From Flickr and Beyond: Lessons in Community Management – SXSW 2009

Sunday, March 15th at 03:30 PM


    * Heather Champ – Flickr
    * Mario Anima – Current TV
    * Matthew Stinchcomb – Etsy Inc
    * Jessamyn West – MetaFilter
    * Micah Schaffer – YouTube


Companies across industries are developing and fostering online communities, recognizing the benefits of connecting with customers on the Web. Unfortunately, not all communities thrive to become a successful vehicle for businesses. Leaders of top online communities from Flickr to Facebook will discuss top best practices for managing online communities.

We will swear during this session.
Anima: please use the hash tag #fuckcount

Flickr – 5 years old, 42 people in bay area, over 30 million members, 3500-5000 pieces of new content/minute

West – MeFi – 10 years old, 4 person team, all text all the time, Ask MeFi her part of site, 40000 active members, 5 million comments overall, barely international, “midnite mod” in London

Schaffer – policy analyst at YouTube, launched 12/2005, story of YouTube is all about scale, 100s of 1000s uploaded, 100s of millions being watched, 13 hours of new content uploaded per minute.

Stinchcomb – Etsy, 2 million members +, 200,000 active artists selling 3.5mill products, 50 person team, 5-6000 members/day mostly to shop

Anima – CurrentTV, tv station + website, site influences what goes on tv, growing more diverse members, core group of politically active people.

what changes have you seen in your community mgmt strategies as you transition from small early-adopters to larger communities?

West – used to be just Matt & friends of Matt; once you couldn’t read whole site she came on as superfan initially, [then needed more formal tools] then needed to institute flagging – couldn’t just self-moderate as a community by chat – to flag breaking guidelines and new hotter flag for offensive.

Schaffer – became harder to perceive trends; change to product leading to changed behavior, but harder to detect; had to get smarter about detecting those things, more metrics, more looking at traffic in different ways, more ways to engage community, talk with them, sample sub-groups, folks using site in vastly different ways. Different challenges different ways of managing things. How do you create policies & features that work best for most number of people?

Stinchcomb – all of us very engaged, so how to grow big but stay small at same time & interact, new tools to have dialog with larger groups of people; people get less forgiving as you get bigger, keeping company culture consistent, internal communication, have to remember community is king before you do anything.

Anima – started to notice that along with uploading content & comments re: edits etc, actual comments re: including links & discussion of other stories, changes to make people able to submit stories, current news, hourly pick, how to keep the love for your core community as other uses/communities come on, as you support large numbers at fringes coming into central activities.

What do we do when people accuse of us censorship?

Our other names [and here they flipped around their name signs]
Tiny Fascist, Stasi, Interesting Critter, Cuntola, Fascist

YouTube – want to accommodate free speech & as much diverse content as possible, 3 factors about what you can/can’t host: 1 – legal (content legal somewhere maybe not others), 2 – user experience (negative user experience of finding a bunch of that e.g. bikini shots when you’re looking for something else, how do you keep sex from drowning out everything else, how do you keep ecosystem of diversity – e.g. cats & hedgehog cuteness – from being drowned out by least common denominator), 3 – brand/monetization/advertising (preserving your ability to function as a site).

Current – democratizing media gets backlash whenever anything has to be taken down, not out with an agenda to remove things, how to communicate “I have nothing against your point of view, what you did was attack someone else. Here’s how you could edit your post for it to make your point without that…”

Champ – transparency, as much as you can do around legal constraints.
human readable terms of service = community guidelines.

West – problem with not having terms of services is problem.

how do you personally stay sane? What is it you do to maintain “soft pleasing tone of voice”?

