Control and Community are Oil and Water

Source: Bird in Black Sea Oil Spill, Wikipedia
Community Manager. The word is there in the title. You manage the community. We know management means control, decision making and power. You have the power and your organisation expects you to use it.

No wonder the challenges of community management drive many people to frustration. Communities don’t respond to control. There is a great expectation gap between what organisations expect of community managers and the real role of fostering and developing purposeful mutual relationships. Like oil and water, control and community don’t mix. Worse still, too much control and you will have an oil spill that kills every living thing for miles.

Many organisations fear that their communities will become a chaotic & lawless place. They don’t want open two-way discussion of what matters to their community members. They want everything neatly locked down, authorised and controlled. Control is seen as a way to protect their brand, their business and their strategy. However, the neatly ordered brand, business and strategy they want to achieve is only realised through decisions of the same people they seek to control.

Your community will become a wild west of lawless conversation, if that is what your community needs to get value from their purpose and relationships. They don’t see it as lawless. They see it as a valuable relationship. Shut down the activity you don’t value and it doesn’t disappear, it simply goes elsewhere. If too much of the valuable conversation goes elsewhere, so does your community. Losing relationships is rarely a good thing when they determine the success of your business and the value of your brand. 

Think for a minute of your home town or suburb. Hopefully, your local neighbourhood gives you a sense of an open and inclusive community. You have networks of interactions with others through family, commerce, schools and work that help bring value to your life. You don’t agree with everyone about everything and not everything works as planned, but the collective interactions mean everyone fulfils their needs in their own ways. We know from history that communities are led to disaster when external forces seek to govern all the relationships. Control breaks down community by undermining individual purpose, initiative and relationships. The lessons from history of efforts to design, relocate or control the interactions of whole villages are worse still. What is left after these efforts is rarely a community because of the work of those exerting control. The community only remains because of the determination of the individuals to stay connected, despite the external forces.

If there is one thing that is important in managing community, it is realising that it isn’t about you, your wants or your performance. Community management is first, last and always about what it takes to realise the potential and purpose of a community of mutual relationships. Focus on work with influence through your community, not using control against them.

Inspired by a conversation with my friend & community management expert, Melanie Hohertz. Read more (and better) on community and control see Melanie’s perspective on our conversation.


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