Social media is so 2009. Now it’s all about community: relationships with readers inside and outside of traditional “social media” tools like Twitter and Facebook.
No one is better at than pushing community tools than The Guardian (but props to The Globe), whose ascent to online community supremacy began years before everyone else in the industry.
1. Participating should be simple
Nothing’s more off-putting than a complicated process to participate. So avoid sign-ups, registrations, forms of any kind. It shouldn’t take more than two steps to finish the process.
The Guardian’s slick 9/11 interactive wisely asked readers to log in via Twitter or Facebook to participate. While this is kind of a login/registration process, it’s a snap and very common online. This also let them grab a photo for use later in the interactive.
Another cool Guardian example is this collection of Sarah Palin emails. It takes a vast collection of emails and boils it down to a simple one-page-please process for readers.
2. Input should add to the bigger picture
If you build a successful community interactive, you’ll wind up with a bunch of responses. These need to be presented back to your audience in a simple way. This involves gathering meta data from your submissions. This could be a graph that tracks all reader responses like a poll. It can also be a visualization like a heat poll or map. It could even be a colour-coded interactive with each reader’s individual response.
The point is, when you look at it, you shouldn’t just see a bunch of responses. Those responses should come together to form new meta data about the topic. So when the CBC gathered reader responses about 9/11, it presented them in a weird colour-coded mosaic that let the reader understand — at a glance — where other Canadians fit.
3. There should be some wow factor
It’s perhaps the most important part. If the end result is not impressive, you’ve failed. Because the wow-factor is what motivates people to share the interactive. It’s what convinces them it’s something greater than a collection of reader feedback. It’s not a forum, it’s not a standard poll, it’s a community interactive!
The best interactives provide immediate satisfaction on this regard by revealing the wow-factor right away. That’s one reason the NYTimes heat poll is so impressive. It let’s you quickly share your opinion on a hot topic and see where you stack with thousands of other readers. It’s novel and exciting. Same with The Guardian and CBC examples.
Show me more!
I tried two social media experiments and I learned a lot in the process. The first was ”My Toronto,” a glorified poll and comment system tracking reader feedback on Toronto budget cuts. It failed. Why? It wasn’t easy to participate (several steps and confusing at that), there was no bigger picture (results were just shared as a list of comments), and there was no wow factor (after submitting, your comment was posted and no meta data emerged).
The second experiment was this heat poll, also on the Toronto budget cuts. It was quite successful. It’s essentially a take on the NYTimes heat poll but used no Flash and was quick to set up. It was fun to share, simple to use, and gave an immediate reward. It produced meta data.