Storytelling Innovator Series

Meet the Content Innovator: Annemarie Dooling of Yahoo

Ever the content innovator, Annemarie Dooling has made a career of community building online. After successful stints as community editor at AOL, Salon, and The Huffington Post, she took on the larger role of audience development for Yahoo Travel. Today, Annemarie still consults with Salon and Yahoo. She also travels to consult on user growth and retention, community and social product, and news editor social training.

Q: Could you tell us more about yourself and what your work is all about?

I work with the Yahoo Travel team, which is a brand-new section. I launched with an incredibly small team composed of five people. When the section launched, it was one of the brand-new magazine sections within the site. There was a great need to create a successful standard so that when other new sections (Parenting, Style, Health, Beauty, etc.) all launched, we had a plan in place so that other sections could quickly implement those standards.

Yahoo Travel Site

Q: How would you define the role of audience development—something that’s being hired for throughout top digital media properties today?

That’s a really good question, and I think it’s something that is in flux right now. People don’t really know what to call it. To me, audience development is just that: It’s developing your audience. It’s finding out who they are, where they’re coming from, and what they want to see. It’s speaking to them. It’s finding out what you could be doing, what people like more, what they want more of, and what they don’t like.

To be more specific, I’m talking about registered users—people who have given you their information and who have signed on, latched onto you, and said “I trust this news source. I trust this media source and I want to hear from you again and again. Here’s my personal information. Here are different social networks by which you can contact me and show up in my feed where my friends and family are, too.”

(Editor’s Note: Discover the key to building an online audience here.)

Q: As a content innovator, what kinds of levers or tools are you using to move people over to this registered category?

One of the easiest things to do is simply join the conversation. You would be surprised how often people just ramble into the ether of the Internet without thinking that anyone can hear them, never mind an organization or brand.

People leave Internet comments thinking that no one is going to read them. But when you, as an editor, not only read it, but reply and give some value-added information or just say “Hello,” it makes the person feel like they have had a connection to the site. This builds trust, and that person may want to come back to see if you’ll reply again. Sometimes, they even think of you as a friend in a strange way.

(Editor’s Note: You can find 10 tips for building an online audience here.)

Q: Can you tell me a story about one of these audience segments or user types you’ve found, and how you discovered them?

Back at Salon, we noticed that there were a lot of fights in the comments section concerning climate change. It appeared that there was a specific group of people that we were about to ban. They were the loudest and the angriest; they also used the worst language.

The more we looked into it, the more it seemed that this was an ongoing fight. So we reached out specifically, emailed some of the key players, and determined that there was some very hardcore trolling happening. The funny thing is, it was actually the people who were the quietest, because they weren’t hitting language or link filters. They weren’t shouting or using all caps, but they were instigating fights. We ended up actually banning—I want to say overall, across the site—600 people.

(Editor’s Note: Read more on how to build engagement on your online blog here.)

Q: Six hundred? Really?

Six hundred, yeah. We took the people who were interested in climate change and we asked them what they wanted. The result was a weekly discussion. So, every Friday, we’re able to put up a very simple conversation-provoking post; for example, “We’re reading all these stories about the different ways that pets contribute to different problems, and the pet industry makes X amount of money, but it also contributes to X problems. What do you think?”

It’s an open post where they can just talk. We moderate it a little bit differently just because we trust the users that are on that section and they like it. It’s an idea that I know the moderator over at Salon is looking to roll out in the next year.

Q: How do you guarantee quality comments in communities?

First, it’s important to recognize that although you can ban language and things that go against your terms of service, you cannot police morals.

Second, know that there’s always going to be stuff like “This sucks,” “I don’t like this article,” or even “This is nice,” which doesn’t actually drive conversation at all. You can’t stop those things, but you can make the better stuff float to the top.

At Huffington Post, with our native commenting platform, we had a badge that had a very secret algorithm to win and the badge was called a “pundit badge.” This badge opened up a whole realm of opportunities on the site that you did not have otherwise. Importantly, these members also had their posts pinned to the top of the comment thread.

Q: Forget the whole content innovator label. If you had to leave the reader with one life lesson, what would it be?

I once heard that people may not remember everything that you did for them, but they will always remember how you made them feel. I think that is actually one of the key lessons in my career. It’s so easy to forget everyone you meet, where you met them, what you were doing with them, and what you want to work on with them. But if someone does something really nice and simple or who has an interesting story to share—someone that makes you feel something—it’s nice. It’s different, and people will always remember that sort of thing.

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