A few days back Spike Jones put together one of those wonderfully provocative blog posts on the topic of Online Communities that would surely make more than one person feel rather uncomfortable, specially, if they have got an online space and they call it a “community” , when it isn’t. Indeed, take a look into “The Fallacy of Community” and be prepared to read further on what has been one of my pet peeves from over the last 11 years and counting … “Just because a bunch of people are in the same place (online or off) doesn’t mean you have a community“. Exactly! So, what is eventually a community, then, you may be wondering, right?, if we have been abusing that concept for a long while now, and not just with the emergence of social computing tools as of late…
To me, a community, whether online or offline, is just basically defined as a group of people, who share a common interest on a particular topic, or set of topics, and who, as a result of that, would want to connect, build and share some common knowledge amongst themselves related to that very same topic. Or, as Spike mentions himself in that entry, “Community has context. Community has meaning. Community has deep, meaningful interactions [amongst community members]“.
So how do you get to build and facilitate healthy (online) communities? For sure, it’s not an easy job; it’s more than anything else an art, because, as we all know, you can’t manage a community; it’s just like you can’t manage knowledge either; the very same thing. The only activity that you could probably do is to help facilitate that conversations and interactions take place amongst community members under a specific context and with a certain purpose. And from there onwards that’s probably the $1 million question that everyone keeps wondering about. And that’s a good thing, because I don’t think that anyone has got the right answer either. There are no best practices on that oxymoron that some people know already as community management. More than anything else, because what may well work for one specific community, may not work rather well with another, since they don’t share the same context, the same membership, the same interest area, the same goals, etc. etc.
However, there are plenty of really good, and equally helpful!, resources to help you build and facilitate (online) communities in a more or less effective manner. One of my favourites that I bumped into not long ago was a Slideshare presentation that my good friend, HR and KM blogger extraordinaire, now Product Evangelist with Social Business Software firm Qontext, Inc, Gautam Ghosh, just shared over at this blog post under the title “My Talk on Building and Facilitating Communities“.
It’s a rather short presentation he recently did at triggr, but very helpful in setting the stage of what defines a community, and, most importantly, what not, and from there move on to sharing a bunch of tips on how to help sustain those engaging communities. Of particular interest would be slide #11, where he shares a rather nice graphic of how community builders / facilitators need to design for both community and content in a rather balanced manner. Another interesting couple of slides would be slides #14 and #15 where he sets the stage of who should be a community facilitator and some of the various different community member roles. Lots of rather interesting insights I wish we would have available as well through audio / video, so that we could learn plenty more from Gautam on what has worked for him over the course of the years and what not.
Perhaps it will become available at some point, but for now I would want to leave you with the embedded code of his presentation, so that you can have a look into some of the other relevant ideas that he shared during that event:
As time goes by I will keep sharing over here a bunch of other relevant and worth sharing resources around community building and online facilitation that I am sure you would find helpful as well. Because, after all, like Spike concludes on the article that started this entry:
“You can’t create a community – because you can’t build people. You can only construct the buildings. Community isn’t apps and tweets and status updates. Community is shared passion. Community comes from the heart and soul and sweat and blood and love inside people. And they decide and where and when and how it happens. Not you or your website or your program“
Couldn’t have said it any better myself. Communities have always existed out there, for hundreds of years!, interactions and conversations amongst community members have always taken place out there as well; it’s just that new community tooling, i.e. social software tools, is making that job much much easier to achieve now, that one of connecting, collaborating and sharing your knowledge across with people who share your same common passion on a specific subject matter, but, as usual, that community tooling is just a means, not the final destination. They are not a community. People sharing and learning about a common interest are. They are your final destination.
Your ultimate goal is to “be a part of the community in the full sense“. And participate actively in the conversations…