Meet the new Swarm Board

Join the Swarm 2015In 2014 Swarm conference co-founder Alison Michalk and I invited applications for the Swarm Board – a dedicated group of community professionals who could help us continue to improve and evolve the Swarm experience for attendees, sponsors, partners and the industry at large.

We began as roundtable of like minds, then grew to an entire conference.

Now we’re turning five – and growing up.

Meet our Board members

These six gifted and passionate community builders and thinkers have been appointed to the inaugural Swarm Board, and we can’t wait to work with them to bring Swarm 2015 to life.

Anne Shea


Anne Shea Swarm Conference Board Member

As Social Media Manager for the University of Melbourne, Anne helped bring Swarm to the University in 2014. She is excited to see the conference flourish with partnerships in higher education, in both Melbourne and Sydney.

Anne has recently taken on a marketing management role at The University of Melbourne and has a special interest in integrating community management lessons into the wider marcomms landscape.

Matthew Cox


Matthew Cox Swarm Conference Board Member

Matthew is Managing Director at Dialogue Consulting, a Melbourne consultancy specialising social and digital media strategy, risk management and advisory services.

Matthew has a degree in Professional Communication from RMIT and has worked across Australia for healthcare, not-for-profits, entertainment, government, FMCG, real estate sectors and more.

Nicole Jensen

Nicole Jensen Swarm Conference Board Member


Nicole is a freelance social media strategist in Brisbane who shows people how to use social media effectively, creatively and resourcefully.

She has managed social media for agencies, big business, small business, not-for-profits, associations, lobby campaigns, job seekers, students, and teachers. Her specialities are strategy, content marketing and digital reputation management.

She managed online community and events for BTUB, the Brisbane Twitter social group (one of the most successful in Australia) for over five years.

Scott Drummond


Scott Drummond Swarm Conference Board Member

Sydney based Scott is Social Strategy Director Medium Rare Content Agency, where he helps organisations develop strategies, manage risks and identify opportunities in the social media and community landscape.

The former Head of Social Media at Ogilvy Indonesia, Scott has also worked as Social Media Director at Host Sydney, Head of Social Media at Australian digital agency Holler as and Community Manager for Optus.

Recently Scott spent half a year travelling from Sydney to London with his family using every type of transport except a plane.

Nicole Thomas


Nicola Thomas Swarm Conference Board MemberNicole is the Community Manager at SANE Australia, a national mental health organisation. She heads up their latest initiative, SANE Forums; a community for people living with mental health difficulties and for those who care for them.

Nicole’s background in mental health, social science and education are the key ingredients to her role as Community Manager.

With previous roles at, NSW Department of Education, and learning and development company Be Learning, she brings an eclectic skill set to the world of Community Management.

Sarah Hawk


Sarah Hawk  Swarm Conference Board MemberFormerly a developer in the corporate world, Hawk (known as Sarah by her mother) said goodbye to the code and succumbed to the lure of all things community.

Passionate about the science behind community management, Hawk has worked as a Community Strategist for SitePoint and UXMastery and as a Community Manager for Emoderation. Currently she works with Feverbee.

With a decade of experience staffing and managing forums, Hawk has recently focused on working with brands to integrate their communities into their primary digital presence.

Feel free to reach out to any of us throughout 2015 about Swarm stuff – and we look forward to welcoming you to the Swarm community for a very special fifth year.

Swarm 2015: call for speakers


Add your voice to the only industry conference for online community professionals in the Asia Pacific region.

Swarm, Australia’s national conference for community managers and social media professionals, is celebrating it’s fifth year in 2015- and it’s going to be huge!

Each year Swarm gathers a host of remarkable international and Australian presenters for attendees, and we welcome applications from anyone who would like to share their insights with our community.

We’re interested in big ideas, but more importantly, their outcomes and implications. We’re disciplinary, so we encourage content from any sector that is practically applicable to the work we do. We’re especially interested in people that can present information in a non-standard way, and care about investing in an authentic community of practice.

If this is you, tell us all about it here: 2015 Speaker Application Form

Swarm will be held in Sydney September, 2015. 


Some of our stellar 2014 Swarm speakers

See who else has spoken at Swarm:

Like to join the hive?

Community Manager Appreciation Day Panels – Join us!


Community Manager Appreciation Day is coming up on January 26, 2015 (January 27 here in Australia).

Community management professionals and advocates around the world are gathering together for 24 hours worth of Google hangouts on different topics and issues. (Here’s the epic team that pull it all together).

The Hangout-a-thon covers everything from moderation, to crisis management, to content development, to building community for start-ups and then some – a chatty crash course in hot topics and timely issues, explored by both veterans and newcomers.

Hang out with us!

I’m excited to be hosting of the hangouts again this year (last year we ran a panel on the resurgence of owned communities). It’s precisely because communities are hotter than ever (and the sector has matured considerably), that we’re focusing this year on how to help businesses launch successful online community models.

That starts with knowing if you’re ready to launch a community.

Just as in life, there’s no magic-bullet, ‘ready’ moment – and if you wait indefinitely you may miss a golden opportunity. But there are some helpful checks and balances to work through if you’re looking at investing capacity and funding into a community of some kind.

Start your litmus test for community

How do you assess if you’re ready for community?

On air: 9 – 10pm – EST (GMT-5)
Monday, January 26th, 2015
1 – 2pm AEST (Australia)
Joining me is a global panel of brilliant community builders: Julie Delaforce, Justin Isaf, Hugh Stephens and Jessica Malnik.We’ll be looking at why businesses and organisations are attracted to online communities to begin with.Then we’ll dive into the following questions:

1. How can an organisation know it it’s “ready” to build a community?

2. What are the most common mistakes businesses and organisations make when trying to launch or build a community?

3. What are the solutions to avoiding these mistakes?

4. What are some of the lesser known risks or challenges in creating a community – and why should we pay attention to them?

5. Once you have a community successfully up and running, how can you stress test it for growth, scale, risk and other factors?

6. How often should you reassess and check in on how robust your community is at dealing with the various pressures (social, market and other) that it will be exposed to?

Join in (or catch up later)

If you’ve got insights to share, want to hear from some incredible community professionals, or have questions to ask, we’d love to see you there.

RSVP for the panel here (that way you’ll get a calendar reminder)

Join the panel live or watch the recording if you can’t make it on the day.

View the rest of the CMAD 2015 Hangout schedule

Benefits of owned community vs. social networks

While social networks have enjoyed the spotlight for many years, branded – or owned – communities never went away.

Popular owned communities like Flyertalk, Essential Baby, Whirlpool, Mumsnet, American ExpressGaia Online, ReachOut, not to mention countless customer service communities, have balanced an on-network community with a strategic presence in social media for many years. These entities still add value and interact tactically on social networks, but a deep dive community experience helps them achieve a core objective or mission.

Are you ready for community?

lego people

In recent years the realisation by later adopters that social media isn’t free, or easy, combined with rising cost barriers and noise in our most trafficked channels, has seen a renewed interest in owned community.

So what are the advantages in doing it for yourself?

Here’s a few:


Communities should take effort to join and are designed to move new members through a combination of qualifying factors (for example: I’m a new mum who lives in Melbourne who wants to connect with other new mums in the area).

Boundaries allow like-minded people to come together and promote a sense of belonging. Social networks have infamously low boundaries (it’s one of the reasons they’re so great at other things, like information dissemination).

As community builder Peter Block writes:

Social fabric is created one room at a time, the one we are in at the moment. It is formed out of the questions “Whom do we want in the room?” and “What is the new conversation that we want to occur?”

Community isn’t about serendipity – about letting down the drawbridge, inviting in the masses and seeing what happens. It’s about choices and lines in the virtual sand. It has an articulated purpose and a curated collective around that purpose.

With an owned community your joining requirements and initiation rituals can take the form they need to.


Control can be a dirty word. Some see it as the antithesis of social media. Yet control as intention is at the heart of the community experience.

