Props to Joi Podgorny!

The Online Community Report recently interviewed uber-guru, Joi Podgorny (my podcasting buddy).  She’s a ROCKSTAR in online communities & specializes in tweens (just like me, yay).  Check out some of the INSIGHTFUL things she says:

What are the major online community and social media trends you have been paying attention to in the last 12 months?

Wow, September last year seems so long ago, doesn’t it? I guess the predominant social media trend that I have found myself coming back to this year has been Immersive Gaming Environments, especially Virtual Worlds. It is definitely the newest generation/iteration of online community and it has been a very interesting year in that space.

The most important development from the explosion of Virtual Worlds we have seen this year is that more expanded definitions are being sought for what “virtual worlds” actually means. No longer are Second Life, Everquest and WOW the only examples people can name. Online community folks can name multiple virtual and dynamic worlds, as well as platforms and tools that are used daily in these environments. There are now offerings for multiple different populations of users and demographics – and the space is only going to expand in the next 12 months.

I think another aspect that will be interesting to watch in this space is how these environments will (or will not) become financially viable. Assimilating marketing and advertising messages into communities is very tricky in any context and this year we have seen some very heavy-handed attempts in Virtual Worlds specifically. That said, these pioneers are making these mistakes for everyone else. We should start to see less obvious attempts at marketing in these worlds in the months to come. Hopefully, the Marketers will start to realize what the Online Community Managers know to be true, which is that you have to get to know your community before you can market to them. Everyone could benefit from learning how to become a member of the community they are
targeting, involving the community in the decision making process and, sometimes, deciding against marketing specific items to them because of the wisdom gained from the community.

Your work tends to focus on Tweens and children. How is that different than working with the current adult Internet population? Are their needs and habits significantly different?

I like the question regarding whether kids’ needs are different than adults’ needs online. My answer is yes and no. Adults are usually more aware of their multiple identities, both on and offline. They have
their work personality, their friends’ personality, their (seemingly) anonymous online personalities, etc and they are more able to see the lines of distinction between these identities. Kids also have multiple identities but they are less paranoid about separating them. Many kids, teens and young adults are comfortable with living aspects of their lives very publicly, online. I see pros and cons to both ways of identity juggling. Adults seem to have a better grasp (again, usually) on the ramifications of their actions and will/should act accordingly. Kids/Teens are freer in their identity exploration and therefore, they are able to learn so much more than if they were in a more protected
stance.

One aspect that I think hasn’t been looked at as thoroughly as it could have been, is how to deal with late tween/early teen audiences specifically. We have reached a point in our industry where there are
handful of people with experience in managing youth communities. We know about moderation, COPPA compliance, filters and the like. Communities/Virtual Worlds like Club Penguin and Webkinz cater to younger children and their parents and have very strict parameters regarding how communication happens between users. But the population that I think needs more attention is that of kids between 11-15 (and the outliers). These young adults are huge communicators online, but
are sometimes held back from their true potential due to the strict and rather archaic ideologies as to how they are allowed to interact online. Don’t get me wrong, I am a youth online privacy advocate from the old school, but I think we need to look at the legislation and rules we put in place years ago, and see if any updates need to be made to accommodate where our communities have evolved. If we don’t, I think we could miss out on some great opportunities for everyone online, not just kids and teens.

What do you see as the most significant opportunity to use online community for social good? What about for commercial purposes?

There is some great stuff happening in the online community space in regards to social good. Tons of awareness is being virally spread for seemingly infinite causes. Facebook and other social networking sites have become distribution channels for their members’ causes du jour. NFPs have resources like NTEN to offer tech and community driven resources for research and development. There is a move from raising awareness to creating action that is starting to happen everywhere in our society and it’s especially present online. The “armchair activists” who felt they were affecting change by clicking on a button online everyday or adding a badge to their profile are evolving into people craving a more substantial involvement and a desire to actually make the change happen. The Zazengo platform, launching this fall, is an example of how new tools and networks online are helping facilitate
this sea change. They will offer a shared engine which enables organizations and individuals to lead their social networks in focused, on the ground, grass-roots action projects. It’s kind of like the
missing operating system for “think globally, act locally” – with the new emphasis on the “act” part.

As far as community for commercial purposes, that’s a BIG umbrella. I deal in the entertainment realm, which is exciting as we have the impetus and usually the budgets to push the boundaries of the
interactive experience. MTV/Nickelodeon (Viacom) and Disney, among many others, are always able to make a big showing in this space. If we can start to articulate solid and positive directions for online communities and then have them carried out through those distribution channels, the future for online communities in general will look very positive indeed.

What should every CEO know about online communities?

It has been said before a ton of times, but I will keep saying it until it becomes common knowledge – Communities are hard work. They take resources to design and plan, but more importantly, they take resources to maintain. This rule is true whether you are making your own community or partnering with someone else’s for a specific initiative. The decision to add online community to your strategy is one that should not be taken lightly. It’s like having a child – there is planning before and then continually after. And just like a child, managing an online community is difficult, frustrating, rewarding, and amazing all at the same time – in short, very complicated. Think about if and how you will be able to manage the community and all of it’s probable and unpredictable evolutions BEFORE deciding to add it to your portfolio. The time and money spent will be worth it.

Online Community Report

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