Online forums need hosts and moderators, workshops need facilitators, networks require some weaving to develop links. But how, for example, do you do that fast around an event, capture content, and follow through afterwards? I'm pondering the possible role of the social reporter.
I'm interested from two angles. The first is the practicality of setting up and supporting multi-use blogs sites like this for people attending events, and so mix face-to-face and online. The ideal is to help people register, post their profiles, contribute through blogging and commenting, while at the same time being offered links to wider networks and good briefing material. Contributions at the event will be reported through blog items, audio and video. Afterwards there may be further contributions to other sites, maybe some joint work on a wiki.
Except ... it doesn't just happen. Unless the event is about social media few people will be comfortable with the tools. There isn't time to build a community gradually, nor the critical mass of users to get a lot of spontaneous contributions. Just seeding the space isn't enough ... more intensive gardening is required.
Of course, you may say none of this is worth the effort, and face-to-face events don't benefit from before and afters online, but for now let's say it is worth experimenting in different ways. If that's the case, then someone has to find external resources, spot stories of interest to participants, look for common interests in profiles and make introductions, post items an help others to so, shoot video ... and so on. I think it's a mix of facilitation and journalism.
My second interest is the journalism angle ... something I used to do in print. When someone asks these days what I do, I end up stumbling around ... "I use social media for social benefit ... help people collaborate in workshops and online .... you know, blogs and wikis and that sort of thing". It used to be much easier to say I was a reporter.
It occurs to me that I should try calling myself a social reporter; it feels more comfortable for this purpose than knowledge activist or technology steward.
For me it has the advantage of confirming some fraternal links with people like Nick Booth of Podnosh, who blogs and podcasts in his local community in Birmingham, while reflecting on what's needed to shift from the news values of traditional journalism to something more socially beneficial. We need to move from conflict, celebrity and criticism to collaboration, celebration, creativity.
It seems to me that the role of social reporter could be important as we see a shift from "all in one place" online communities to the sort of blog communities described by Nancy White. It chimes in with the work I'm doing with Bev Trayner in developing sites that may support communities of practice (and learning a lot from Bev along with way on CoPs). 'Social reporter" also reminds me I have a lot to learn from Beth Kanter on how to use the wealth of web and personal media tools now available. It ties in with work to explore what social networking may mean for nonprofits, over at the mediablends site. Maybe I'll end up with something useful to contribute to the exciting work on conversations and storytelling generously put into the public domain by the guys at Anecdote. They really seem to know how to mix face-to-face and online.
There are many other great examples of people doing really innovative work using social media for social benefit ... so much so it can be a bit intimidating. Hence the need - for me anyway - to find a way of describing the work that is a bit personal, a bit general. Social reporter may be it. As part of my rather cursory research I tried Wikipedia ... nothing there. I Googled the term and found a certain amount about people who audit the environmental and social impact of business. Hmmm. But then I found reference to others who seemed to get invited to a lot of parties. Phew, that's alright then. Don't want to lose all the traditional benefits.