What is a Community?

By Hunter Montgomery posted Mar 05, 2014 03:58 PM


Recently I have spent a lot of time talking with organizations interested in building online communities that engage and inspire their constituents (customers, partners, members, prospects). Most understand that building communities in which their constituents can learn, share and collaborate is critical for growth and relevancy. But it’s not easy, especially when people – in all likelihood – bring different perspectives, expectations and timezones to the table. Speaking to all of them in a voice and format that is useful, educational, insightful and fun requires strategies and techniques that leverage individual contributions without compromising big picture goals and objectives.

The dictionary definition of “community” includes the quality of distinctiveness – a quality that is important to think about. A community will not be satisfied with just any experience, but a distinctive and original experience that allows everyone to better function, create and innovate.

Communities can certainly take on many shapes and forms. A social community is one in which people are invited to come together online to learn, educate, mentor and discover more about themselves, their work and their colleagues. A social community functions best when interactions are easy, make sense, are secure and intuitive. The foundation upon which this community is built, therefore, must bring sound technical functionality as well as flexibility to ensure it can adapt to the community’s unique needs, personality and goals.

Communities do not thrive because of lists or products or processes. For instance, a fast e-mail is certainly better than a slow one, but any e-mail is one dimensional and static. By contrast, a social community is multi-dimensional and vibrant. And they thrive because of the people that are a part of them. People are unpredictable, creative and diverse, and bringing them together in a place where they can interact and engage can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be.

Guiding your community members to an experience that offers more than a one-way exchange of information will deliver value far beyond expectations. When you are able to tap into people’s unique perspectives and invite them to share their expertise and knowledge with others, you inspire engagement and connections that are relevant and meaningful. In the end, you will likely discover that people who feel a critical part of the community because of their distinctive contributions are also those people who remain most loyal and lasting.

This cycle of distinctiveness – tapping into the unique qualities of people and allowing them to influence others – is just one way a social community can enhance an organization’s ability to communicate, grow and remain relevant.