Last week, we took a look at some of Clay Shirky's thoughts on community. This week, we're continuing our exploration of the "community" theme with a conversation with Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer of SocialFish.
Maddie and Lindy have demonstrated their community-building talents in a number of ways--through YAP, their contributions to the Association Social Media Wiki, and through their own blogs and their active and enthusiastic participation in the association blogging community. They're also currently writing a book on building community, so I wanted to take this opportunity to pick their brains about that very topic.
How do you define â€œcommunityâ€?
Lindy: When people bond together over a shared interest, they form community. Community is a complex matrix of adjacent and overlapping relationships. Community has gravity. The more massive the group, the bigger the pull. The closer the relationships, the tighter the bond.
Can a community be built from the ground up, or does community develop organically?
Maddie: Yes and yes! You need both forces at work. The key driver to building community is passion. When you hear about a community that develops organically, you're actually hearing about a community that was built from the ground up by a group of passionate people. In our work with clients who are building community online, every successful community has at its core a small group of tireless champions--usually a mix of members, staff, and even stakeholders from outside the organization.
In building or growing a new community, what are the roles of the community builders, versus community members?
Maddie: New communities need people in three important roles--builders/managers, members, and champions.
The first role you mentioned--the community builders or community managers--are the people who are defining the space, setting the tone, and hosting the party, so to speak. In the association context, this is likely a staff role. A great community builder knows when to get involved to settle a dispute or stoke a conversation, and when to get out of the way and let others in the community take center stage.
The second role you mentioned--the community members--really define their own role. Their engagement levels will ebb and flow, where they will dip in and out of the space as they choose. Some will become champions, others will only participate temporarily, and that's OK. This is their space to do with as they please, so long as they adhere to the community's core values and culture.
The third role--community champions--are the community members who are so passionate they take the lead. The community champions have an important bridging role between the community builders and the community members.
What do you think are the secrets to building a sustainable communityâ€”one that will last for the long haul? (On a related note, do you feel sustainability is always an important goal for community builders to have?)
Maddie: Many communities form to tackle a specific task or issue. Once solved, the community happily dissolves. So no, sustainability is not always an important goal. That said, for an association to be sustainable, its community must be sustainable
Lindy: One secret: All community forms in small groups. This is something that Peter Block covers well in his book Community: The Structure of Belonging. Large communities have a large number of small, tightly bonded groups. And within those groups, there are connectors who bond the small groups to other small groups. I think it's easy, as association executives, to gloss over the needs of the small groups in favor of the big picture, and the big picture is very important, so I get it. But when it comes to building community, the small group IS the big picture.
Is there anything I havenâ€™t asked you that you think is important to think about when youâ€™re thinking about building community?
Maddie: Many associations are actually quite accomplished at building community, at least in real life. But we're way behind in establishing ourselves as community builders online. (Which is actually related to another secret to success--reinforce online connections through offline events and vice versa.) There's a difference between having an "online community," versus having a community online. You can buy the tool, but not the relationships.