Creating Community Online
Magazines inherently foster community among their readers. That's why they're started, after all, to tap into and serve a community of interest. For ReadyMade, a do-it-yourself lifestyle magazine for the nesting-friendly 25-39 set recently purchased by Meredith, developing community features on the magazine's Web site was a natural fit. Though, as Grace Hawthorne, ReadyMade's president and publisher, notes, consumers are media savvy and community features, message boards and blogs, for example, will fail miserably if there isn't a rock-solid brand connection, not to mention relevant and serviceable content. Here, she describes how ReadyMade's reader forum and blogs fit with the site's overall function.
Getting Set Up
"Both our forum and blog were set up by our Web designer in Canada. Our in-house tech/Web designer had to install Forum-phpBB v2.14. As for the blog, we are using WordPress. It's not difficult to configure as long as you are hosted on a Unix Server (both the forum and blog software are open-source and free, but don't run on Microsoft servers)."
"Since over 60 percent of ReadyMade's magazine content is reader submitted, the forum served as a very natural platform for our readers to share and post ideas. The ReadyMade community is very active by nature. We run regular project challenges in the magazine, so active community participation is organic to the brand and content. We don't solicit participation outside of those challenges, it runs in our readers' blood."
Managing the Community
"We have a small staff, so we selected one of our most active forum participants to be our forum moderator. ReadyMade's editor-in-chief manages the bloggers. Overseeing the bloggers and mediators is not complex, just time-consuming. You also want to make sure the editorial voice of the magazine and brand initiatives remain consistent on these things, so the moderator is acting like an editor if he's not technically one already."
Marrying Participation and Interest
"ReadyMade is largely about an attitude and lifestyle, but our core demographic (genX/genY) is tech and design savvy. They expect to receive their information in multiple and flexible ways. Our do-it-yourself/lifestyle content is rooted in sharing information about making things and cutting-edge cultural/design trends. A platform where our readers can communicate with each other is second nature."
"I'd be wary of trying to create a platform for a brand where it's not a natural extension and does not serve both the audience and the content. Media consumers today are incredibly smart and will see through the lack of authenticity in an editorial voice or brand initiative. This may sound corny, but if the message or content comes from somewhere real, then you'll find an accepting audience. At that point, it will be about how you package that content and communication."
"We haven't been selling advertising on our site because of resource constraints. But shortly we are about to launch an archive of evergreen project content from past issues. This will create an exponential number of page views for us and advertising revenue opportunities for us as well. We plan to monetize it by selling Web advertising and sponsorships for special Web features. I think if the content quality and audience respect is there, monetizing your community and platforms should not jeopardize the presentation of the content. I've received requests from large advertisers for rates on our RSS feeds, no less!"