Guest post as part of the virtual book tour by Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer to explore concepts from their new book Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web.
We come from the association industry and for many of us “membership” people, community is old hat. It’s what we do. It’s central to our work. And yet, for some reason (actually a lot of reasons) what we know about community isn’t always translating well to building community online. Lindy and I have talked to thousands of association executives who have voiced their frustrations about the social web–from the overabundance of tools and the disorderly experimentation of staff and members, to the lack of organizational support and the unwieldy processes for monitoring and managing social media, and that’s just the beginning.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the newness and the detail, and miss the bigger picture–not the 10,000-foot bigger picture, but the “just high enough to make practical sense” bigger picture.
When we started writing the book, the idea that kept popping up is the concept of Open Community. Here’s the gist. Your Open Community is your people who are bonded by what your organization represents and care enough to talk to each other (hopefully about you!) online.
You Don’t Have to Own A Community to Build Community
To be clear, the Open Community concept is not about building an online community platform or internal, private social network. That could be one tactic in your arsenal, but one of the most important first steps toward building community online is accepting that your Open Community is out there, not just on your website. Your stakeholders are connecting on their own terms in the social spaces where they spend the most time, and you need to be where they are. Sometimes, rather than hosting every conversation and leading every initiative, your organization or business can (and should) be simply present as a supportive participant.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2: Open Community Means Developing into a Social Organization:
We talk a lot about the idea of the social organization on our SocialFishing blog; whether you are for-profit or nonprofit, an association, company, B2B, B2C, or small business, it pays to think strategically about the skills you might want to develop in your staff in order to be the kind of business that can nurture its Open Community online.
Skill sets for a social organization
New skill sets are needed for your business to become a social organization—but luckily these are easy to learn and there are lots of resources out there. You’ll go far just by doing and experimenting, too.
Listening. Everyone in a social organization should be comfortable with listening, both with online search tools and through their community relationships. You’ll need some search-engine ninjas, RSS-reader Jedi masters, and Twitter superheros. And you’ll need people flexible and skilled enough to learn the next great listening tool when it arrives.
Content curation. You’ll learn through experimentation what kinds of content work best for your community, but no matter what, we’re all figuring out how to create bite-sized pieces of content that can be posted on Facebook and shared on Twitter. Blogs are a great way to play with multimedia by mixing up different kinds of posts with photos, videos, audio clips. You can do this internally with a private blog if you’re not comfortable (yet) with setting up an organizational blog.
Conversation. This may seem odd to include as a skill set, but many people have an innate fear of taking part in conversations online for the first time, especially staff responding on behalf of the organization. Your policies will help set up the framework for people to understand the purpose of engaging in conversations, but it may also be helpful to look at examples of online conversations and discuss how one might take part.
Social etiquette. Who do you friend? How do you fit in with the community zeitgeist? How frequently should you update? How nuanced should your security and privacy settings be? All of these questions are part of the skill set that will separate the staff that thrive and make solid connections with your community’s social spaces from the staff that come across as awkward, spammy, or even rude.
Facilitating and mediating. Being able to facilitate connections between people in the community is an important skill. Along similar lines, being able to effectively mediate disagreements between people in your community is important to creating the safe space your community needs. The trick is learning to facilitate and mediate in the open, where it can be observed publicly.
Collaboration. Having strong collaboration skills is essential, not only in collaborating with the community but also in collaborating with fellow staff. Open Community is a moving target. The only constant is change. Collaboration skills are the key to facing and managing change, to working through it without sacrificing the strength and security of the organization.
Here’s a question for Convince and Convert readers: What do you think of these skill sets? Do you see these as things worth training your staff on? What other skills might you be developing as you start operating your business or organization more socially?
(image by Shutterstock, a Convince & Convert sponsor)