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Community needs and goals

September 4, 2007

community-building-cover.jpgThanks to the reference at Confused, I am reading Amy Jo Kim’s book Community Building on the Web, first published way back in 2000. It is currently out of print, but you can purchase a PDF download from Peach Pit Press. It is an analysis of what makes on-line communities tick, and how to design them successfully. I like her perspective that an online community is a living, breathing, organic entity, not something that can be mandated or regulated very effectively. She is writing from the point of view of Internet communities, where this is expressly true. I just so happen to believe that this is equally true for intranet communities. Certainly, we have a lot more control over who signs on to an internal platform, and we can threaten much more significant consequences for members who misbehave. But it doesn’t take very much overly strict authoritarian mandating to regulate the life right out of these communities. Instead of a vibrant, rich, collaborative community, we can all too easily end up with an empty, stiff, formal ghostland of corporate-approved content.

I have just been reading a section titled “Needs and Goals: A Three Step Planning Exercise.” Kim outlines a very pragmatic approach to listing out members’ needs, listing out owners’ goals, prioritizing them and analyzing for overlaps, synergies and conflicts. And then publicizing the specific set of needs and goals you are trying to meet with a specific release of the community platform.

It is ironic and sad when people building communities miss this point. Too often, large companies who “get the message” about the opportunities for collaborative content creation run massive projects to implement extensive collaboration platforms for employees but don’t ever stop to think about what employees will actually use the platform for. Or they treat the entire employee base as one giant undifferentiated community.

Certainly there can be communities that grow to the size of a large employee base, but they almost always start small and grow organically. And along the way, they probably change their focus and direction.

“Broad brush” community building efforts that try and address a huge group’s needs all at once are at risk if specific community needs aren’t considered. What will motivate community members to use the platform, and how can adoption be driven within specific communities?

What if you implement a collaboration platform and no one shows up? Usually the failure will be chalked up to “immature technology,” “lack of a culture of collaboration,” or “it was just a bunch of internet hype anyway.” The truth is that cultivating communities is an art, and it requires considering the individual members and their needs and goals.

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