Seth Godin: Online Community Organiser

I’ve never been a fan of Seth Godin. I understand his role – to take what other people have done, wait until it reaches (almost) the mass distribution tipping point and then herald it as a “future” direction – but while it’s important for someone to bring new technologies to incumbents, it still irks that…

I’ve never been a fan of Seth Godin. I understand his role – to take what other people have done, wait until it reaches (almost) the mass distribution tipping point and then herald it as a “future” direction – but while it’s important for someone to bring new technologies to incumbents, it still irks that the media treat him like a Prophet. Another case in point:

Jobs of the future, #1: Online Community Organizer

If you want to hire a union organizer, you probably know what to look for. Someone with resilience, passion, persistence and excellent interpersonal skills.

What if you want to hire someone to build an online community? Somebody to create and maintain a virtual world in which all the players in an industry feel like they need to be part of it? Like being the head of a big trade association, but without the bureaucracy and tedium…

It would help if that person understood technology, at least well enough to know what it could do. They would need to be able to write. But they also have to be able to seduce stragglers into joining the group in the first place, so they have to be able to understand a marketplace, do outbound selling and non-electronic communications. They have to be able to balance huge amounts of inbound correspondence without making people feel left out, and they have to be able to walk the fine line between rejecting trolls and alienating the good guys.

Since there’s no rule book, it would help to be willing to try new things, to be self-starting and obsessed with measurement as well.

If you were great at this, I’d imagine you’d never ever have trouble finding good work.

I used to do that role. Years ago. And companies like Compuserve and AOL had hundreds of these staff and volunteers in the 80’s. There’s been famous court cases regarding online community management. Seriously, if you read Seth Godin you’ll be under the impression that social networks is something new!

You can read his blog. Plus he should’ve added in the job description (at a minimum):

Customer service skills that do not rely on you getting to the question within 20 seconds and resolving the discussion in under 2 minutes. Establishing practices including an internal online community for the customer service moderators – an Evidence Locker, a Rap Sheet and so on. Employing customer service/moderators who are “real personalities” and can add value to the community, not just faceless “admin” roles. One of my favourites is Eyonix who is in charge of the 10 million over at Blizzard’s community. His quotable quote (not exactly normal Customer Service) is:

You’re full of incorrect assumptions. Please log off the internet. πŸ™‚

Crowd control – how to inflame (if necessary) and then cool down anything from a few hundred to a few hundred thousand people at a time. identifying swarms and providing tools and resources. Team building, training, managing voluntary work.

Identify and report scam artists, organised crime using social engineering for perpetrating credit card fraud and identity theft, supporting the community through it’s rituals including members who meet, get married, have babies, die. Know how to deal with situations where a teenager has taken an overdose of pills and logged onto the virtual world/forums/online community to “say goodbye” to their friends.

Ability to deal with full-on pornography – I’m not talking simply tits and bums here. I’ve seen more hardcore shock sites and hardcore porn in my life than I ever ever expected or wanted to. And I’d like to personally thank every teenage boy who thinks his penis is so great it needs to be shared with the whole community. (underage drinking has a lot to do with it).

Security – school kids who install keyloggers on each others machines and then the parents contact the company stating that they’ve been “hacked”. Adults who do it to check up on their partners. People who use the forums to confess – to whatever they’ve been hiding. Mental disease is popular, being gay, having AIDS, having been abused…

Sure you want an online community? Ready to be a cop, father-confessor, remover of porn, crowd control, read the riot act? Actually come to think of it, anyone who’s been a mother can handle this πŸ™‚

And there is a rulebook. In fact there are lots of rulebooks – most of them on how to manage an online community were written over 10 years ago. How to deal with Leaders, Assigning Roles and Responsibilities throughout the community, Managing events and rituals, providing Rules and Etiquette and enforcing them. and so on.

Seth and his backward looking forward thinking… grrr. Ethan at agrees – he thinks Howard Reingold will get a chuckle out of Seth Godin. Hat tip to the lovely Priscilla Brice-Weller.

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  1. Thanks for reading, Laurel. I’m not sure you’re being quite fair. The point of my post wasn’t to say, “this job didn’t exist, now it does.” The point was to say, “Hey, wait a minute, all of a sudden the number of organizations that want to hire someone like this is exploding!” That’s what the phrase “… of the future…” means, at least the way I use it.

    You’re right, though, that Howard has always been a decade ahead of the curve.

  2. Hi Seth and thanks for dropping by. I guess the confusion is the title “Jobs of the Future” not “High growth industries”. Yes of course it’s exploding but it has been for a while. A long while. My company provides training to companies about how to set up online communities, how to comply with legals, how to create principles, how to market in social networks and how to employ and train staff… This has always been an area where people can get jobs. Mostly of course it’s with a gaming company like Sony or Blizzard, or in a developer community like Microsoft or other hardware/software companies that use support forums. Health communities have also been around for a long time as have online dating social networks and so on. What has changed is that media companies are building social networks around their media properties and web 2.0 offers technology simplification causing mass distribution channels as opposed to the normal niche under the radar ones.

    And I meant what I said. Your role is to highlight stuff that is coming into the consciousness of companies that are dragging their heels into this century. It’s just… under-researched to imply there is no precedence when people like Amy Jo Kim wrote manuals last century (oh ok, 1999) called Community Building on the Web that gives as concrete examples job descriptions for Yahoo geocities aol compuserve, genie, prodigy an the other social networks that had hundreds of thousands of members. A lot of work went into developing the rule books for setting up these communities – Jenny Preece has another one – so to say there aren’t any rulebooks, that there will have to be job descriptions created and that the ‘job of the future’ will need training when those things are happening implies shallow and/or *popular* knowledge.

    Are the jobs in the social network industry going to explode? Yes. Is it a new job description, with no history or precedence? No. Has Web 2.0 helped the popularity of social networks? Yes. Are online communities solely a web 2.0 phenomenon? No. Social networks is not like the invention of HTML in the ’90s that created so many web development jobs (and a whole new industry). This is a social phenomenon that has been around since the moment we had an online service… (end of rambling, it’s late here in Australia).

  3. I forgot to say, for anyone who is interested in writing up a job description for online communities staff, I post them here under the category of JOBS. Just click on that and you should find some info you can use in the (atm) 43 posts or so.

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