We work with organisations to develop and grow their online community. Sometimes this is done through their website and third party social networks. The next level of online community building is to develop your own social network site.

We're experienced in helping organisations to grow community life on niche social networks, through building sites, helping with the launch process and training staff to manage and participate in the online community.

Here are some blog posts about online communities.

Engaging theatre audiences through the internet: presentation

Theatre and the Internet

I was recently invited to speak to an audience of theatre makers at Somerset House – a wonderful venue in London that looks out across the River Thames to the National Theatre (England’s, that is…). The presentation looks at some of the work Native has been doing with National Theatre Wales.

As well as developing the National Theatre Wales Community, we’ve been using the internet as part of a multiplatform theatre design for a number of productions, including the Passion of Port Talbot and The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning.

You can view the presentation file (I used Prezi) and listen to the presentation below (my presentation starts 32.20 minutes into the SoundCloud file):

National Theatre Wales Community in the Guardian

The Guardian published an article I wrote about the National Theatre Wales Community today in their Culture Professionals Network. Here’s the link – it’s called “The next step to social networking is to build your own online community” and looks at how the community, which is built on the Ning platform,  has been used by the theatre to develop as a company.

One of the most important ways in which the community has affected the growth of the company has been to enable them to invite participation in their development of policies and initiatives. Everything that they do is communicated through the community, including the framing of their approach to commissioning, casting and theatre criticism. The community site allows the to throw the virtual doors open and invite comments and debate about their work and the direction of theatre in Wales.

Encouraging people to participate in an online community isn’t easy – it’s not just a simple matter of ‘build it and they will come’. It takes commitment from the people at the top to set participation in online discussions by the staff as a clear priority for the work of the company, something that John McGrath the Artistic Director has given in spades.

John is one of the most committed bloggers on the site, regularly sharing his thoughts and reflections about the work of the theatre, responding to people who seek his views. We trained their staff to administer the network, to blog and to help people to feel welcome and encourage them to participate in the debates and discussions held online/

One thing is certain – setting up an online community for a major national institution has been an exciting process and has brought some changes to the way that the company operates – it changes the demands on the staff team, requires training and guidance and it changes the feeling that people have about the institution – hopefully people have felt more involved and listened to.ask for his thoughts and leading debates about where theatre is going – see for example this recent discussion on the shape of political theatre.

There is still a lot to do for the company to realise all the opportunities to connect and communicate with the arts community in Wales that this resource offers them, but they have made a tremendous start and we wish them all the best as they continue to develop their online community, and the theatre community as a whole in Wales.

Conversation about National Theatre Wales around the web

We’ve been working with National Theatre Wales and people who belong to their community – including office staff, production staff, cast, venues and “people formerly known as audience”.

Last year we built the community side of NTW’s website on Ning, with graphic design by the folks at Elfen. (Hoffi made the front page and listings pages.)

It’s worth noting that members of the community have the clear choice of making their posts public (open to be read by anyone who is looking) and many are doing so. The community is open to anybody on the web who wants to sign up.

But obviously with the web as it is, people are publishing their own stuff about National Theatre Wales and its productions around the web – not just on NTW’s community. We want to encourage this, it’s part of what NTW wants to achieve.

In fact, with NTW we have purposefully assigned a short tag to each production for use around the web – of the form ntw01 for production one, ntw02 for production two and so on. People are starting to use these tags already, in order to make their thoughts and posts more findable.

We also want to help the community to be aware of this other interesting stuff – videos, Twitter posts, blog posts, photos, audio – where relevant. “Online conversation” is a metaphor that has become popular on the web – and it does have some explanatory power. We want to give that conversation the best chance of being seen by groups of people who might be interested, so they can take part if they wish – wherever they choose to post their responses.

Here’s Tom’s post on the NTW site about the production tags and how posts, photos, videos and so on are collected on the NTW group for each production (and also a Netvibes page):

Take a look at the group for ntw01, A Good Night Out In The Valleys for an example of live search results from around the web. If you’re wondering how the live searches work on the groups, we made them with Yahoo Pipes. There is a chance of a few false positives turning up, as with any web search. But on the whole we like the way they’ve turned out.

We’ve included the services which seem to be the popular ones for discussing theatre. In theory more publishing services, e.g. Audioboo, could be added to the results if those services start to become popular.

So there you go, one small part of NTW’s online strategy which we’ve been working on.

The Art of Community – new O’Reilly book for free download

O’Reilly are more than just a book publisher and events organiser. For one, they’re among our main influences.

They’ve opted to release their new book The Art of Community, by Jono Bacon, in paper-based version, electronic book reader versions and a free PDF of the whole thing.

In the words of the author it’s intended to be a “solid guide to building, energizing and enabling pro-active, productive and enjoyable communities”, which is right up our street of course.

The contents are released under a Creative Commons licence (Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike in this case). It’ll be interesting to see how people adapt it and how that boosts attention for O’Reilly and the author.

(Thanks to @zambonini for the tip.)

National Theatre Wales conversations in full flow

We’ve been working with National Theatre Wales on their online community strategy. Earlier this year we unveiled a social site based on the Ning platform.

It’s similar to Facebook in some ways except that it allows a level of detailed conversation probably not possible before. We’ve had many people join and, importantly, participate on there – actors, writers, directors, technical people and of course audience (like me).

NTW wanted something which would complement and support their work and their ethos of boldness, openness and experimentation. National Theatre Wales are like the host of a party – on the site there’s a great deal of freedom in the topics you can discuss. Feel free to sign up and try it.

