I think it is great that the Knight Foundation has decided to create a position for an “Online Community Manager.” On both their website and via a YouTube video, they sum the position up as:
“Do you live and breathe the blogosphere and practically live on the Net? Do you have a track record of creating and growing online communities? Do you have a talent for engaging and retaining readers online? Do you excel in communications and technology?”
When I first read of the position, I thought to myself “wow that makes sense” and even “boy, that sounds like a great job.” It almost seemed like a no-brainer, a position that should have always existed. The more I read and thought about the position, the more I found myself thinking something else; that this is exactly the type of position that every newspaper needs.
Just read this piece from the job description and insert the name of your newspaper’s wherever you see “foundation” and wherever else it sounds appropriate:
“You will discover, edit and craft cutting edge, thought-provoking content on transformational change in communities and journalism. You’ll be responsible for convening online discussions and social networking activities that increase visibility for and support the foundation’s mission. You will play a leading role in the experimental foundation presence on virtual online communities. You’ll be the foundation’s point person for the needs, opportunities, trends and current digital, web and electronic media issues in the communications and philanthropy fields.”
Now doesn’t that sound like the type of position you would want in your newsroom, on your online team?
In many newsrooms, these types of responsibilities are left to be shouldered by the online editor (who is increasingly overburdened) or assorted members of the newsroom staff who show some online aptitude. But I truly believe that this approach is a mistake.
Just like newspapers have for decades developed and maintained brick and mortar locations to sell and promote their newspapers, now so to must they develop virtual locations to promote and disseminate their content. Newsrooms need to embrace online communities and social networking sites, they need to actively engage their participants wherever they might be and illustrate the value and relevance and usefulness of their work.
The current newspaper online model is to allow people to discover the newspapers content on their own, to find a place for it in their lives on their own, to engage with the newspaper staff on their own. The newspaper plays no active role in becoming part of any online communities. This approach is similar to the idea of opening a store but not promoting it — if people come, they come.
The Online Community Manager-type of position will help build online audience and draw additional uniques to newspaper.com sites. The Online Community Manager will help increase the amount of time people spend on newspaper.com sites by engaging them, interacting with them and as a result, will also increase the number of page views. And the Online Community Manager will strengthen the newspaper.com brand, deepen the connection with readers and advertisers and go a long way to help make the online product a growing success.
I don’t know if the Knight Foundation intended for this position to be a model for the industry, but a model is what I think it is. And personally, I think it’s a model every newspaper should consider replicating.