Tuesday, August 31, 2010

[The Insider] Freunde des Mauerpark e.V.

The Mauerpark in Berlin (between Pankow and Wedding) isn't a park as all the others. When you look at it during weekdays it looks like an old, dry fallow land you would never call "park". While on weekends it is overcrowded - feeling more overcrowded than alexander platz - and filled with all kinds of artists; there are bands playing, people dancing, there is open air karaoke and a fleemarket every sunday. It is a really special place.

And like every special place the Mauerpark needs people who take care of it. One society of 25 volunteers taking care of the Mauerpark is the "Freunde des Mauerpark e.V." ("Society of friends of the Mauerpark") who are trying to establish the park as a constant in Berlin, its culture scene and tourism. So when they thought about relaunching their webpage last year it was decided to get off the path of a "normal society webpage". The people behind "Freunde des Mauerpark e.V." wanted a website transferring all facets of the Mauerpark - they decided to go "social media". We had the great opportunity to talk to Alexander Puell from dfacts.de, the designer of the concept, the creator of the page (software wise) and the one behind most of the social media involvement of the foundation. And, boy, did we learn a lot!
The dedication for the idea of a "community page" already starts when you look at the homepage itself. While most foundations are focused on themselves  the Mauerpark and its community is clearly in the centre of interest. Based on the blogging software Wordpress the news about the Mauerpark takes the biggest part of the content. Only a couple of static pages offer more general information (map etc).

But the most interesting things can be found in the right sidebar (as you can see on the screenshot on the right):

  • the latest tweets related to the Mauerpark (a)
  • a couple of latest pictures of the Flickr Mauerpark group (b)
  • a weather plugin showing the current weather (c)
  • Facebook Fanpage widget (d)
  • a button to Flattr the foundation (e)
  • even an advert for the mobile-version (f) and more
Looking at it one by one, we can see how "Freunde des Mauerpark e.V." tries to make all facets of the Mauerpark available to everyone. While most of the content on the blog itself is written by Alex and some other authors, the content in the sidebar is mostly community driven.

The "Latest Tweets" just shows tweets containing the #mauerpark hashtag. This gives the reader a good impression of what is currently happening in the Mauerpark, Alex told us, it is basically a snapshot. Moreover it is especially interesting as most people don't know that they are showed there. The hashtag just comes up naturally and you can notice a raising rate of international tourists coming to the park and tweeting about. They've probably never even heard about the homepage. But still they are involved in creating it.

For Flickr this is a bit more obvious. Alex is observing some searches on Flickr, looking for pictures of the Mauerpark and if they are any good, he invites the people to join the Mauerpark-Flickr-group and share their pictures. With joining that group these pictures are also shown on the website; the Flickr widget shows the latest pictures which were uploaded. By now, Alex made 128 People contribute 777 pictures to the group. An amazing amount of free content! They even used some of the picture - of course after they've asked first - for a post card series of the Mauerpark they did.

With over 7,000 friends the Mauerpark Facebook Fanpage is one of the most successful parts of the social media landscape Mauerpark is involved in. Though, Alex admitted, the better part is probably tourist, who visited the park once, found it on Facebook and said "Oh yeah, I liked this", but still there are around 2,500 people more or less active. For a foundation of 25 members this is a huge community. This doesn't come out of nowhere. Alex is using the Facebook-Page actively to involve the community.

There are always topics, press releases and interviews you would like to share, but a blog article is usually not the right way to do this. So Alex uses Facebook and Twitter to publish such information and share it with the community. Like an interview he read the other day about the construction works at the Mauerpark. He shares such links on the Facebook-Page and through the Mauerpark-Twitter-Account. Furthermore he puts them and other related content to discussions.

His experience is, that the barrier for comments seems much lower on Facebook. Though people have to talk with their names published, they are much more willing to express their thoughts than they have ever been e.g. on the blog. Most of the discussions of the community happen on the Facebook fan page today. But the low barrier has also his down-sides. Specially discussion about expanding the Mauerpark quickly turns highly emotional. And some people even instrumentalize the Fanpage to propagandise their point of view and rant about people. When this happens, Alex tries to calm down the discussion and push it back to the main track of the question.

Only in the rare case that someone is just insulting someone else he is deleting the comment, although he is terrified to do so. The community is meant to be an open culture and he doesn't censor opinions he doesn't like. If someone found out that he would censor the comments the community would be dead within a minute, he ensured us. But reading and moderating the comments takes a lot of time. Not rarely he spends up to one hour a day on the Facebook Fanpage. But still he tries to publish news or a question two to three times a week on Facebook and Twitter.

But time is a hard decider. Or mostly the lack of it. There has been a really great video series on Youtube. The Mauerpark even has his own Youtube-Channel. Voices was a trial to make those facets of the Mauerpark come to life on the website. Though the videos have been quite good, the lack of time have let the project vanish. And that lack of time is holding back some other great ideas Alex and his friends have: e.g. real multilingual blog articles for tourists, a better map with more information, QR Codes in the park or an augmented reality app showing the Wall of berlin in the park. Yes, the Mauer has gone through this park, that is why it is called the Mauerpark! Not only for these projects but generally Alex is looking for help. If you'd like to help him manage the community, drop him a line!

One thing he had time for and he is proud of - and has every right to be! - is the mobile version of the Mauerpark page. This page contains the information you need on the go; A weather widget, the events-box and - very important - a map. Because, Alex told us, there are a lot of people, specially tourists, checking on the way where the location is exactly. This service helps them find and experience the Mauerpark much easier.

Because in the end that it is what it is all about. Social Media is not a end in itself. It just helps you, it helps the people to get an idea what the Mauerpark really is. But it will never be able to give the full experience. You need to get there in real life and experience it yourself; And on your way there, the homepage of "Freunde des Mauerpark e.V." will guide you with a mobile version, after you arrived you tweet about and later you'll take some pictures and upload them to Flickr as well. Sharing your experience with people who experienced the same or are interested in experiencing it makes up a great important part of social media activities.

Online and offline go hand in hand. Specially for topics of public interest like events or places like this park.

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