Source: Mzinga: How To Determine Operational Readiness for Building a A Community vs. Just Enabling conversation. Via post from Rachel Happe on the Social Organization
I'm in the process of reviewing the content of the six modules for the strategy track that we've created so far for the WeAreMedia. I'm want to keep an eye out for content that isn't clear, logical flow, and gaping holes. Just hitting the pause button to catch breath and think about any mid-point corrects before we jump into the next set of modules which focus on the tactical. I'm also doing some weeding and reorganizing as well as putting my newbie glasses on.
I'm returning to Module 5: Engagement Strategy and Skills which is described as:
A traditional online community is a group of people who interact together and have a relationship over time on a site where people can interact around a common interest. A loosely coupled online community is a group of people who are joined together by a common interest and have conversations is different - this might include groups on social networking sites or a network of blogs. It's important to determine if your organization needs a traditional online community or something else. A critical factor for success in both is having an engagement strategy. An engagement strategy can help your organization attract more traffic, loyal supporters, more content, more links, and other values. But it requires investing the time to build relationships with people (yes, even one-on-one interaction) or "network weaving skills." This module covers the key touch points for developing an online engagement strategy and a look at network weaving skills.
One of the learning objectives is:
- To understand the difference between traditional online community and loosely coupled community and how that impacts your approach and engagement strategy
- To understand the basics steps for developing an engagement strategy to guide online community building efforts
- To understand the techniques for encouraging online community participation
- To understand the best practices of network weaving skills and how to apply them for a loosely coupled community
This a revision based on an insightful comment by Nancy White in the original description:
I think it is important to distinguish between a community - where there is relationship and interaction over time, and a site where people can interact around a common interest. If relationship and a sense of group is desired, that will impact your strategies. There is a difference between an online community and a larger social network strategy. Sometimes you don't actually need or want a community - you want something else.
This module mashes together a couple of ideas and it may be confusing. Just after we wrapped up Module 5, I came across the post from Rachel Happe at the Social Organization blog called "Social Media Is Not Community" which gets at the heart of the confusion. Rachel observes that the concept of social media and the concept of community are often used interchangeably and they are not the same thing. She says that social media can help foster communities but it is limited to a conversation around content. Social media are the tools that the community can use for its networking and conversation and relationship-building. Or put more succinctly, Content Ninja says, "you can't build a community around content."
Rachel goes on to identify specific characteristics of an online community in her post much as how Nancy White has defined a traditional online community. She ends with two possible approaches:
1 - to use social media to enable conversations and get a better idea of how constituents respond to specific content, initiatives, goals. This is much easier both to understand and implement.
2 - to create communities that extend their capabilities and engage their constituents in richer ways that results in higher retention, lower risk, increased ROI, and faster operational capacity. Communities have enormous strategic benefits to companies but require considerable investment (in resources, time, and tools) and are difficult to implement because they have a significant impact on business processes.
I left a comment on Rachel's post and we had a bit of email back and forth where she further clarified the difference:
I equate option 1 with having a bunch of people watching a movie together and then chatting about it afterward. Option 2, or a community is more like your local pub or church where, when you go, you don't necessarily run into all the people in the community and there may be new people, but in general you see the same faces and develop relationships with the regular visitors. Those two different things require a very different level of commitment, spending, resources, etc. Both are valuable but they have different purposes and pay off.
I asked her if she had grid which outlined the differences. She sent me the graphic above and also spelled out the assessment process in this post.
So, the first step for nonprofit is to answer the question, "Do you really need an online community or something else"? The module should have a checklist of questions to help a nonprofit determine whether you go with option 1 or option 2. And, if you do choose a community, what questions do you need to think through to help you plan for a successful online community and getting people to participate. And, if you choose to use social media to enable conversations, what are the engagement skills?
Engagement skills are the techniques that you can use to encourage participation - the one-on-one interactions. I've called it "network weaving" in the module. I think engagement skills are important to the success of both options. Do you?
Is there more clarity to this module? More confusion? What do you think?