The challenge of fostering community

I’ve been away for a while, doing some real heavy lifting launching a blog at work. The programme I work on at the BBC, World Have Your Say, launched its blog now just about a month ago.

It’s been a real challenge. The technical stuff is easy, and we’re blessed with great geeks (and I say that as one of them) at the BBC.

The struggle has been two-fold. I’m going to be diplomatic here when I say the first challenge is developing a sense of ownership of this blog, this new media thing, amongst a radio team. Suw would call it adoption.

How is it core to what we do? How does it help us put out two hours of radio everyday? It’s part of my job to sell it to them.

The other challenge is selling it to our listeners. They listen to radio. What does the blog give to them? How does it enhance radio and the global conversation that we’re trying to foster?

If you would have asked me in the middle of last week, I would have said I wasn’t doing a very good job of selling it either to my team or to our listeners. I was learning the hard lesson that Dan Gillmor learned at Bayosphere: Community building is hard.

As Dan said:

Tools matter, but they’re no substitute for community building. (This is a special skill that I’m only beginning to understand even now.)

How do I help foster a sense of community using this blog wed to a radio programme with millions of listeners around the world?

Well, it doesn’t happen overnight, and a month is really a short amount of time. And the BBC blogs are being launched rather quietly and are pretty well hidden in the vast digital thicket that is At one time, we had 1800 subsites under that domain.

And we’ve only got so much online billboard space to promote all of the things that are behind our front door.

But the last few weeks have only reinforced my fundamental view that Big Media blogs have to remember they are taking their place in a pretty well established community: The Blogosphere. We’re not top dogs here. We’re in many senses johnny-come-latelys. And my view is that we must participate as equals not arrogant superiors.

I am a blogger just the like millions of other blog writers out there, and I play by the rules of the blogosphere, not the rules of Big Media. My team is joining a global community, and we have to do it with a little bit of humility.

Obey community rules, and the gift economy of linking and quoting will pay you back for good behaviour. It’s starting to work. We’re getting comments pretty regularly now live while we’re on air. Last week, we even had a contributor from Australia send in a phone number while we were on air, wanting to take part in the programme. That’s exciting, and it helps me sell the blog to my team.

We’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m glad to be back blogging. I always say that blogging keeps me closer to my audience than the broadcast model of Old Media. That’s where I want to be. I find having a conversation with my audience much more personally satisfying than talking at them.

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