I was struck by these words:
1. You can’t own a community. A lot of people who start and build communities immediately assume ownership. They get lawyers to craft a Terms of Service that says that they own everything posted within a community. They set the rules in stone and police the community. While I understand why companies want to “protect their assets,” ultimately, online communities can be fickle and rebellious. They do not want to be owned. Trying to turn a community into a commodity is ultimately a recipe for failure.
2. Communities aren’t free. On the flip side, I think people who want to be a part of an online community must be cognizant of the fact that anyone hosting the platform for a community to be built has some kind of interest in seeing that community grow. Some people start a community that they wish existed and want to be in. Other selfless types start online community for the good of the people. (Beware of supposed selfless types). Still others have commercial interests in mind for the community (advertising, sponsorship). As long as the purpose of the community is clear, everyone has a choice if they want to participate or not. