Friday, 21 December 2007

A community tale to warm the cockles of your heart

As it's Christmas.

Farmers Weekly has had a thriving online forum for many years.

This year they upgraded their software to provide a faster, more fully featured service (including photo-sharing and community blogs) using the Community Server platform.

The result is a thriving and growing community (the 1,000th new member signed up this week) which has strengthened in the most unexpected ways.

The photograph above shows two of the most active members - kansasfarmer and AllyR and their respective spouses (Mrs kansasfarmer and Mrs AllyR, of course).

In a dramatic transition from online to "IRL", kansasfarmer and Mrs KF visited the UK this year and stayed with various members of the online community (the dollar being what it is, this was probably the only way they could manage it!).

Other highlights included one of the members blogging very personally about the process of adopting a child in China. Meanwhile another farmer blogs from Transylvania. You couldn't make it up.

Farmers are - by the nature of their jobs - quite isolated and the fact that they develop such strong relationships and take the trouble to blog about their lives to the rest of the community is really heart warming.

Moreover - from our point of view - it has quite dramatically changed the way that news decisions are made. Journalists are able to see what the hot topics are as they emerge on the forums and get feedback, information and try out ideas.

This is a fundamental shift in journalists' attitudes and - indeed - to the way that we go about communicating.

When the dreaded Foot and Mouth Disease reared its ugly head again this year, the forums proved the fastest, most effective way of getting bullets of news out to the community (especially overnight).

Moreover, it gave the community a way of feeding back what exactly they wanted the journalists to research - everything from "Can I move my cows from here to here?" to "If this outbreak has come from a government lab, can we sue the government?".

It's brought the Farmers Weekly brand, magazine, website and journalists much closer to the people they are serving.

And - dare I say it - puts the farmers very much in the editorial driving seat. Fantastic.

Gets you right there, doesn't it?

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