A defining feature of community is that its members seek control and influence within the community as a driver of participation.

And the host or creator of the community needs to be able to control the experience and change it to suit the needs of members over time.

If you monetise your community you need to be able to control that process.

Members only welcome mat


Social networks have notoriously inadequate moderation tools. The ability to accentuate the positive and prune the negative isn’t a priority for those platforms. But healthy communities require a relevant level of moderation to nurture the culture desired by host and members alike.

Community managers need to be able to remove obstacles to purpose, and this can be an uphill battle on third party sites where you have don’t have the tools to do the job or the influence to have them created.

Community platforms (such as Discourse, Lithium, Jive and more) have better moderation functionality than social networks and many offer the ability to customise tools to suit your needs.


When a third party platform goes down and you’ve got all your relationship eggs in that basket, you’re in trouble. No site is foolproof, and your own community might easily have downtime or other issues. But you have agency over those issues in a way you simply don’t if your CRM is tied solely to a third party social network, including (usually) the means to contact your members to keep communication lines open.

You’re also vulnerable to functionality changes that may or may not enhance the purpose of the community and held hostage to changes that third parties have every right to make, but that might be at odds with member needs.


People don’t usually mind providing information about themselves relevant to the need they’re looking to extract from a product or experience.

On social networks you only have access to a fraction of the data required to measure and optimise the experience for your fans and followers. You rarely have enough to contribute to meaningful CRM (that’s not what the platform is for).

Own the building blocks and you’ll have the blueprint to create the ideal community for hosts and members, including the products, services, tools and outcomes you require or desire. Take care not to surrender your relationship building efforts to someone else’s database.


For many communities of purpose, pseudonymity is important for open and impactful engagement and interaction. Your members need to be able to define their identity as they desire, in relation to the purpose of the community, and this isn’t easy on major social networks.

Offering members freedom over how they define themselves helps promote a sense of belonging and disclosure – two critical elements for lasting community.

Read: Why anonymity matters in online communities

Rubber ducks


Hundreds, even thousands, of content rich interactions taking place on your own network regularly is SEO catnip.

This doesn’t just improve your digital footprint, but importantly, helps you and your community become synonymous with the topic of the community.

This means you’ll attract and have a chance to recruit more relevant members, and you’ll increase the odds of your members achieving their collective aims (e.g. to offer peer support from those experiencing housing distress).

Create your own discoverability magnet.

Choose your own adventure

Social media are the spokes to your community hub. They’re nodes that will flow in and out of your community to help you tell your community story, recruit new members and achieve community goals.

An owned community lets founders (and members) define who the community is for and craft its experience and content around that function. It enables members, not only fans or followers.

Are you ready for community?

When I’m asked to help a company with a community strategy, I juggle mixed reactions.

I’m thrilled someone is interesting in developing community, having watched it become the most powerful asset for many companies.

And I’m immediately concerned it might be for the wrong reasons (which will doom it to failure). Sadly it’s often the latter.

bees in hive

To figure out which situation we’re dealing with – and if business readiness matches enthusiasm – there’s a fairly simple litmus test.

It will save you blood, sweat and the bottom line if you run it before starting down the road of creating an owned community.

It’s straightforward, but often overlooked:

Your online community should solve an important (if not the most important) problem facing your customers or consumers.

It’s the same logic you’d apply to great a product, only more so, because you’ll be inviting people to invest hours, months, perhaps even years of their time into a network of relationships dedicated to a specific set of goals.

You need to honestly answer these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the community?
  • What is the value for its members?
  • What is the value for your business?

Do the answers align – or are they different, at odds even? Can you honestly say what’s good for your company is also good for the community? Can those goals and outcomes sufficiently overlay?

If you feel like you’ll be making concessions to build the community; compromising on business goals or giving up on products, tools and services you think are more important, stop right there. An online community isn’t for you (yet anyway).

Before you even get to figuring out if you can adequately resource your community for growth, start from scratch and figure out what problems you’re trying to solve for people and how an online community might make those solutions come to life.

