To Create a Community You Have to Include the Community

originally posted in Concept Hub

What is a community?

Wikipedia list types of communities as being:

  1. Geographic communities: range from the local neighbourhoodsuburbvillagetown or city, region, nation or even the planet as a whole. These refer to communities of location.
  2. Communities of culture: range from the local clique, sub-culture, ethnic groupreligiousmulticultural or pluralistic civilisation, or the global community cultures of today. They may be included as communities of need or identity, such as disabled persons, or frail aged people.
  3. Community organizations: range from informal family or kinship networks, to more formal incorporated associationspolitical decision making structures, economic enterprises, or professional associations at a small, national or international scale.

Communities are nested; one community can contain another—for example a geographic community may contain a number of ethnic communities.

So when we say we want to build an online community what does that mean and how can that be achieved?

I am going through that process with a couple of clients right now. The process that we are taking is to first look at the existing communities that are related to what we are trying to build. If, as described in the description above, one community can contain a number of other communities, perhaps the best way to start building a community is to become part of the various other communities.

The next step is to understand the dynamics of the community. What is the value that people receiving from the community?  Who are the influencers? What are the needs? More importantly, what needs can we help them with?

In the offline world 10+ years ago we would gather this information by looking toward the media, who and what was newsworthy?

But as Amani Channel has pointed out, media is changing.

The experience confirmed what I already suspected, the profession of journalism is in big trouble. Al Tompkins with the Poynter Institue characterized it as “sick.” The digital space has been extremely disruptive to the business model of corporate media, and until a profitable advertising model is developed the layoffs and buyouts that have marked 2008 will continue.

Recently Toby Bloomberg provided a “pulse check” related to blogger relations exploring the question of how important are our relationships with bloggers?

Let’s start with the question: Do you consider bloggers the “new journalists?”

Total responses: 87

55% – Yes

45% – No

So we can now define the existing community, not by the paid media, but by those who have chosen to actively participate in the community. We can insert ourselves into the communities that are relevant to what we are trying to build and we can survey their needs.

The next step is to lay out a strategic plan. Recently I laid out a plan that started with a community that was not the largest or most connected individuals, but the ones that had the loudest and most buzzworthy concerns. From there we will create a critical mass of members with varied interests that will become part of the other areas we will be covering.

The other project I am working on we are facing the challenge of getting various stakeholders to play along. In the evolving interconnected web, it is important that organizations stop thinking of their website as the one stop for all the information and start thinking more along the lines of networking, which means showing up at various other sites and communities.

Perhaps the most effective way to build a valuable community is to let the community be involved in designing the infrastructure. Randy Moss has an interesting post on Communal Collaboration where he asked;

If we had a choice, would we fund 18 months of Britney Spears coverage, or would we fund better more interesting? are the masses uncontent with the current content are going elsewhere. If given the opportunity to have more of a say, putting your money where your mouth is, would we see  people campaigning for stories they care about? What would a crowd funded evening news look like both locally nd Nationally?

I wrote about this over a year ago when I covered the coverage of the various unconferences in Atlanta and asked What Happens When the Audience becomes Part of the Show? I suggested that:

If a collaborative conference can gather this much energy, passion, and momentum, we need to wonder what could be accomplished if other traditional models opened up. For example including employees in the big decision making of the direction of the company or include the consumers in product development or include peers (once known as competitors) in creating superior industry standards. Perhaps we would all enjoy more energy, enthusiasm, and passion in our lives.

If we go back up to the list of communities listed in Wikipedia, we will notice that what makes up a community are common connections where everyone has a voice and reason to participate.