Fedor Smirnov: ‘The Alumniportal is my link to Germany’
Name: Fedor Smirnov
Lives in: Moscow region, Russia
Country of origin: Russia
Period in Germany: 2001 to 2002 and 2006 in Marburg
Educational and research institution: Philipps-Universität Marburg (Semester scholarship for students of German issued by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), research visit)
Occupation: Managing Director with Realtime Register RUS, the Russian representation of a Dutch IT company
Mr Smirnov, you are an IT expert, hold a high-ranking position in marketing and PR, and are based in Moscow. On top of that, you are also in charge of Alumniportal Deutschland’s very sizable ‘Digital Society group, which has more than 1,000 members. What led you to become an Alumniportal group moderator?
Fedor Smirnov: My job really takes up a lot of time, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I sacrifice my interests and hobbies. I try to lead as varied a life as possible, and everyone needs a bit of time out from their day-to-day concerns.
The Alumniportal is my link to Germany and to happy memories of my research stays there. It’s a space on the internet dedicated to the German language and culture – and that’s something I really appreciate. When, as an Alumniportal user, I was invited to join the ‘Digital Society’ group in early 2014, I suddenly realised that the two most important areas in my life – the internet and Germany – were now together in a community.
Of course, a moderator also has to do things that aren’t always interesting and varied, or that sometimes seem routine. But what counts most is your personal attitude to what you’re doing. Group moderation means a lot of positive things to me. I can hone my language skills (English and German) and get in touch with great people from all over the world.
‘A good moderator knows his group’
Behind every successful group there’s a good moderator. He or she is often a catalyst, a good listener and input provider, and someone who has to bridge the gap between experts and novices from various cultures. What do you consider to be the biggest challenge for you personally?
Fedor Smirnov: A good moderator knows his group, understands their interests and is in personal contact with the most active members. The biggest challenge for a moderator is ‘hitting the jackpot’ and finding a topic that really appeals to the community. It’s the best feeling when you’re bang on target and you succeed in initiating a lively discussion. A moderator can only surmise that the community will take to a particular topic. We try to prepare topics as best we can and suggest them to the community – and then we wait with bated breath to see how the group reacts. Hitting the bull’s eye is the dream outcome for any moderator.
Can you moderate everything or does the community sometimes do its own thing? Does the community always react in the way you thought it would to the topics you put to it?
Fedor Smirnov: As a rule, the internet community is a self-organising structure that’s difficult to manage. A moderator can’t spend much time at the helm. A lot of the time we play a different role; for example, we observe, analyse and advise. You could say moderators play with the community and with the content. Some topics appeal to the group members while others don’t. It’s often difficult to fathom out why. I’m often surprised by the outcome.
When you were doing research in Marburg on a DAAD scholarship in 2006, the Alumniportal Deutschland wasn’t around. When and how did you go from being a Germany-Alumnus to being a moderator?
Fedor Smirnov: That’s right, I first heard about the portal at the end of 2013 and later I got an email inviting me to the ‘Digital Society’ group. Some of the topics on the agenda back then I thought were very interesting and so I took part in some of the webinars. Digital society and the ongoing development of the internet were important to me long before I first encountered Alumniportal Deutschland. I’m an active member of the global ‘Internet Society’ organisation, which advocates an open and accessible internet worldwide and in Russia, too. When I saw the ad (for a moderator for the ‘Digital Society’ group), I thought it was an opportunity to brush up my language skills, try out a new role and make new acquaintances.
Community Management: ‘Things are often tough in the beginning’
Based on your experience, what tips for good community management can you give other group moderators on the Alumniportal?
Fedor Smirnov: ‘Things are often tough in the beginning’, meaning stay calm, believe in yourself and stay motivated – no matter what. You have to identify those figures amongst the mass of portal users who are willing to communicate and share ideas, and who can breathe some life into the group. It’s really important to pick out these active members and to mobilise them for the group and then keep them active. If you are really interested in the topic, you’ll find that the key moderation skills will fall into place.