Ben LaMothe meets Shirley Brady, BusinessWeek’s community manager

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Guest post by Ben LaMothe

In June 2008 Shirley Brady joined BusinessWeek as its first community editor. In this first of a two-part interview, Shirley explains what the newly-created role of community manager means at BusinessWeek and how she engages with the magazine’s influential-yet-niche readership.

Before joining BusinessWeek, she was a writer/editor for the U.S. trade magazine CableWorld, where she launched and managed its website, Cable360.net.

Prior to that she was a writer/editor at Time Inc, working for Time in Asia (based in Hong Kong) before moving to the Time Inc mothership in New York in 1999 and working for Time and People. She’s also won awards for her work as a TV producer, writer and on-air presenter, including the Canadian public broadcaster TVOntario, Discovery Channel Asia and CNN International. She has been based in New York since 1999.

As community editor of BusinessWeek.com, what does your job entail?

Suffice to say I’m passionate about this role and truly have one of the greatest gigs in journalism! BusinessWeek is among a handful of media organizations that’s really putting resources and aligning itself to be open and responsive to readers, which is what attracted me to coming onboard last year. So what do I do, on a day-to-day basis? As part of BW’s senior management team, I manage our engagement efforts with the goal of increasing participation (quality and quantity) of participation by BW’s regular readers and online visitors. Rather than have users post comments and zoom off, we want to build loyalty by having them connect, collaborate and share – with other readers and with our journalists.

In practical terms, this entails overseeing BusinessWeek’s efforts to include readers and incorporate user-generated content (comments, suggestions, longer form opinion pieces) in BW’s journalism, elevating our readers’ participation on the same level as our journalism.

That includes soliciting reader participation in special issues, slide shows and other editorial projects; guiding BW’s journalists to respond to comments on their blogs and articles, which we feature on the “belly band” or scrolling bar on our homepage; helping point our writers to reader-suggested story ideas that they report for our “What’s Your Story Idea?” initiative; commissioning and editing “MyTake” essays from readers who’ve posted smart comments on our site, which provides more space to expand on their views, on the same level as a BW writer or contributor; produce our In Your Face series, which features thought-provoking reader comments on the BusinessWeek.com home page and across the site; produced our first list of the top 100 readers on our site (in tandem with our journalists, particularly our bloggers) and our first reader dinner, which gave us amazing feedback on our efforts from some of the most engaged (and vocal) members of our community; oversee BW’s social media outreach including Twitter ; serve as editorial liaison for the Business Exchange topic network; track and share insights into online traffic and other metrics, including BW’s reader engagement index; work with my colleagues in tech, art, interactive, edit, marketing, research and other departments to implement these initiatives and improve the user experience on our site; and in general, develop best practices and raise the bar for reader engagement and BW’s digital journalism strategy, internally and externally.

In the first year, we were pleased to see BW’s reader engagement index increase 31% with nods from PaidContent, Folio and other media brands, with John and me speaking on numerous panels and interviews such as this to discuss BW’s engagement efforts. But it’s only the beginning!

In addition to the above, I spend a great part of each day in our reader comments, across our articles and blogs, to gauge our online conversations and find/identify thoughtful commenters to follow up with. That reader zeitgeist gets fed back to our news editors and informs BW’s editorial. We don’t moderate comments on our articles (they are posted automatically unless something in our spam filter – an offensive word or a link – places a comment into the pending queue for review).

We also review any comments flagged as offensive by members of our community, and I’ll weigh in on whether a comment should be taken down. So a significant part of my job is monitoring and maintaining our standards, which helps elevate the conversation and helps make BusinessWeek.com a more engaging place for our readers to feel welcome, to share their points of view and want to come back on a regular basis.

I should add that reader engagement is by no means a one-person effort. For example, comments on our blogs are moderated by our journalists, who are encouraged to nurture their respective communities of readers who frequent their blogs.

I also work closely with BW’s online management team, news editors and channel editors to foster these efforts; Celine Keating, a veteran BW copy editor who assists me in reviewing user comments and flagging any discussions that get out of hand; Ira Sager, the online editor who manages our blogs; Francesca Di Meglio, a reporter on our Business Schoolsteam who has done a great job building our thriving b-schools community of lively MBA forums and guest writers for our MBA Journal franchise; Rebecca Reisner, who produces our popular Debate Room series (arguably, BW.com’s first foray into reader engagement); Greg Spielberg, who worked with me from January to August as our first reader-engagement intern; and BW’s business-side team (Ron Casalotti, Michelle Lockett and Maki Yamasaki) who oversee user participation and outreach on BW’s award-winning Business Exchange, which launched in Sept. 2008.

As a side note, it’s been fascinating to see how Twitter has informed our efforts and my job. Many of our readers post their Twitter handles in their comments, so we continue the conversation between our readers and journalists by being active in the conversations that bridge BusinessWeek.com and Twitter. We’ve now got more than 60 staffers just from BW editorial on Twitter; incorporated Twitter widgets on some of our blogs and within Business Exchange, which earlier this year enabled users who linked their BX profile with their Twitter accounts to simultaneously comment on both platforms – the first Twitter integration by a major media brand, as far as we’re aware. We also recently launched an official BusinessWeek Twitter feed.

In Part Two of this interview, we deal with the interaction between the Community Desk and Editors, and how Community Management in news is changing BW’s evolving strategy.