The Worst Content Marketing Is What Everybody Else Is Doing: How to Get Ahead and Stay ThereContent Marketing Minds: Ingredients of the Tastiest Content [Nutrition Label]From the Corn Field to the Digital Era: Content Marketing Starts with TrustContent Marketing: Is 2014 Really Shaping Up to Be the Year of Video?
Your Customers Aren’t Listening! How to Create Consumer Dialogue that Converts4 Tools for Nonprofit Social Listening and Reputation ManagementThe Promising Role of Social Listening in Treating Health IssuesThe Importance of Social Listening for Brands
- Public Relations
Facebook Testing a Way for Users to Buy Products on the PlatformRise of Social Media in Ecommerce [INFOGRAPHIC]How eCommerce, Augmented and Virtual Reality Will Redefine the Retail ExperienceSearch Query Analysis to Increase eCommerce Website Conversions
- Content Marketing
Technology & Data
Social Startups: Bizible Connects All the Dots from Marketing Contributions to RevenueCreating the Perfect Profile for Your Social Media Marketing EffortUsing GPS and Localization for Social AnalyticsAnalytics and Prospect Intel: Discovering Your Ideal Prospect
- Big Data
- Tech & Innovation
3 Security Risks You’re Taking Every Day While Using Social MediaShould the President Have the Power to "Pull the Plug" on the Internet?How Safe is Your WordPress Website From Hackers and Other Malicious Attacks?
- Software & Tools
- Small Business
- Social Organization
Celebrating the Grand Re-Launch of Social Media Today! SBH Podcast Episode 8Why Should You Care If Your Employees Are Thought Leaders?Beyond Engagement: The Art of Managing Social-Media Risk in Employee Advocacy
Why All-in-One Social Media Management Systems Don't Cut It for Social Customer ServiceWhat You Should Know About Customer, Digital, and Contextual ExperienceSurging into Q3: How to Make It Better Than Q2Is How You Serve Your Customers Costing You Business?
Join us September 15th in Atlanta for The Employee Advocacy Summit and learn how to unleash the power of your employees.
Post your event here and we'll share it with our community. If one of our members is featured, we'll promote as well on their profile.
- Marketplace & Webinars
The SMT Marketplace
Your resource for exclusive content and insights from Social Media Today, and opportunities to reach our community of professionals.
The Social Business Book Club brings you books, discussions, and insights from today's to business thought leaders.
Join interactive talks and and panel discussions with leading thinkers and practitioners on social media and networked business, or browse the catalogue of recorded sessions - all completely free.
Reach Social Media Today's community of marketing and communications professionals in an editor-approved context with a native advertising package.
John Coate and the WELL: Looking Ahead by Looking Back at an Early Online Community
Posted on March 19th 2013
A month ago I went to London to give a presentation at the 13th annual VIRCOMM Summit. On a cold and rainy morning (it was London, after all) about a thousand community builders and social media managers from around the world gathered to think and talk about the art and science of our complex profession -- creating and managing online communities. It was a rare luxury to take part in an industry-specific conference, we all wear many hats and operate in a diverse group of reporting structures: marketing, customer care and sometimes IT. The event was well covered, with lots of blog posts and reports. It even trended on Twitter for a while (#VICROMM13).
Reading through the post-event writings, I was struck by the limited coverage of the opening keynote by John Coate, former head of the WELL. For me, this was a shining moment, a bit of online community building history. John's keynote offered a pictorial narrative of the history of the WELL. Why it was started, who was involved and what it meant to those who were a part of the online community movement, now almost 30 years old. He shared a view of our collective history as community builders; where we have been and what the future may hold. Coate's presentation offered a view into the origins and growth of our profession, something of real value to the many 20-something attendees who were not part of this history. As virtual communities and online social interactions have become ubiquitous (at last!), it's essential that current practitioner know about this history and consider its lessons – where we’ve been and where we’re headed.
For those not familiar with the WELL, it was the first substantial online community open to ordinary people. While there were online communities prior to the WELL, they were largely for academics and research. The technologies in use – then termed "Computer-Mediated Telecommunications"-- were expensive, difficult to locate and access, and even more difficult to navigate. [Sidenote: Back in the day, many of us had to travel with a screwdriver and spare phone wires so we could disassemble a hotel phone and connect our dial-up modems to the phone lines!]
By and large, VIRCOMM conference attendees haven't had to deal with such inconveniences just to get email or access a chat group. That’s real progress! But they also weren't online during a time when online community was more focused on the pure power and impact of human-to-human connections, nor did they have to answer to the revenue gods. Today, we have come a long way in terms of tools and opportunities for online community to do great things for learning. We live in a world where we can gain instant access to connections and information about everything from a specialist's point of view to travel suggestions to how to fix a fussy smartphone app. These changes are unarguably for the better.
However, there are core principles about online community that John Coate's presentation -- indeed, his whole body of work -- remind us are a fundamental part of whatever flavor of online community building we do. Starting in 1992, and revised twice since, Coate wrote an essay called "InnKeeping in CyberSpace" which still serves as an up-to-the-minute guide to online community best practices. In it, he identifies the Principles of CyberSpace InnKeeping:
- The currency is human attention. Work with it. Discourage abuse of it.
- You are in the relationship business.
- Welcome newcomers. Help them find their place.
- Show by example.
- Strive to influence and persuade.
- Have a big fuse. Never let the bottom drop out.
- Use a light touch. Don't be authoritarian.
- Affirm people. Encourage them to open up.
- Expect ferment. Allow some tumbling.
- Don't give in to tyranny by individual or group.
- Leave room in the rules for judgment calls.
- Encourage personal and professional overlap.
- Think "tolerance."
These principles are still true today, 20+ years later. It doesn't matter if your online community supports a brand, a professional community of practice, or even a gathering of fans. Human-human connection is the centerpiece of all substantive online community interactions. Without meaningful exchanges of information, there are no insights to be harvested; without sustained involvement and a sense of comfort, there is no customer retention or connection. Without people connecting to people, there is no community - online or otherwise.