Talking platform governance & ‘growing up’ at Swarm 2019

by Amber Robinson September 2, 2019

It’s time for community management to enter the C-suite in Australia and catch up to its international peers.

That was the take-out message from last week’s sold-out Swarm Conference in Sydney.

Now in its 8th year, Australia’s flagship conference for online community professionals connects local builders, thinkers, managers and makers with top international talent. The event balances research with industry, offering case-study driven keynotes and workshops with talent like Evan Hamilton, Head of Community for Reddit, also known as ‘the front page of the internet.’

Quiip sponsored the event, with Quiip CEO (and Swarm co-founder) Alison Michalk co-presenting a workshop on Building Awesome Facebook Groups alongside Quiip Team Lead and Community Consultant Larah Kennedy.

Raising the bar for community management

The theme of this year’s conference was elevating community management, pushing back on the erroneous notion that it is a junior function, and helping organisations get more value from community strategies and community builders.

Hamilton explained what you need to manage a community of 330 million people, emphasising how important is for community professionals (who can be ‘invisible’ by nature) to show their work and own the narrative of their community and its impacts.

UK community management thought leader Richard Millington urged online community professionals to avoid the engagement trap of vanity metrics (likes and comments), instead, aligning your measurement around core business goals.

Shira Levine, former Head of Community at eBay and Sephora underscored this, referring to this as “finding your boss’ love language.” Levine called for a rise in Chief Community Officers in Australia, which lags behind the US in incorporating strategic community into the enterprise.

Also talking ROI was Gemma Howells, Head of Digital Enterprise at Woolworths FoodCo. Woolworths, a Quiip client, has matured beyond social media into online community.

Gemma’s team lead bunch – a private online food community where members try and review products, share recipes, articles and chat. Woolies have used the bunch community for sampling, product ideation and testing which Howells said has improved products and increased sales, as well as building strong brand loyalty.

The community currently has a waitlist and has even been rolled out to another iteration for Woolworths staff. Less than 5% of Australian businesses leverage community for ideation and innovation, a huge missed opportunity.

Platform governance in the spotlight

Platform governance was the theme of this year’s Swarm Symposium, with a line-up of speakers exploring how we can govern online communities more effectively, for better social outcomes, and how community professionals play a key role.

Professor Nicolas Suzor from the University of Queensland argued that the recent Christchurch terror attack, live-streamed on Facebook, gives us an opportunity to rethink the basic rules of how the Internet operates, with human rights in focus. He noted that to date, regulatory authorities haven’t had the tools to remove breeding grounds of extremism like web forum 8chan.

New Zealand researcher Luke Munn showed how platforms like YouTube use machine learning to funnel users through a pipeline of increasingly radicalised content, and called on platform designers to promote more civil and inclusive discourse. Including community strategists in platform design significantly improves the success of this work – another reason to engage community practitioners sooner in your processes and strategy.

Paul Gordon facilitated a detailed workshop around the current and emerging legal landscape of social media and online communities. Recent developments mean businesses and organisations need to invest in professional community management and moderation to protect themselves, their members and ultimately, their goals in doing this work.

State of the industry

Swarm and Australian Community Managers network co-founder Venessa Paech unveiled the results of the 2019 ACM Survey, which saw improvements in overwork and burnout, but rising concerns around relevant measurement, moderation tools and an overall culture of toxicity online.

Private online communities, versus those on social networks, are generally better at dealing with these issues, as they can be customised to suit context, and community managers can build a healthy culture from the start, outside of algorithmic interference.

Australia’s online community industry is growing year-on-year, and it is the only technology discipline dominated by women (71%). There remains confusion between social media management (usually a marketing function) and online community management (usually strategic, whole-of-business), which ACM is working with government, recruiters and industry to improve.

Swarm also touched on the ‘unmapped’ community management work in Australia, spoken to by Destroy the Joint community builder Jenna Price. Like Price, there are many Australians building communities informally and unpaid. Making this work visible helps grow the professional pipeline and helps us better understand the value of this labour – in marketing, activism and more.

Swarm 2020 is in Melbourne next August. Tickets are now on sale – and Quiip can’t wait to be a part of it again!

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