Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Social Media: How Expert Contributions Can Enhance The Quality And Engagement Of Your Online Community

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While social media has become the hot trend in publishing many of the properties generating social media content are not attracting headline experts into their frays.

Photo credit: sgame is addressing this by seeding leading figures from book publishing, music, heath and finance to post content and field comments on a peer basis with other Gather members.

Getting experts to act as community members should not be too unfamiliar to publishers already used to organizing conferences but using experts effectively in social media outlets may require them to lay aside some preconceived notions about how experts support their publishing requirements.


In spite of social media's increasing popularity amongst online audiences its success does have limits.

One of the key factors that limits social media growth is the very same factor that makes social media outlets attractive: peers.

No offense to the groups of enthusiasts who post their content like crazy, but for the most part it's clear that you're generally not going to be rubbing shoulders with the big dogs in any real way when you log in to the typical online publishing community: it's just plain folks for the most part. That's good in its own way but sometimes you want a little more pizzaz in your online relationships.

By the same token most social media publishers leave the stars of business, politics and media to traditional media outlets. In social media community comes first, with pre-branded contributors playing a role but not with starring credits.

Sometimes celebrity CEOs break out with weblogs to keep in touch with the public or celebrities of various sorts post out pages on MySpace but a few stray weblog comments or getting love notes from "emma the feisty pink muffin" is not quite the same thing as building content alongside sophisticated audiences who do their own publishing through social media.

But hope on, there is some middle ground to work out this dilemma. The Gather social media community has been creating an environment that appeals to serious adult audiences online which leverages their ability to create articles and discussions. Gather authors pump out tagged content that gets voted on by its members and points towards online purchases.

It's a community that takes its authoring duties seriously, including those who participate in Gather's "first chapters" book writing competition to surface budding literary talents. "Gather Essentials" categories such as Health attract established authors as well as everyday people with insights. Other social media outlets are larger, but few provide the level of serious engagement with adults that Gather has managed to garner.

Into this mix of professional and self-styled authors is now coming an announced stream of experts who can rub elbows with their core audiences on serious topics - and in the process of doing so build brand equity for themselves within that community that would be hard to generate elsewhere online.

Sara Nelson, Editor-In-Chief of Publishers Weekly, posts articles about the publishing world that appeal to Gather's bookish users, while contributions from executives at Harvard Health Publications, Columbia Records, and McGraw-Hill Professional are tailored to meet the interests of crowds focusing on health, music and finance. Users comment on their articles just as they would any other member of the community - and they post back comments to engage them further.

While social media communities usually develop their own home-grown "star" network of contributors the presence of high-profile members from key verticals changes the nature of information flow from and to these important figures significantly.

It's a little like the difference between bumping into Bill Gates in an elevator and being able to have a coherent one-to-one discussion with him at Davos: sometimes context can change a conversation significantly. Best of all these corporate headliners are posting content regularly so the dialog can build within the community over time amongst other committed online authors.

Not every social media environment may benefit significantly from leading experts in their online peer groups but in general it's important to consider how experts previously sequestered behind the filters of traditional editorial channels can become key attractions for social media outlets.

Here are a few thoughts as to how experts can enhance your social media publishing:

  • Keep relationships toe-to-toe.


    More established media methods for featuring experts online tend to make the expert person the "star of the show." While this may work well for personalities featured briefly on a site social media tends to favor relationships that evolve over a much longer period of time.

    Don't make experts invisible but make it clear that they are but one of many contributors in the community. This is important not only to everyday members but as well to experts who are eager to get uninhibited feedback and ideas from their target audiences.

  • Don't expect experts to be community leaders.


    While experts may be looked up to by your online communities their workloads oftentimes are such that they will not be in a position to anchor those communities any more than other members. In fact, having a dominant expert, widely recognized or self-proclaimed, can inhibit the formation of the peer contributions which build up the broadest base of content possible.

    Allow experts to use your publishing tools in a way that provides them with a chance to provide thought leadership in your online community without expecting them to take on anything but a "just another contributor" profile within the community.

  • Consider premium packaging for selected levels of expert access.


    To go back to the Davos analogy, you didn't fork over a pile of cash to Bill to have that chummy conversation, but you did pay a pretty hefty tab for the conference. The potential for subscription access to social media seems fairly antithetical to many at this time but as pointed out by Reid Conrad, CEO of NearTime, in his SIIA Previews presentation, the smaller the social media community the more effective and important the subscription model becomes for making the most of focused groups creating a high level of contributed value.

    The technology and methodologies used to implement social media are inherently egalitarian but in a world where some people want to be more equal than others we can expect to see social media "country clubs" sprouting up fairly rapidly - with key experts in tow.

The beauty of social media is that oftentimes it promotes people into expert status who may have otherwise never achieved that recognition through normal media channels. But this beauty can be amplified greatly when already recognized experts are a part of the fray that generates insights and ideas.

Gather's use of experts is just the kind of low-key approach to expert participation that is likely to serve as a template for many publishers trying to provide more draw to their online gatherings.

Original article by John Blossom published on March 1st, 2007 as "Amongst Peers: Experts Enter Social Media Communities to Build Contacts through Content" on

Find out more about John Blossom and the management consulting services of Shore Communications Inc., covering the business of enterprise, media and personal publishing at

Photo credits
Puzzle: Xiao Fang Hu
Team: photodora
Packages: Sunagatov Dmitry

John Blossom -
Reference: Shore [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
2007-03-22 14:59:59


Interesting. Do you think these apply to experts emerging from the crowd? Seems like in social media there is such a phenominon. We're trying to figure out a way to do this on - reward experts and those who stand out. Not just with a ranking, but maybe some way of being featured or standing out. What think?

posted by on Thursday, March 22 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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