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Exclusive Interview: YCN Year in Review with Sr. Community Manager Darnell Witt

In Interviews on December 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm

It’s been a year of BIG changes for Associated Content Contributors and the migration to the Yahoo! Contributor Network platform is finally complete. Many writers are already finding their work on some of Yahoo!’s most popular media channels, including OMG!, Yahoo! Movies, Yahoo! Shine and Yahoo! News and the transition has been a smooth one.

I caught up with Senior Community Manager Darnell Witt (formerly known as AC Darnell) for a recap of some of the highlights and improvements from this past year. And there’s even more to come! A brand new Contributor training program and a revamped referral system are a few new projects on the horizon.

Take it away, DW…

SK: What changes have you been most excited about with the AC/Yahoo! transition?

DW: To my mind, the expanded beta of our Performance Payments program, extending it across the Yahoo! network, is the single most exciting aspect of our new platform. Associated Content pioneered this performance-based compensation model, and now we’re rolling it out to some of the most popular sites on the Web!

SK: The Yahoo! partnership was announced over the summer of 2010. Did you anticipate the site migration this early?

DW: Immediately following the acquisition, our game plan was “business as usual.” We wanted everyone to know that Yahoo! didn’t just buy AC for the technology, but was also committed to carrying the torch of “The People’s Media Company” and continuing to provide contributors with as many opportunities as possible. At that point, the timeline for our full integration into the Yahoo! network was still “TBD.”

Over the summer, Luke (AC Founder and current Yahoo! VP) set the ambitious goal of launching a new, integrated publishing platform by the end of the 2010.  It sounded crazy at the time, because the process would require us to rethink and rebuild our publishing and page view tracking systems, not to mention redesign each page on our site, and develop an entirely new brand. But the whole team rallied around the plan, and put in lots of extra hours to make Luke’s crazy dream into an awesome reality.

SK: What are some significant changes Contributors can look forward to in 2011?

DW: We will be introducing Performance Payments on additional Yahoo! sites. We’re also working on new badges, a new blog, a revamped referral program, contributor training materials, and various interface enhancements. Of course, we’ll also be ramping up the publishing volume to Yahoo! sites as time goes on, so that means continually increasing opportunities to be published on the sites aligned with your interests and expertise.

SK: Are there any big plans or changes in store for the original AC Community?

DW: We will re-launch our Community Guides program in early 2011 and debute a new and improved community blog later in the year. Of course, we’ll also continue to provide the same interactive and social environments that have helped remain the community-friendliest of publishing platforms, and we’re always open to new ideas!

SK: How can Contributors be more active with the Yahoo! Contributor Community? What are some of your recommendations as the Senior Community Manager?

DW: In my experience, the best motivation for contributors (apart from money, of course :)) is positive reinforcement from readers and viewers. I certainly recommend interacting with the Yahoo! Contributor community on Twitter and Facebook, and participating in our Forum, but the single most important thing you can do to immerse yourself within the community is engage with the content other contributors are creating. Seek out contributors with interesting perspectives and complementary interests, become their fan, subscribe to their content, leave them thoughtful comments, promote their stand-out pieces on your social media profiles, and nominate them for one of our awards when an appropriate category comes up.

In addition to spreading good vibes, you’re also exposing yourself to new ideas and inviting the people you read to come and check out your work in turn. It’s a positive cycle.

SK: What were some of your biggest challenges this past year?

DW: The biggest challenge was navigating the transitional period between the Yahoo! acquisition and the launch of the Yahoo! Contributor Network. During that time, we weren’t quite the AC of old, because we were dedicating so many resources to publishing content on other Yahoo! sites; we also weren’t a full-fledged Yahoo! platform because the majority of the features that makes our platform what it is (the profiles, the badges, the awards, the performance payments) only applied to  AC. This “disconnect” was difficult to explain to the community, especially because we had to keep the imminent launch of the Yahoo! Contributor Network and the accompanying Performance Payments a secret.

But it all paid off big time when the big launch went over so well. 🙂 We’re continuing to address the ongoing challenges that come with innovating at a breakneck pace in the rapidly changing world of Web publishing.

SK: How are you recruiting new writers to become Yahoo! Contributors?

DW: We employ lots of recruitment tactics, from job ads to direct outreach, but word of mouth remains our #1 source of new contributors, by far. We’re hoping to bolster that with a new referral program in 2011 that builds on the old referral bonus model (which some Associated Content veterans will remember). We also hope to work with other groups within Yahoo! to bring some of their users into our community of experts and enthusiasts.

SK: Are there Yahoo! Contributor stickers in the works? (we love stickers, yes we do!)

DW: Oh yes, there will be plenty of purple stickers to plaster your laptops, bumpers and neighborhoods with. 🙂

SK: Will the Contributor Awards still exist in the oncoming years?

DW: They will! The Rising Stars are here to stay, the Yahoo! Contributor Awards are intended to be a permanent annual replacement for the People’s Media Awards, and we’ll be announcing a monthly program of awards to replace the Best of AC Awards around February. Awards programs are here to stay, but they’ll grow and evolve over time.

SK: What are some of the new featured opportunities for Yahoo! Contributors? Now that there are over 400,000 writers submitting content to the Yahoo! Contributor network, how can contributors stand apart and have their content featured more prominently?

DW: It’s important to have a profile page filled with accurate and comprehensive information about your interests, skills, education, work history, location and areas of expertise.

You should also apply to become a Featured Contributor and claim as many assignments in your fields of interest as possible. Those are the best ways to get the attention of our content managers.

Most importantly, put your heart and soul into the content you create.

Develop your unique voice and focus on the topics you’re passionate about. Passion and expertise are hard to fake, and they’re qualities that make great content stand out from the pack. Those are the pieces we’re most excited to put in front of the millions of people who visit Yahoo! every day!

Thanks Darnell for your insights and preview for 2011.

Yahoo! Contributors, have a safe and happy holiday season, and don’t forget to submit your nominations for the 2010 Yahoo! Contributor Awards!

See you in the New Year 🙂

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