The Ultimate Swarm Conference 2015 Recap

by Quiip Team September 8, 2015

Customer support, metrics, legal perils, and safety were just some of the themes at last week’s Swarm Conference.

The fifth annual Swarm Conference was held at the University of Sydney and had over 100 attendees from community and social media managers to data analysts, solicitors, mental health specialists, and academics studying digital culture. The event was widely tweeted.

Day 1

Day one kicked off with Luke Buckle, Community Manager at Houzz, who talked about creating relationships with content, community, and commerce.

Houzz builds community by creating a collaborative space for professionals and renovators. Buckle reminded us that the one essential ingredient of collaboration is a common goal. Caty Kobe, Head of Community at Square, spoke on reimagining customer support communities. Kobe encourages companies to approach customer service from the user’s perspective.

Kobe provided ideas and practical tips for improving the user’s experience on customer service websites, reminding us that the purpose of such communities is to get closer to customers. Following morning tea, Dr Jonathon Hutchinson, Lecturer of Online Media at the University of Sydney, talked about the community manager as change agent. The role of the community manager is rapidly changing. What do the next five years hold?

Dr Hutchinson suggested that the role of community manager, as we know it today, will not exist in five years. Instead, we will be change agents, cultural intermediaries, and translators of new ideas. It was a provocative talk that left many in attendance wanting to hear more.

Stephen von Muenster of von Muenster Solicitors & Attorneys spoke on the legal perils of social media and managing risk. In short, if you don’t want risk, don’t use social media.

In about 30 minutes, von Muenster summarised the different legal areas where risks exist and reminded us that community managers are potentially personally liable for the actions of the brands and the community. That includes copyright infringement when users post images that don’t belong to them.

Joe Cothrel, Chief Community Officer of Lithium Technologies, talked about community metrics. Community managers answer to the community and to the organisation. Numbers are the language of the organisation. Community managers need to earn the right to be treated as managers and that means managing metrics.

Metrics require comparisons and it’s important to compare the right things. What’s relevant? Compare your community with communities with a similar focus, industry, audience, age, size, region. There are hundreds of things you can measure so figure out what matter. Look at rates and ratios, not raw numbers, and focus on conversions.

It was a bright day in Sydney many Swarm guests took their lunch outside to enjoy the sun. Lunch was followed by Lightning Talks, five short talks on a variety of topics.

Gillian Hamilton Rogers from Hootsuite joined the conference from Singapore via Google Hangouts. She boldly declared that customer advocacy is dead. People believe their friends and others that they trust. Companies that win the trust of their customers will win in the social space. Additionally, companies must empower their employees to become advocates.

My fellow Quiippee Sarah Stokely and I talked about the importance of not only having a plan in place for disclosures of sensitive topics in your community, but also care for the community managers exposed to potentially traumatic events. This is the subject of our upcoming, free R U OK? Day webinar.

Swarm conference MC Matthew Cox of Envato revealed the initial results of an Australian community managers survey. Australian community managers are an educated bunch. Many have a BA and some have an MA and even Doctorates. Sadly, many are moving on to other kinds of work because they are overworked, underpaid, and receive little support from their employers.

Stephen Johnson closed the Lightning Talks calling for change in the culture of business. Businesses don’t handle it well that consumers can express themselves openly. Organisations must learn to collaborate and be more reciprocal. “Generosity is the new black,” Johnson said. James Kliemt took the stage next. Kliemt is the Senior Digital Officer for the Queensland Police Service, which is arguably the most engaged and fun Australian police force currently on social media. Kliemt talked about how crime doesn’t pay, but breaking the rules does. He explained that the Queensland floods were the tipping point the QPS’s Facebook page. Though plenty of mistakes were made and they weren’t always sure what they were doing, it was all uphill from there.

On social media, the QPS is experimental and brave, but they also test and see what works. Employees, as well as the public, are encouraged to contribute, and the blog is used to communicate important information in humorous ways. It’s about content and context as well as interactions and relationships, and communicating your values and identity authentically. “Will the role of Community Manager exist in 10 years time?” That was the topic of the afternoon debate. On the affirmative side were Katy Coby, Annabel Jenkins, and Craig Mack. On the negative side were Luke Buckle, Matthew Cox, and Swarm co-founder Venessa Paech.

Both sides agreed that the role of the Community Manager is changing. We already wear many hats and it’s likely we’ll take on more duties and responsibilities that include data analysis, marketing, managing algorithms, and creating revenue streams. The negative team won the debate, but the arguments on both sides sounded similar. The final speaker of the day was Amber Robinson, National Parenting Editor at Fairfax Digital, who, through the lends of the massive Essential Baby community, asked, “Could your community survive without you?” Robinson talked through the community lifecycle and how Essential Baby moved through its different stages.

