What To Do When Everyone’s a Publisher?


The following post is part of the virtual book tour Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer are doing to explore concepts from Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web. In this post, Maddie provides an excerpt from the book about the new publishing models spurred on by the age of social media.

We come from the association industry and for many of us “membership” people, community is old hat. It’s what we do. It’s central to our work. And yet, for some reason (actually a lot of reasons) what we know about community isn’t always translating well to building community online.

Lindy and I have talked to thousands of association executives who have voiced their frustrations about the social web–from the overabundance of tools and the disorderly experimentation of staff and members, to the lack of organizational support and the unwieldy processes for monitoring and managing social media, and that’s just the beginning. It’s easy to get bogged down in the newness and the detail, and miss the bigger picture–not the 10,000-foot bigger picture, but the “just high enough to make practical sense” bigger picture.

So we started writing the book, and the idea that kept popping up is the concept of Open Community. Here’s the gist. Your Open Community is your people who are bonded by what your organization represents and care enough to talk to each other (hopefully about you!) online.

To be clear, the Open Community concept is not about building an online community platform or internal, private social network. That could be one tactic in your arsenal, but one of the most important first steps toward building community online is accepting that your Open Community is out there, not just on your web site. Your stakeholders are connecting on their own terms in the social spaces where they spend the most time, and you need to be where they are. Sometimes, rather than hosting every conversation and leading every initiative, your organization can (and should) be simply present as a supportive participant.

There are many, many ways that associations and nonprofits can start to build relationships with members and other stakeholders in what we call the “messy ecosystem” of your Open Community – the linkages, networks and nodes made up of your homebase website, public outpost sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and everything in between. But one thing that all of this social interaction has in common is publishing. Whether you’re publishing content that you want members to read and share, or whether those members (and others) are out there talking amongst themselves, everyone is now a publisher. Here’s a little excerpt from the book (from Chapter 2: Open Community Means Developing into a Social Organization) that explains what we mean.

Everyone’s A Publisher.

Along the lines of enabling staff and volunteers to do what needs to be done, one of those jobs is publishing. Not only the traditional kinds of publishing we’re used to but also new-media publishing, which emphasizes speed, conversational context, and micro-formats like Twitter and Facebook updates. This new kind of publishing will likely involve staff who have never been part of the publishing or communications department but who might be willing to help spread the organization’s content and messages in large and small ways. Which is great, because to keep up, organizations need all hands on deck.

Before the Internet, publishing was really hard. Now it’s easy. Crazy easy. Many associations are built around the ability to find and publish content from experts, from members, from proprietary research, and so on. When you’re building your community online, keep in mind that every person in your community can be their own publisher and can build a significant following. You have two options to maintain your knowledge leadership. One, publish better, faster, more. Two, curate what your community members are publishing. Most associations will find a balance between these two options.

You might ask, “What about all of our private, peer-reviewed, or premium content that’s behind the member login on our website?” That’s the million dollar question. There can still be value in knowledge and information but only if that information cannot be found faster and and cheaper (or for free) through a simple Google search.

Do the Google test. When Google is your competition, how do you redefine the value of your information? What do you have hidden behind your login that could help you compete with free resources and improve your ranking in search results? What can you give away to your community, in the spirit of openness and collaboration, that will energize them around your organization? What can you give away that will make the more unique, exclusive, paid content that much more appealing?

The second part of the Google test is this: What do you have that is truly unique and thus well worth the price? Are you charging enough? It’s a great idea to always consider how you can cut up your deeper content into bite-sized pieces (blog posts, summaries, videos, charts and graphs) that your community can share and discuss far and wide and then come back to you for the meat.

OC_badge_booktour.pngWe’re curious to hear from Geoff’s readers about how you are answering some of these questions for your own organization. Is your publishing model changing because of social media? Are you in the position of having to rethink what your organization’s value proposition is, now that people can get the same information for free that perhaps you have always charged for? Have you started creating new value in “aggregating” or curating content from the wider web for your stakeholders?