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Long-running online communities have a challenge when it comes to highlighting newer members. Old members – many of which may not even be active any longer – tend to be the members with the most total posts, most reputation or some other accumulated number.

One of the reasons people participate in communities is for recognition, and one of the ways that happens is through these metrics. If the path to recognition seems impossible, that makes some people less likely to participate.

Community software (or, perhaps, add-ons for our chosen software) can help us here, by displaying metrics that are more timely, in addition to the overall ones.

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Amazon PrimeIf you are launching paid (or premium) memberships on your community – or if you have them already – I’d encourage you to take a good, hard look at how Amazon has treated Amazon Prime. Especially when it comes to pricing and how they add new features to the program.

As a point of disclosure, I am both a Prime member and an Amazon shareholder.

The History of Amazon Prime in the U.S.

On February 2, 2005, Amazon Prime launched. It was priced at $79 a year, and the benefits were completely tied to shipping. Free two-day shipping on items sold directly by Amazon, as well as discounted one-day shipping, for up to 4 members of your household. Give or take, the shipping benefits have pretty much stayed the same over the years. But not much else has.

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Last week, I published an interview with Bassey Etim and David Williams. Respectively, they lead the teams that moderate comments for The New York Times (NYT) and CNN. They said a lot of great things, and I really enjoyed reading it.

I didn’t want to dilute their words by making it a 2-parter, but the resulting article was so long (more than 4,000 words), that I decided to hold off on sharing my favorite takeaways. Here they are.

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CNN and The New York TimesNews organizations and online comments. If you think about that combination, what comes to mind?

There was a time when many regarded the comment sections on mainstream media sites as an example of some of the worst discourse on the web. But it is slowly getting better. Among the community management professionals leading the charge, at the highest levels of the media, are Bassey Etim and David Williams.

Respectively, they work as community managers at The New York Times and CNN. Both have been in the field since 2008, both lead the teams responsible for the moderation of comments posted on their news organization’s website.

I’ve known David for a few years now and just recently connected with Bassey. They are tremendously smart community managers and experts in moderation. If you work in this profession, you should know their names. They deal with moderation at a volume that few can fathom, in an environment that is highly charged, in a space where many people expect to be able to say their piece, no matter what that is, without restriction.

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There are organizations that host online communities that have been or are now successful that have also been able to get away with not making a full time paid employee responsible for the community. Managing, growing and moderating the community just falls to whatever time other paid people can make available, and to volunteers.

I don’t think anything is wrong with that, necessarily. But what I notice is that when things get stale or activity declines, what happens is that some of these organizations throw a software update at the community. A redesign, new software, a substantial upgrade in feature set – something along those lines.

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I opened TweetDeck yesterday and immediately saw a tweet from someone I didn’t know, raving about the customer service that they received from a particular brand. The tweet itself had been retweeted by a friend, which is how it ended up in my stream.

The company he was talking about was not one I had heard of before, and I’m not likely to buy their products. But I clicked the tweet to check out the image that was attached to it. And then I saw this tweet (I’m paraphrasing, not looking to call out the individual):

“They do have great products and customer service! Their customer service could be even greater if they used [name of customer service related software].”

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Patrick O'KeefeFor a long time, I have been quietly working toward simplifying my life and cutting away most of my commitments. I was juggling so many things that it began to feel stifling. I wanted to do something else, but I couldn’t. Now that I have successfully cleared my plate, I can talk about why I did it.

I wanted to open myself up to tackling my next big work. Whatever that may be. I have some ideas. Most of them involve some form of entrepreneurship. Writing a book, launching a start-up, etc.

But I am also really intrigued by the idea of joining a company. Over the years, I have been contacted about numerous opportunities, but I have always turned them down. I am at a point in my life where I am really hungry for change and a new challenge. I am more open to taking a role at a company than I have ever been before. If you have ever been interested in hiring me, now is a great time to get in touch.

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Monetizing Online ForumsMonetizing Online Forums was released two years ago. The ebook, offered for free thanks to Skimlinks, has now been downloaded over 25,000 times (25,382 to be exact).

My home is about to be hit really hard by Hurricane Arthur, but I didn’t want to let this milestone slip by. I would like to take a moment to thank everyone who has downloaded the book and spread the word about it. In a sea of free ebooks, I am grateful that you gave it a chance.

I would like to thank Alicia Navarro and Joe Stepniewski at Skimlinks for their support, as well as Alicia, Ted Sindzinski and Todd Garland for their outstanding contributions to the work. Without you, the book would have been based on my knowledge alone – and it would have fallen short. I would also like to recognize Barbara Somlai for her outstanding cover design, which I still love to this day.

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Online Community Onboarding

Posted by Patrick on June 30th, 2014 in Community Cultivation

OnboardingI recently asked what I could help you with. Brent Wilson of Whipp Media and Josh Barraza of The Exotic Pet Network both suggested that I discuss community member onboarding. Thank you for the response, Brent and Josh.

Onboarding has typically been used to describe the process of helping new employees at a company to pick up the skills and information they need to become solid contributors to an organization. Even though members aren’t your employees – far from it – the Wikipedia page for onboarding is a really interesting place to start.

Take a look at the onboarding model adapted from Talya Bauer and Berrin Erdogan. Even though it is meant for new employees, one can see how it could be readily applicable to an online community. Drawing from that model and the Wikipedia page, let’s walk through the conclusions that researchers have come to and how they apply to online communities.

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Longwood Gardens - Manicured Garden
Creative Commons License photo credit: likeaduck

I was on Quora the other day and I happened across this question: “Do forum moderators often become less effective the longer they hold power?” I look over the 4 answers that had been posted – all of which were pretty short – and found that 3 of the 4 said yes, moderators do.

But that hasn’t been my experience. I would argue the opposite – that forum moderators often become more effective the longer they are moderators.

I can’t speak for the communities you visit and the people who run them. I can only speak for myself, the communities I have managed and the forums I have been a member of. The question, as it is asked and answered, really applies mostly to volunteer forum moderators. I have managed more than 100 different volunteer moderators during my time with online forums.

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