Robinson talked about how Essential Baby members vocally opposed the forum being sold to Fairfax and it took years for that to die down. It highlighted the importance of change management and she noted Reddit as a recent example where that went wrong.

Day 2

Day two of Swarm Conference began with the quintessential workshop on measurement and ROI with Caty Kobe and Joe Cothrel. Kobe began by clarifying the differences and relationships between goals, strategy, objective and tactics before getting into details about how to set them.

Cothrel picked it up to look at measurements. What do we measure and why?


Kobe discussed dashboard – how to create and deliver them so that our executives will actually read and understand them. She has generously shared her slides here.

Cothrel wrapped up by sharing some ROI formulas.

After lunch, guests had the tough choice of attending one of two workshops. In his workshop, Tim Hanslow, Community Care Officer for Vodafone, talked about online support communities, and humorously shared the strategy, successes, failures, and learnings of the Vodafone customer service and support community.

At the same time, Cherry Baylosis, Online Community Engagement Specialist at SANE Australia, talked about how to build safe online communities.

Day 3

Day 3 of Swarm was the symposium GTFO – Empowered Users, Objective Violence and the Governance of Participatory Media, a day of ideas and debate around cultural concern with the structural and socio-cultural factors that underpin anti-social behaviour online.

After a warm welcome from Allan McConnell, Pro-Dean Research, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, and Dr Fiona Martin, ARC DECRA Fellow, Dept. Media & Communications, the first speaker was Mia Garlick, Head of Communications & Policy at Facebook Australia discussing Facebook’s content policy. She faced some tough questions from the audience.

Dr Emma Jane from the University of New South Wales discussed whether “feminist digilantism” is a good solution to online rape threats. We celebrate when individual women are able to identify and publicly shame or confront their online abusers, but how effective is this in the larger scheme of things? Does it help women in general?

Amanda Elliot from the University of Sydney talked about gamergate and community governance in the new economy. She highlighted precarious labour, non-standard employment that is largely poorly paid, insecure, and unprotected. It’s precisely the kind of work that gamergate targets such as Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and Anita Sarkeesian engage in.

Dr Penny O’Donnell and Dr Jonathon Hutchison from the University of Sydney talked about journalism students’ responses to claims in The Australian, made in October 2014, alleging some of Australia’s top universities were indoctrinating rather than educating future journalists. They call it “pushback journalism”, a new type of user engagement by younger people.

Following morning tea, Dr Amy Shields Dobson of the University of Queensland took to the podium to talk about girls and sexting and the gender violence that current cybersafety approaches miss. She explained how “slut” is often used as a weapon against girls regardless of their sexual behaviours, and rarely are they able to defend themselves. When it comes to sexuality, girls are still the gatekeepers.

Dr Renee Barnes from the University of Sunshine Coast talked about ensuring psychological diversity in participatory journalism.

Dr Jennifer Beckett from the University of Melbourne looked at the psychological impacts of policing participation.

Jessica Megarry from the University of Melbourne explored gender relations on social media platforms.

Following lunch, Punit Jagasia from the University of Sydney talked about Europe v Facebook (EvF) to look at cultural regulation on Facebook. EvF is an organisation campaigning against Facebook for alleged violations of European privacy laws. His interesting talk around ownership and control of information, free flow of information, and transparency led some discussion among the audience about Facebook’s corporate philosophy, practices, and options for users.

Rod McGuinness, Social Media Editor at ABC Radio, talked about the ABC’s social media self-defense training package. McGuinness spoke about hate material posted to Facebook after the death of Jill Meagher and of the lockdown at ABC after Zaky Mallah appeared on Q&A.

McGuinness shared his tips for staying healthy and Marc Bryant of Mindframe spoke on moderating discussions of mental health and suicide.

Swarm co-founder Venessa Paech closed the symposium with the desired research agenda and calling for further research and interactions between researchers and practitioners.

Swarm 2016 will be in Melbourne. If you think you might want to present, you can now submit a speaker application form here.

Further reading

LaTrobe community manager Rebecca Norris kindly shared her Swarm Conference notes on Tumblr. You can read them here.

In case you missed it, Quiip community manager Ben Leong shared on Twitter a link to numerous Lithium white papers as well as to the website of Prof. Manuell Castell, whose work was referenced during Swarm Conference.

Dr Jonathon Hutchinson’s blog contains presentations and papers related to the ideas he presented on at Swarm.

What did you enjoy most about Swarm 2015?