Communities depend on more than connection. They are fostered by relationships and shared purpose. Change the relationships or purpose and you create a new community. Communities take ages to build but disappear quickly when you break these rules.
The visibility and connection that comes with global networks has driven new attention to the idea of community. Community is a business buzzword and organizations are increasingly seeking to leverage the value of the communities in and around their business.
We can inadvertently carry over our thinking from traditional marketing across to consider these new corporate relationships. We start to treat every segment of our customers, employees or stakeholders as a community. We believe we own these communities because they connect to us. We try to determine our and others’ interactions with these communities. That’s the way our traditional one-way marketing relationships have been managed. We can’t say it has been effective even in marketing. It doesn’t work in community.
Customers aren’t a community. Employees aren’t a community. In most cases these groups of people have no shared relationships and have not considered any shared purposes. They may be interested in interactions with your organisation but it is not yet clear that it qualifies as a relationship with you, let alone similar others.
People can’t be put into communities. They join them. Nobody owns a community, not even the platform owner. Groups of people aren’t a community until they move from connections to building two-way relationships and find a shared purpose. Community involves both what we get from the interaction and what the community as a whole benefits from the interaction. The intentions of a common corporate master matter little unless executed in alignment with these outcomes. This applies even where you have the ability to control and reward employees for participation in your community. One of the reason truly valuable enterprise social communities have been challenging for organizations is that they have failed to understand this dynamic. The organizational masters expect, rather than engage.
The sense of control that comes from traditional marketing’s one-way communication is out of place in this new two-way context. Communities are engaged in, not informed of change. When you decide that you want different membership, different interactions or a new purpose for a community, you are deciding you need a brand new community. Assume you are starting from scratch. There is no migration. You are recruiting for a new community. Don’t be surprised to discover that your wishes are resisted or the community simply moves elsewhere and leaves you out. After all your relationship is only one connection in that community.
Real communities change from within driven by the needs of the members. You can’t expect your current community to follow your wishes. You are asking them to start again and you have unilaterally imposed a change on their relationships and sense of personal purpose. If you want change in a community, you need to engage in dialogue around the purposes and relationships in the community.
Too many communities are simply networks of interactions that create no value for anyone. Treasure the relationships and shared purpose created in community. Respect the magic of these relationships and you will find the value of community.