This isn’t an abstract process; it’s about tying the community to tangible business objectives.

Then start asking the next series of questions, which will ultimately lead you into community design:

  • Who is this community for? i.e. Cyclists who live in car-centric cities
  • How many existing communities serve this group?
  • How long is the community likely to take to achieve its shared goals? (i.e. a month, or years)

Planting seeds

Never mind how – start with why

You may have heard that communities are great for driving traffic to your site, turbo-charging your SEO footprint, adapting to search algorithms, product idea incubation, scaling customer service and more.

They can be all of these and then some. When done right they’re fundamentally transformative and probably the best brand asset you’ll ever invest in. But they won’t get past launch unless they’re well planned, well managed, and most critically, truly aligned with company purpose and intent.

Start with purpose, and when what’s good for business is good for the community, you’re ready to plant your seeds.

Silence & the value of ‘slow’ community

Sitting here watching the dramatic siege in Sydney’s Martin Place unfold with the rest of Australia and many around the world, it’s impossible to avoid the social media noise.

It’s still humming.

It’s frequently speculative, occasionally hate-filled, intermittently impassioned. If you turn off your devices (and good luck with that), it’s being folded into news reporting.

It’s prompted me to reflect a little on why it’s so hard to be silent.

These thoughts aren’t intended to trivialise the siege events (as I type, they’re still occurring). I have the utmost respect for the authorities managing the crisis and the deepest of sympathies for everyone impacted; especially those poor hostages.

They’re my own way of processing what’s going on through a partly professional lens, and I hope they nudge some thinking.

Street art showing man with finger to lipsFlickr: jefaerosol

So why can’t we shut up?

Talkativeness means survival. It’s a coping mechanism for many in life, and for humans as a collective.

We talk to change the subject and avoid the confrontation that reflection might deliver.

It also means identity. We talk to cohere and ascribe meaning to a shared experience.

A recent study even revealed that talking to strangers may well make us happier.

We’ve also done it forever, long before the internet. It’s community in action.

But filling the digital void is a different ballgame. It’s easy – and – for those who require it, promises attention a water cooler never could. The normalisation of user generated culture has embedded a sense of entitlement to have a say. Giving voice is a gift of the ages. But when noise is unchecked, it feeds the disaster-porn machine that traditional media thrives on. We feed it, then we complain about it. The circle of life goes on.

When noise swirls it feeds the disaster-porn machine

Accelerated culture means a millisecond can have a lifetime of impact.

Slow community

I wasn’t silent either. I had fascinating conversations with community managers and social media leads through the day, in private communities.

Some asked for tips on how to address the topic in their own communities (which either had direct connections to the event or were discussing it like everyone else).

Many unpacked the way the Lindt team were dealing with the myriad challenges they face on social media. Others were sharing strategies.

Some just wanted the group hug of knowing others were out there.

We shared some acute examples of posts that were ill-thought, or just plain inappropriate, including a high profile journalist, an editorial staffer from a major student publication and a prominent social media personality, among others.

Importantly, we also talked about the value of silence as a response – and that shutting down comments and commentary is absolutely sometimes the right decision.

Shutting down commentary is absolutely sometimes the right decision

Those group discussions were largely measured, thoughtful and constructive.

They weren’t a hyperactive stream. Call them ‘slow’ community.

Women with hand held to mouth, with lips on hand

Flickr: danielavladimirova

What makes it slow?

  • It’s a carefully constructed community of purpose, with intentional barriers to entry;
  • It’s hand moderated to reasonable standards of what is and isn’t acceptable;
  • Finally, the audience is much narrower – the ‘public’ is finite.

This is the conundrum with the gun-powder publics of the web… and just how infinite they can be.

Private communities in small and large form appear to be making a comeback with the mainstream. Maybe that’s a healthy thing for digital discourse and driving value – business or civic.

Noise can and does become something pretty powerful now and then. Time heals, and it can transform toxicity into remarkable shows of hope and humanity. Like this one.

