Forget about Communities. Don't do it. Don't even think about it. Oh I know that communities are all the rage currently - companies are falling over themselves to create, build and own their very own communities: Communities of Employees, Communities of Customers, Communities of Interest Groups, Communities, Communities, Communities...
But with all of these efforts out there, how many of them are yielding real tangible results for the sponsoring organization? It seems that the very concept of communities is a flawed one for most corporations - leading to wasted time, money and effort - and I think I know why.
Let me explain:
I find that many, maybe even most, companies approach social media, and other online community projects - with very little, if any, forethought on how value will be achieved as a result of jumping on this particular bandwagon.
They seem to share a belief that value will just be created by the mere existence of a new online channel; that innovation will simply appear if you provide a new collaborative tool; that competitive advantage will be retained through the ownership of a new networking group. Yet, that's rarely ever the case.
Unlike in the movie "Field of Dreams" - you can build it - but they rarely come spontaneously - or if they do, they may well end up playing a jovial game of scrabble rather than a vintage MLB baseball game on the back lawn.
Even the word Community itself is somewhat flawed when applied to a corporate setting: Here's the Dictionary.com definition of the word:
community - [kuh-myoo-ni-tee] - noun, plural -ties.
- a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
- a locality inhabited by such a group.
- a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the): the business community; the community of scholars.
- a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage: the community of Western Europe.
- Ecclesiastical. a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
- Ecology. an assemblage of interacting populations occupying a given area.
- joint possession, enjoyment, liability, etc.: community of property.
- similar character; agreement; identity: community of interests.
- the community, the public; society: the needs of the community.
There are a lot of nice words and feelings in that definition. "A social group"; "common heritage"; "interacting populations"; "shared identity"... The word conjures up a nice warm vision of a collection of friends and associates sitting around a fireside or, for the more cynical among you, images of suburban old age homes in Florida and Arizona maybe.
As I look at that definition however - I ask myself - where's the value in that for a company? Where does it get created? Augmented? Shared? Delivered? Whichever way you look at it, communities are about people gathering with no set agenda or action in mind - so why would a company invest/waste resources to simply enable random conversations amongst a group of people? At best, it's an exercise in corporate branding to be associated with a particular conversation topic; at worst it's an exercise in wishful thinking.
At the recent World Business Forum, held in New York City on Oct 6-7, 2009, Patrick Lencioni (founder and president of the Table Group, and a fantastically articulate and dynamic speaker incidentally) spoke to the audience about "What makes a good team?" One specific question stuck with me: "If you have a bunch of people who play in a sports team each week, really get on well with each other socially, gel as a unit, yet still manage to not win a single game - are they a good team?" Patrick asked with a mischevious look at the front row and a pause for effect. "The answer is NO - they're just a bunch of LOSERS!" (cue laughter and some nervous side glances between executives either side of me).
Whilst maybe declared a tad glibly by Patrick, the core message was clear, and it got me thinking about what had been bothering me with the concept of communities for so long: That lack of performance, of achievement, of purpose. It struck me that the relative value of the concept of communities to most organizations is not dissimilar to Patrick's example of a team that doesn't win - they are, in essence, losers. And why would companies waste time creating groups of losers?
It seems to me that the failure companies are making starts right at the beginning with a badly formed misconception as to what they really need - and it's not an online community - it's an online team.
It may seem as if I'm nit-picking or playing with semantics in making this differentiation - but consider what this simple change in mindset would mean to projects as you think about how to build a great online team instead of an online community. All of a sudden you add dimensions of:
- Direction and Leadership
- Shared Goals, Shared Failures, and Shared Successes
- Ensuring Participation of Diverse Skill Sets
- Tangible Achievement
- Passion, Purpose and Loyalty
Whist still retaining all the collaborative, cooperative and creative structures usually associated with Communities.
I don't know about you - but I know which one I'd rather build! You tell me - What's the more powerful concept?
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Boris Pluskowski is the Founder of The Complete Innovator where he regularly shares new ideas and best practices on how big companies can harness Innovation, Collaboration and Social Media to drive new sources of value throughout the enterprise.