What is community?

Credit: Gapingvoid
I posted some thoughts over on the MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog about community – and a response has me thinking about community.

Lewis Green commented, "Question: Don’t mean to spark controversy (yes I do) but I am troubled by women (or men) only groups. I think exclusion hurts everyone,
including members of the exclusive group.

Is this true?

What is community?

Communities are groups of people defined and separated by common interest.  A community’s core looks like yin and yang, relying on supporters and detractors to define inclusion and exclusion.  In the UK, Conservatives wouldn’t be Conservatives unless the Labour and Liberals existed.  Red Sox Nation needs its Evil Empire.  The survivors of Oceanic 815 need The Others.

Communities need barriers to entry – whether natural or artificial.  Does being human make you part of a community?  Ask your dog or cat.  Green marketers would have us think so.  Hollywood, too.  I know Lew alludes to issues of gender, race, and religion…but I’m going to steer clear of those here and focus on community in a business sense.

We all know that "the conversation" exists.  By definition, community exists as well.  That’s why companies run into problems when they use social media for marketing communications.  It’s good to listen to the conversation and to acknowledge the speakers.  But the speakers expect a response, because the company is a participant.  That’s why many individuals are afraid to participate – companies can’t blog/tweet/podcast – only people can.  And people often don’t know if they’re allowed to speak for the company.  While the people who can (e.g. PR, Corp Comm) stick to traditional one-way channels.

The core of community lies within the corporation.  Companies are already social – we have business units and divisions, functional departments, and softball leagues and charity outreach groups.  Your corporate community connects all the time – company meetings, hallway conversations, and via email or phone.  However, when it comes to external communication and connections, companies operate like a jail, preventing contact with the outside world and releasing inmates every evening into the community, returning to lock-up the next morning.

So what’s so tough about enabling connections in corporate communities with social technology?  I.e. allowing the company to connect with the outside world during the day instead of only every night during work release?

Well, most companies don’t resemble the "porous membrane" as pictured above by Hugh McLeod and operate instead like a castle with moat.  Moreover, many brands secretly fear that connecting with the community will lead to dilution and destruction.

It’s notable that castles today aren’t seats of power, but are maintained as reminders of a distant past.  Lew is spot on, that "exclusion hurts everyone, including members of the exclusive group" – especially when it comes to your corporation and its community.



Being: Peter Kim