Sydney has community managers swarming

by Tiah Goldstein, Oct 04, 2017

Narrative is important—in fact getting your narrative right is one heck of a journey of constant course corrections and evolution. Finding the right words to describe something is a skill that can take years to develop.
I often get asked what is it that I do. When I say community, I often get blank stares or a confused look which may include comments such as, "oh, social media?"
Finding the proper narrative for what I do has been a constant challenge in my life and seeing that it occupies about 80% of my time, finding a solution to this is vital. 
There are things that I can do quite naturally such as strike up conversations with random strangers, find common ground and connect unlikely people together, and have three conversations going all at once, however, translating that into something that people can easily visualise and wrap their head around can be a bit more challenging.
When I joined the Codebots team as a community builder, I was hoping that all of those questions I was often asked about would disappear, and that it would be clear: Hey I am a community builder! I build community...
To be honest, when I joined Codebots, I was not 100% clear on what I would be doing, nor was I able to understand the depth of commitment towards having community as an equal partner in the development of the Codebots brand and product.

Enter the SWARM conference

The conference is the brainchild of Venessa Paech (Envato, REA Group, Lonely Planet, Australia Post) and Alison Michalk (CEO of Quiip, a community management consultancy). 
SWARM is unrivalled in the Australian landscape. Now in its 5th year, it's a two day extravaganza of community builders, thought leaders, managers, scholars and everyone in between that gather together to learn, share and grow practices around online community management. 
The conference aims to unpack the industry's issues and opportunities, providing a learnings and connections for those involved with the development or management of online communities.
The conference was spread over two days, of which the first day was mainly stand alone presentations, and the second day consisted of workshops and a symposium around AI and automation in community management.
I felt that a bee who has stumbled on a massive secret field of wildflowers in full bloom.
There were so many great speakers, sparking so many ideas, connections and learnings. So many learnings!

Day 1:

During the first day of the conference, we heard 10 speakers share their experiences and thoughts around online community management. Topics ranged from future trends, super user programs, the ethics of community building, fake news, gaming community and supporting cancer patients. 
The conference started with Venessa Paech one of the founders of the conference. Vennesa set the scene for the conference by reviewing the current state of online community management, and raised some interesting points regarding areas that may be disrupted or influenced by future trends.  
As someone who works with a tech company and is naturally interested in the future impact of tech, I was really inspired by the future that beckons. Venessa believes it will include voice interaction, mixed reality, blockchain technology and machine intelligence.
Venessa also outlined the main trends that are prevalent within online community management, which included the shrinking size of online communities, the shifting role of community towards product ideation, innovation and feedback, and the trust crisis, where we are disconnecting from what we used to trust and make sense of the world. This means that community members are cynical making it harder to gain their trust.


The theme of gaining trust within online communities, alongside the shifting role of community were ones that other speakers wove into their talks. Bill Johnston, the founder of  Structure 3c, and formerly Autodesk and Dell, shared his thoughts around the shift in people who are craving connection more than ever.  His proposed approach of focusing on a growth (over efficiency) mindset, and rallying communities around a purpose was well thought out and very much aligned with our thoughts of how to attract the right tribe to our vibe.
Additional talks by Dave Earley Audience Editor for Guardian Australia, Matt Lucas (Head of Content, Social & Search at Australia Post), were just as engaging and effective with increasing my awareness around the non verbal contract and delicate dance of trust that we as community builders must have. Jessica Malnik (Dynamite Circle) and Sarah Hawk (Discourse, formerly Feverbee) both brought to my attention the importance of choosing the right tools and frameworks that would work best in creating an inviting, engaging and safe environment for our Codebots community.

Day 2:

The second day of the conference was just as intense and eye opening as the first. It started off with a symposium on AI and automation in community management. This symposium largely featured academic research and the findings from two main research projects; the impact of AI on Gendered Digital Housekeeping in Smart Homes and Mapping Smart Homes' Temporality and Territory, focused on the issues of control, privacy and fluidity within your choices at home.
In addition to the research presentations, we also got to hear about the experimentation that ABC news is doing with a newsbot, and the story of the Saudi woman who is behind the massive social movement #I am my own guardian, which is about ending male guardianship in Saudi Arabia.

Lemmings, learnings and narratives

Aside from feeling as if I had a whole new world of information and connections open up to me at the SWARM conference, the following themes were clearly integrated into all of the presentation:
Community builders and managers are the gatekeepers of trust
There were many presentations that spoke about the "trust crisis" that we face as a collective community. It is harder to gain trust, and easier to lose it then it has been in the past. Being able to be as transparent and clear with the intentions and reasons behind building or engaging with community is key to building stronger foundations with the community. This seems like a no brainer, however with the increasing use of AI technology within online communities, alongside data collection, privacy issues and online bullying there has been an increase in the levels of mistrust within online communities.

Community is a partner in the development of the company

In the past, community was an afterthought, a minor player in the overall strategy of the growth of a company. This is no longer the case. Community is now seen to be a source of innovation, of validation, of product and services and a key source of growth for the company.  
AI is a tool to be used to increase engagement with community
We all know that AI and other future technology bring with it changes in the way we are going to interact, however being able to view AI and bots as a tool in which we can get closer to community, and better connect people in a meaningful way is a win for all sides.
Codebots community
We are very much at the beginning stages of building out and inviting people into our community. We are big believers that your vibe attracts your tribe. After SWARM, we now have the tools, the resources and are slowly gaining the knowledge needed to co-create (with your help) a purpose driven community that will feel connected, real, and engaging.
We look forward to having you along as a partner in our journey.
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