Carla Busazi is Editor-in-Chief at The Huffington Post UK. At the AOP Conference on 3 October she will be joining the panel on Turning Audiences Into
Communities alongside Phil Clark, Digital & Audience Director at UBM; Joanna Geary, Digital Development Editor at The Guardian; Stuart Forrest, publishing director of Pistonheads.com and Jane King, Editorial Director of Farmers Weekly.
Here she talks about what differentiates an audience from a community, and the ups and downs of working with your readers.
An audience tends to be defined as a passive collective, whereas a community would be considered a group of individuals interacting with you. Now though we think in a different way - today, your audience is your community. As editors, our job is to give them content they want to interact with, and the platforms they need to be able to engage with it. Everything we create on the Huffington Post we expect to start a conversation and create a response, and there’s so many ways in which people can interact with it. There is also an amplification effect because the user pushes the content out to an even wider community through their social channels.
How do communities emerge?
People have got used to the idea that they’re now part of the story, which was quite a new idea when the Huffington Post launched in the US in 2005. But people also don’t necessarily think of themselves as being members of a community; it’s their actions in reading that site, commenting on it, sharing content that define them as part of it.
In many ways this is something people have been doing for hundreds of years. We share things with our friends, we talk about things in the pub. The difference now is that we can do it minute-in, minute-out because of all the tools that are available wherever we are.
What are the key lessons for journalists working with communities?
For us it’s very much about learning from the story you created yesterday or last week. If it hasn’t been shared or commented on, why not? Is it because we didn’t promote it well enough, or was it just not very interesting?
But it’s not just about looking backwards, and this is where traditional editorial judgement is still vital. You have to give people things that they don’t yet know they want, which means there’s still a need for editorial gut instinct.
We often think of communities as being about blogs and forums, but there’s more to it than that. Another way that Huffington Post has grown their community is through Huffington Post Live, our online streaming video news network. People email in to say they’ve got a comment and they join a Google Hangout to discuss it with our studio team, which is then streamed out to an audience that can then also join the debate. So it’s not just commenting in the written form, it’s people talking too. We’re getting a huge cross-section of people from around the world and we’re trying to make it much broader in appeal. It’s really interesting and it’s something we’ll see more of in the future.
What about established editors? How hard is it for them to adapt to this new world?
There are fewer and fewer old school editors who think that digital is irrelevant, and that’s because they’re seeing the interaction they can generate. It used to be that the editor would write their op-ed piece and they’d maybe get a few letters from their readers. Now you can post something online and see all the comments you get and debate it creates. Most journalists are fairly egotistical - we like people reading the things we write!
For people who are just coming to this world, what are the pitfalls to watch out for?
You have to be aware that not everyone will agree with what you’ve written. When you open yourself up for comments it’s a two-way thing and you’re not going to like everything that’s said. But we reply to everything that comes in via our Reply button and it’s surprising how often just replying to a critical comment will result in an email back saying “thanks for recognising me”.