If you want to be precise about terminology you could say it’s both a “social network” site and a “social networking” site. It’s a subtle difference in wording but a big difference in practice. In other words, it not only supports existing connections between people (like Facebook friends) but encourages new connections to form between people who wouldn’t otherwise know each other. (If you’re interested in some background to this distinction, check out USA-based researcher danah boyd’s thoughts in this area. Not for everyone but you might like it.)

So it’s been fun to work on the site – with NTW and their visual branding partners Elfen – and now see people discussing things and blogging about theatre and related topics. And it’s genuinely exciting to think that people will meet “in real life” and work on new projects together as a result of this online community and the various groups it now holds.

Currently we’re gearing up to November’s announcements of next year’s theatre events. More news soon.

In the meantime, here’s a great example of a discussion which resulted from a blog post.

Trydan social media cafe this Friday

We are co-organising Trydan social media cafe this Friday in Juno Lounge, Wellfield Road, Cardiff from 11AM till 2PM.

If you’re interested in social media, there’s more info on the Trydan event wiki. If you’re planning to attend, please add your details to the list.

If you’re from elsewhere, we’re also maintaining a list of social media cafes around the UK.

The Inauguration of Barack Obama – Online Perspectives

Barack Obama’s inauguration as President of the USA takes place on Tuesday 20th January.

Techcrunch have a wideranging list of a plethora of online sites and applications related to the event. These cover where to watch it, where to respond to it, approval ratings and more.

My favourite is probably the Obameter which tracks the status of 500 promises made by Obama during the USA election campaign.

I’ve previously mentioned Obama’s use of social media to gather supporters and communicate. If you’d like to read about that, here’s a good start.

So online media can assist politicians in gathering supporters. Can online media assist the electorate in holding politicians to account – and thereby improve the democratic process as a whole? It’s a huge question, I know. We can but hope. Actually it’s not just about hope – people have to USE these tools.

I hope you find these links useful. Although Native is based in Cardiff, Wales, I’m very guilty in this blog of being US-centric in my link recommendations. Although I will continue to reference useful US-based pages where relevant, I’ll also make an effort to redress the balance from now on!

In the meantime, if you’re interested in online tools related to politics and democracy in the UK then check out the various projects of mySociety. Game-changing stuff.

Introducing Trydan – a Cardiff meet-up for people into social media – and our reasoning behind it

We’ve started a series of social media cafe events in Cardiff called Trydan but first, some background…

Tom and I thought it would be interesting and profitable to get together with other people in Cardiff who are interested in similar things.

“Social media” is the closest generic term for what excites us, it’s our area of expertise.

Some examples of social media tools are blogs, wikis, Twitter, social networking platforms like Facebook, search engines (to an extent), collaboration systems like Google Docs and many other examples – including things currently being developed.

Often the term “social media” is conflated with the term “web 2.0” which itself has a related meaning along the lines of “systems which get better when more people join”. (We have Dale Dougherty and Tim O’Reilly to thank for that particular term! Although, to be fair, it was more akin to a remark to be understood in the context of the dot-com collapse of the late 1990s. Web 2.0 covered all the platforms and services that were able to provide enough usefulness to survive.)

We also want to avoid the hot air and wishful thinking that goes along with any new technology. Real benefit is the key. Enthusiasm for shiny tools and gadgets isn’t intrinsically wrong necessarily. But it can easily become a needless distraction from whatever you’re trying to achieve, which is why it’s important to measure the outcomes.

This stuff is real. We get excited about using these new tools and platforms for measurable benefit to the individual, company or organisation.

Our emphasis would tend to be on outward-facing stuff, which includes your blog, your website and your web presence. This intersects with what’s traditionally known as marketing and public relations.

That said, social media can have a great effect on your collaboration and interaction with colleagues as well.

Anyway, social media have somewhat disrupted the strict boundary between the external and the internal – but only for those brave enough to seek the benefits.

In other words, the philosophy of having a strict wall around your company, or your company as “black box”, is often not the only way or even the best way.

We’re not journalists but crowdsourced video for news is one good example of this. However much the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman may dislike it, people are not content merely to be passive viewers anymore. They now expect some element of interactivity with media.

This movement towards interactivity started with so-called new media and is trickling into established media. Of course, people hardly ever use the term “new media” any more. Especially not the young.

The chef Gordon Ramsay is another example from TV, inviting viewers to contribute recipes via YouTube. He’s supposed to be the expert, right? But now he’s become even more expert by opening up and responding to his fans.

The other Gordon in authority, Mr Brown, who has a blog and has also chosen YouTube to communicate with voters in both directions. And of course Barack Obama used a combination of Twitter and his blog to reach out to voters, in tandem with his supporters on the ground to secure his place at the White House.

Those examples hint at some of the well known stories and there are many more. There are many more abject failures as well. But you can expect to fail when you try these things. Fortunately, social media is cheap and pretty comfortable with an iterative process. Just adjust things as you go or replace them with something better.

But still, we like to get good results as quickly as possible. We had a sense that other people were thinking along similar lines – and thought there could be demand in the Cardiff area for a place to swap ideas and practices. Social media is about sharing after all. So we’re starting a series of regular coffee events in Cardiff where we can discuss this stuff – what works and what doesn’t and why.

The event is called Trydan and we’re co-founding it with two of our friends: journalism tutor Glyn Mottershead and journalism researcher Andy Williams, both of whom are based at Cardiff University.

The four of us are also co-founding it with everyone who turns up for the first meeting.

For inspiration, we’re giving more than a passing nod to other social media meet-ups we know about or have attended – Tuttle in London, Social Media Cafe in Birmingham and Social Media Cafe Manchester (#smc_mcr)

So that’s some of the thinking. You are invited to join us if any of this interests you. The event is set up as a separate entity – just head to the Trydan wiki on which you can read more, add your name to RSVP and also edit.