Communities require plenty of work, I'm afraid

July 22, 2009

In the four pillars I’ve been raving about recently, I speak of an almost “organic” growth towards a community if you have the right building blocks in place and do the right things. Meaning that if you listen and bring together information, start using social media effectively, enabling stakeholder dialogue, this can eventually develop into a community of people who act as mobilisers on your behalf.

Abstract example of how the model should ideally work:

  • My organisation does wonderful things but nobody knows.
  • I start finding out what people are talking about in my sector or on my issue and who might be interested in the things I do. I bring them together.
  • I start engaging with them online, humbly, and they like me and get excited about what I do because they feel I have something to offer.
  • More people are brought in; they talk and engage.
  • Eventually, I have a community of people excited about what I do who help me spread my message, attract members or maybe even advocate my take on an issue.

However, this is the point at which I want to announce my warning: it’s really not that easy; your community will not be totally self-sustaining. Maybe it won’t need you, but fact of the matter is that you need someone to “feed” the community. Even community benchmarks from across the field from say Ben and Jerry’s Facebook group to Barack Obama’s online platform worked because people engaged and spread the word, but they both needed people from the campaigns themselves to listen, respond, feed information, and generally animate. Again, it needn’t be you; it just needs to be someone who takes charge. On Firefighternation (one of my personal favourites) it’s active firefighters who are not necesarrily the founders who have taken the lead in animating their community.

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