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Mar 1st 2012
On Justin Isaf's first day at the Huffington Post, the reality of living under AOL's roof became an actuality- literally. Justin's first day aligned with the official move of The Huffington Post to the 770 Broadway offices of AOL. Staking a small cluster of desks in the sprawling newsroom on the 5th floor - Justin got right to work.
As Community Manager for the Huffington Post Media Group, Justin has one of the most challenging jobs online - leading the team responsible for cultivating the Huffington Post commenter communities. In fact, the Huffington Post generated over 50 million comments last year alone.
"I fell right in the middle of the acquisition. But since we had dedicated developers, design and management resources, it was an easy transition because we just got down to work. Since then, we're approaching 100% growth in comment volume," said Isaf, a ten year veteran of the community management space, most recently at change.org, before his move to The Huffington Post.
"The Huffington Post is the place for people to come to talk about anything in the news. Our goal is to ensure a safe space for people to comment. We have a quality standard that we hold comments to through moderation. But moderation is like roads, necessary, but not sufficient (and certainly not sexy) to growing a good community, so we do a lot more on top of that as well."
Managing a community of this size and scale can present a unique set of challenges. So can merging the commenter communities of two traditionally very different brands and audiences.
"There is one rule in community, don't talk about religion or politics, and at Huffington Post we do both heavily. As Huffington Post, being bought by AOL, politics is an especially contentious issue. The visitors have opposing view points, and very adamant ones at that. It's been a big challenge to manage. Combine that with global expansion, comments in other languages and it's easy to say growth has been 'interesting'." Justin and his team are also focusing on nurturing the smaller communities at HuffPost and they are looking for two more community managers to help curate these audiences.
Isaf's favorite thing about working at AOL is their "willingness to put resources where their mouth is; putting tech time in, and allowing the entire team to push the boundaries of community at scale. I get to play around with a lot of stuff I normally wouldn't be able to try at another company."
When asked about his greatest accomplishment, Isaf immediately cited his team. "I'm so proud of what we've done inside the moderation team. It's a family of people who go to bat for each other, which has enabled us to scale up quickly and results in increased capacity, accuracy, speed, retention - and happiness."
Isaf believes the future of social and community is user led and curated verticals. "If you like fly fishing news, you should be able to comment, aggregate and link out through The Huffington Post."
"I see Twitter losing ground, because its all about me listening about what you want me to hear, instead of listening what I want to hear; There will be a move towards networks and sites that help you listen to information at the scale of Twitter, but filtered for your interests, instead of your connections."
In terms of the future of our profession, Isaf was clear, "We will see an increase in separation of job titles for social media managers and community managers. More people are starting to understand that a social media manager is not a community manager. They are very different skill sets, and businesses will start to realize that. A social media manager's job is talking to as many people as possible - a community manager's job is to get as many people talking to each other as possible."
And what's next for Justin? He is focusing on how to increase network density in communities at scale and trying to figure out ways to apply the team's knowledge of community and the tech that powers it to new products and services.
And sleep. Lots of sleep.
Follow Justin on Twitter at @justinisaf.
(Photo courtesy of Justin Isaf)