The social washing machine churns the ‘thing’ around and like-mindedness clusters.

But while that’s happening, maybe we need some ‘slow-community’ to buffer the speed of noise.

Social Media Manager or Community Manager?

I’ve led social media and community management for companies, hired, and worked with many social media managers and community managers.

Let’s be honest – the two roles are often confused. The number of blog posts explaining the difference should be a tip-off.

(I like this one, fwiw: Differentiating Between Social Media and Community Management – Rachel Happe, Community Roundtable)

In Australia, for example, most Community Manager jobs advertised are actually Social Media Manager jobs.

There’s a few of reasons for this. One is that advertising agencies dominate the discourse around social media and online ‘community’ in Australia.

Another is that there are fewer enterprise and organisational online communities in Australia compared to North America and Europe, where the distinction is more native.

Finally, the market in Australia is a small one and it’s all but assured social and community professionals will end up delivering both functions at some point.

So we muddy our waters – what’s the harm?

Here’s why this confusion can be a problem.


Why the difference matters

Just like anything in life and business, if you’ve got the wrong tool for the job, you won’t get the outcome you expect or need.

You might be using the wrong strategy

Communities and social media solve different problems for businesses and organisations.

Are you building brand awareness, or do you want to scale customer service? Does your roadmap take into account community life-cycles over the long haul (communities take years to build and pay off more over time – a little like bricks and mortar)?

Communities are different systems to social networks, defined by the structure of their relationship matrix, not the platform they inhabit.

Here’s a nice way to visualise this important difference (big thanks to Matthew Cox for the image):

Network versus community diagram


You don’t know what you’re measuring

Objectives, end goals, metrics for success, measuring tools and methodologies are very different for Social Media Managers and Community Mangers.

Social Media Managers might look at engagement metrics around native social content, reach and amplification, social media sentiment and conversions (however that’s defined for the organisation in question).

Community Manager measurement includes: membership funnels (visitor to registration), engagement ratios over time, volume and balance of strong and weak ties, progress toward member objectives, number of volunteers – and critically – community health (including sense of belonging, level of influence). If you don’t know what you’re measuring, you can’t define or achieve success.

If you don’t know what you’re measuring, how will you know success?

You’re devaluing both functions

Saying an SEO Strategist is the same as a Digital Editor doesn’t do justice to either, even though a Digital Editor will have strong SEO skills and understanding, and an SEO Strategist will understand the mechanics of great content.

In particular, this conflation tends to disadvantage community builders, whose work is commonly longitudinal (complex peer-to-peer relationship building across many years).

You’re hiring the wrong people for the job

If you hire a Social Media Manager when you need someone to design a community strategy, you’ll be disappointed. It’s a different mission, with different timeframes and different skill requirements.

You might also be facing wasted resources, morale issues and broken outcomes.

Community manager meme

What’s in a name?

Community is frustratingly, beguilingly oblique word. It’s about identity and investment, so it’s inevitably bespoke to at least some extent. But there is a long history of established social science defining community structures and a network structures that should inform us here.

At a high level, social media is about reach. Communities are about relevance. Content is the glue of social media (formal or informal). Relationships are the glue of communities. They complement one another functionally and structurally. Deftly managed social media is an effective way to discover community member prospects and spark the journey to registration.

Neither is better or worse – and together they’re supremely powerful.

Audiences on social media and community members are part of are very different social systems – and we’re not doing ourselves any favours confusing the two. We can’t set objectives, define and measure success, or hire the right professionals if we don’t know whether we want people getting excited about our latest product, or a sense of belonging.

Audiences on social media and community members are part of different social systems.

Many Community Managers have become adept Social Media Managers as social media platforms have risen to nest the conversations of our age. And great Social Media Managers understand the way people tick in ways similar to community builders and negotiators.

We’ve developed deep and real appreciation for our respective functions and talents.

But it’s a risk to assume we’re fluent in each other’s discipline, and riskier still to not match person – to role – to need.