Shepherding Passionate Users

Heather Champ is speaking about community management at An Event Apart San Francisco.

She begins with a little history lesson in the Ludicorp/Flickr/Yahoo story. Flickr is constantly evolving and Heather’s job is to make sure that people’s experience on the site remains pleasant. Flickr is huge and sometimes when people are complaining in the forums, Heather would like to just show them the statistics on how much processing Flickr is doing.

Heather demonstrates the amazing spread of real-time information coming into Flickr, showing examples from the Asian tsunami and the July 7th bombings in London. The counterbalance to these really big world events are the personal events being documented: births, deaths, weddings. Heather shows an wonderful touching from Ari of her grandfather’s death.

Heather’s role is community manager. Sometimes she feels like a piñata—people beat you with sticks and you still have to give them candy. She’s helped out by a lot people; regular Flickr users.

Good guidelines really help: Don’t be creepy. You know that guy? Don’t be that guy. As Flickr has grown, the guidelines have stood the test of time really well.

It’s important to give people tools. Allowing people to flag up their own photos as potentially offensive is hugely helpful. Allowing people to block other users is also really empowering. Heather herself has used this to block the angry hordes who were leaving nasty comments about video in her photostream. Then of course there’s always reporting tools; allowing people to report problems.

Communication is key. Heather relates the story of the long downtime; over six hours (never believe the developers when they tell you that everything will be fine). During the downtime there were constant updates on the blog. It’s really important to be open and transparent. When things to go wrong, own it. Admit it. Don’t try to whitewash it. Also, if you need to make a change to how people experience your community, don’t wait. Flickr waited eighteen months to finally do the Flickr/Yahoo merge and they really regret it.

Don’t create super villains. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions and take actions that won’t be appreciated. If you don’t handle that situation well, you can end up with a super villain—someone who keeps coming back to haunt you forever …just like the people in that amazing New York Times article about trolls.

When the universe gives you lemons, make lemonade. When there was unannounced downtime on Flickr, they turned it into a colouring contest: print out these circles, colour them in and the winner will get a prize. Over 2000 submissions were uploaded. The level of creativity was startling. Every one participated ended up getting an extra three months on their account.

Change is hard. A very vocal minority responded really badly to the addition of video on Flickr. Some people had very fixed ideas about what Flickr’s purpose was. In the first 48 hours of a new feature, you’re just going to get people responding to the fact that there’s been a change of any kind. In the next two weeks, you get a clearer idea about what people think about a feature.

Heather finishes up with some stories.

There’s the tale of the subway flasher. These stories that break into the mainstream bring with them a flood of people to your site who are not part of your regular community.

Another great story involves a thief who stole a Mac and then subsequently used Photobooth and unknowingly uploaded photos to the real owner’s Flickr account.

When they launched geotagging, the Flickr folks thought that there would be islands of porn in the middle of the ocean. What actually happened was that somebody managed to spell FUCK over Greenland, just through geotagging a ton of photos!

You can’t make this stuff up and you certainly can’t predict it.

One last story. Pandas are cute and cuddly. But in the Flickr universe, there are two warring groups of panda conservationists who try to hack each other’s accounts. Unbelievable but true.

Have you published a response to this? :