can be physical and conceptual
  • they can be permanent or temporary

What is an online community?

  • it used to mean ‘message boards’ and not much more
  • for a while, people meant ‘facebook’ although that’s a social network of people you already know

What Twitter isn’t… Twitter isn’t a message board, or a social network of people you already know… So, is it a community?

What Twitter is… twitter is a platform, it’s about connections, it’s the direciton we’re heading in; it’s a micro-community that is different for every individual.

What Twitter gives us:

  • freedom
  • it’s blown away old rules
  • a boost to existing communities and content on the web
  • keeping people in touch and highlighting existing communities

One word to describe a good online community experience: nice, warm, friendly, friendship, welcoming, assistance, funny, reassurance, welcoming

People want warm and welcoming, but that it isn’t always what they get with online communities. So how?

Getting Started

Identify a community

  • who are you providing a platform for?
  • build it and they will come… doesn’t work
  • do these people want or need a space to communicate?
  • who are they?

What are the concerns of the community?

  • do they need to speak anonymously?
  • do they need to share images?
  • do they need to be protected?
  • do they have barriers to understanding technology?
  • do they have fractured interests?
  • are there opposing viewpoints and needs?

Sexy or quick?  there are 4 attributes to a good online community:

  • easy
  • safe
  • secure
  • sticky
  • sexy can wait!  it’s great if it has all the bells and whistles but that can come later, what’s most important is that it’s usable, meets community needs etc.

Vibrant, ugly: it’s okay if it’s not perfect to look at; between timely and perfect, choose timely.  An example: Criagslist.org

Where will you host your community?

  • do you have an online presence that can be enhanced?
  • do you need to build community elements into your next iteration?
  • do you have the budget and resources to build from scratch – and manage?
  • should you set up a space where your audience already is?
  • don’t automatically reject free tools like Ning.com
  • what about hiring someone to maintain and participate in that space as a community manager?

How do we keep our community safe?

What do you mean by safe?

  • safe from offensive material
  • safe from ‘trolls’ and trouble-makers
  • safe to chat without fear of personal attacks
  • safe from ‘real-life’ crossover
  • safe from spam attacks

Control – and lack of it: you cannot control people, but you can steer, guide and react; you must establish ground rules, and update them regularly.

  • no one is solely interested in one topic – nor should they be
  • single-issue parties don’t win elections; single-issue communities, don’t thrive – we don’t have only one interest
  • connections are what’s important, give people the freedom to connect – start small, only 3 or 4 sections or topics and then let the community drive the development
  • tools like CAPTCHA

Keeping your organization safe: if someone writes a lie about a celebrity on a community that you host, when are you liable?  The minute it goes up.  Mumsnet case study: some moms posted to Mumsnet that Gina Ford was too harsh with her practices, etc. and Gina took them to court.  Mumsnet said that they don’t moderate as there are too many message to handle and so on.  The best approach is to plan for that and have a take-down policy; encourage members to report malicious content and give them way to do so easily.

Who will keep your community safe…and vibrant?

  • moderation
  • welcoming members
  • stimulating discussion
  • removing spam and offensive content
  • who is liable? – If you use something like Ning does that platform share a part of the liability? Yes. If you make it explicit on your site in your terms of use that your site is not moderated then you are not liable, according to some.
  • “Can the receptionist do it?” – maybe, if they want to, but moderating and welcoming people and getting involved isn’t just for anyone; it takes someone that has the time and the interest to do.


What’s been your biggest challenge in building a community? Launching the adoption community, it had a very intersted and active membership that communicated through local support groups and a buddy scheme but not online with many members anti-internet and people in the organization who were skeptical.  Had to prove that it was as well as, not instead of. That it could help people find the organization and provide easier access for people with limited mobility or other limitations who couldn’t get to the offline activities.  Now as a membership they see it core to the organization and have a stake in how it develops.

Have you any tips about how to deal with bad apples? sometimes turning good is the most important thing. if people are complaining and talking about how things should be use it as an opportunity to explain why you did things the way you did and ask for more ideas about how to make things better. some people are trying to get attention, often the way around that is to give them a little attention and encourage them to behave the way you’d like – engage and help, but don’t give in to what they are doing.  sometimes there’s spammers and rule breakers, so make sure you explain the rules they are breaking and explain your actions to moderate their behavior – give 3 strikes and you’re out.

Have you experience with usefulness with combining writing communication with video communication? depends on the set up, whether you are building communities in ning or drupal or from scratch, building in the ability for users to include video and so on is easier. but, other forms of communication might not be appropriate to the community.

Harnessing and Nurturing Communities at MPS09
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