Stinchcomb – know people in Etsy are really passionate, teams program – meet up with local teams, talk to sane normal human beings who appreciate what you’re doing and your efforts to communicate, don’t let the haters get you down

Anima – not everything will always be hate but it’s not going to be sunshine & roses, open chat room to discussion tensions, really helps, still end up with people not necessarily agreeing but a sane person will respect you for communicating, insane people won’t show up to those chats, gives skills to the people who are there on the site to participate constructively “why didn’t you go to the town hall chat to talk about this with Mario”

West – MeFi doesn’t want to replace the rest of the world in your life, I go for a walk & go hug a tree & remember MeFi is just part of a wider life, trying to make other people’s day & share what I love about this community, while my job isn’t easy it’s what I want to do and I’d do if I got paid in rocks.

Schaffer – we’re human & we do make mistakes, don’t want to dismiss everyone as crackpots but it’s hard when they are loud & persistent, watch for patterns, transparency helps, let them know why something was removed for example – “This video was removed due to…[takedown notice from company X]”, get excited by really cool things that are happening on the site (site making a difference in the world, it’s an honor to be part of that, I’m so glad that it exists, but yeah it’s hard when people are mean

Champ – hard to learn when not to respond
When someone is digging a hole to crazytown they paint their reputation.
Sometimes you can say something & turn them back from the bridge too far, but sometimes there’s nothing you’re going to do to change it. Let them dig.

1 piece of advice for someone starting
Anima – it helps if you’re an insomniac. A lot more than cleaning up comments. Responding for real. How to sustain that as they grow? Tough thing they’d like to keep doing because it really helps. Make many channels for people to reach you. But by doing that you’re making a commitment to responding, to hearing the negative & the positive. You have to be able to set limits & boundaries, but at the same time you need to be limitless. Challenge of finding who can help/replace you. Identify your hats & switch smoothly.

Stinchcomb – focus on communication internally, make sure everyone knows what’s going on, communicate in as many ways as possible, be ready to hear feedback, listen, be prepared to answer honestly, even if it’s not what they’ll want to hear.

Schaffer – have an idea of what you’re looking to build & what it’ll be about, but realize you’re growing something and it’ll have it’s own ideas, be ready to grow with it & adapt with it. Maybe different in what you had in mind. Maybe different from what founders had in mind, but successful communities are able to change with what community sees as having value, giving it a chance to flourish; you’re going to have to adapt your product/policies. What’s beneficial at one stage of development may not be so at another.

Stinchcomb – people will use it differently than you expected, need to revisit policies every few months

Schaffer – you can’t predict all that they’ll want to do

West – goals but some things not happening now, e.g. r
ecipe site maybe revisit later, but sometimes just say no when you really don’t think it will ever be part of it. “Don’t be a jerk”. Be able to explain your rules & why that rule is a good idea. Have a place where feedback can happen in public. Answer everything even crazy AND have public space. Be open to getting called on your choices, let’s people trust you if you really own what you do. Support each other. Share a vision that you project outward.

Q: How do you get someone from first-time user (Flickr) to being a member?
A: With a lot of communities you get what you give. Go find groups & participate. You need to do some work.

Current – reach out to new registrants, especially those not hitting ground running, not necessarily scalable.

Q: don’t want to join groups on Flickr, not engaging. Why don’t I get comments?
[panel nonplussed by this questioner]

Q: why are comments so vicious? what do you to do to draw the line? & delete?
A: yes we delete on YouTube
Champ: allow members to control, e.g. block each other

West: you need to be a member to have tools to deal with other users
Define community as community defines itself

Anima: keep an eye on conversations about you outside your space & maybe engage out there (e.g. Twitter)

Shirky Q: what is funniest way you’ve seen a community norm form?

West: banned user “free …”
“Free the Etsy 5”

Anima: user who would only come back to complain about each new release
I want a divorce
dear john letter
laughs & love letter back
[great diffusion of tension]
& new pattern of love letters to complain about

Q: invasion of non-community people
Have to watch hot spots of party crashers. Low chance of them (e.g. men’s rights guys on outing the train masturbator comments, Cindy Sheehan haters) becoming real members).

Focused vocal people already on site are harder. Just have to stand by your policies & be really clear about it.

Published by

Dinah from Kabalor

Author. Discardian. GM. Current project: creating an inclusive indie fantasy ttrpg

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