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Clark Howard Is Growing Up

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7 Monday, August 25th, 2008

While writing about the Online Community Lifecycle, I recalled an episode I observed years ago during the “storming” phase of the Clark Howard Message Boards. I remember one particular real estate expert who was an absolute tyrant in the community. This guy knew his field extremely well, but he had zero patience for real estate noobs and those with whom he disagreed. He offered world-class advise, but would turn on a dime into a crass name-calling bully. For the life of me, the only reason I can fathom that Clark allowed this to persist is because he is a notoriously self-admitted cheapskate that didn’t invest in proper tools and personnel to sustain a vibrant community. Unfortunately, Clark allowed his community to fester and attack each other relentlessly, and were it not for his very popular radio show and books, it surely would have failed.

I found this member’s disposition to be quite amusing in spite of the anguish he caused. He really did know his stuff, even though his tough-love modus operandi ruffled feathers. I joined the group and started a new topic entitled “Ode to [whatever is name was].” I wrote a simple sonnet a la the meter of “There once was a man from Nantucket” about this particular individual.

In an amusing and respectful way, I essentially pointed out how smart this guy was. People needed to look past his curmudgeon persona and listen to the genuine knowledge he had to offer.

The response was very positive given that it was so personal. People came forward to give the guy the credit he deserved, yet inviting him to chill out. He appreciated the gesture, other lurkers came out of the shadows and several people even wrote their own poems; very funny in a stale financial forum.

Unfortunately, Clark’s moderator got wind of the thread and, incredibly, removed it because it didn’t meet some strict (and secret) rule about never ever under any circumstances deviating from financial discussions. Shortly thereafter and ever since, newcomers are assaulted with the glaring red warning to behave and to watch out for unscrupulous behavior, negative messaging that is sure to drive them straight to the shadows of Lurker Land.

The moderator’s decision was a real shame because we had planted a fun seed of comradeship and goodwill amid a well-intentioned community. Moreover, this online brand was desperately struggling to find a kind voice that welcomed new members. It’s remarkable because if you spend 2 minutes listening to Clark, you’ll hear a very gentle and humorous tone that was in stark contrast to the vitriol people encountered on his website at that time. I think the moderator’s seemingly hip-shot decision to stamp out any fun was a serious mistake for another reason as well: Community leaders should never forget that people are actually investing themselves when they contribute content. This investment strengthens a community and develops brand evangelists. And converting lurkers to active participants should always be nurtured whenever possible.

Thankfully, Clark seems to have learned some important lessons. His team has a presence on the boards and applies more consistent moderation. New visitors can see clearly demarcated subject matters to consume content relevant to them.

Clark also does an excellent job of directing his radio listeners to his website during his “Trash Clark” segment where he invites people to log on and leave feedback in his “Clark Stinks” forum. This strategy accomplishes two key objectives simultaneously. (Note: I hesitate to say “strategy” because I believe Clark’s success is in large part because he has a true servant’s heart. He cares deeply about his listeners.) First, by promoting his message boards, he is encouraging people to participate beyond listening and lurking. I’d wager his website enjoys long length-of-stays and very low bounce rates. It’s prime real estate for his radio advertisers which presumably could generate more revenue for some technology improvements.

Second, Clark provides a vehicle for people to give him direct public feedback, which amplifies his nice-guy approachable image. Few people actually bash Clark, but his gesture is very smart.

While part of this online community feels as though it’s clinging to adolescence, at least it has matured beyond puberty. Clark’s radio convergence and enthusiastic team shows signs of even greater potential.

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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Eric Hundin

    I found your blog on MSN Search. Nice writing. I will check back to read more.

    Eric Hundin

  2. Allen Taylor

    Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

  3. Bookpeople

    Perhaps the moderator took issue with your post being directed at another community member? Maybe it was construed as a personal attack. Regardless, a moderator’s job is to assess a situation and then act. Not all situations require action.

  4. 78704

    Forum guidelines are essential. I can’t stand when mods expect new people to follow some set of unwritten rules.

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About Me

I am an executive-level interactive producer specializing in social media, online community management and buzz marketing for national accounts. I provide agency support & client service across multiple industries. I love integrated campaign strategy, working with creative teams, kicking-off projects and driving them through launch.

I am currently working at Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.

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SEO, media strategy, web analytics, web application architecture, server architecture, e-commerce platforms, data modeling
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Contact Shannon

Shannon Swenson
Austin, Texas
512-472-3090 x1

hello [at] shannonswenson [dot] com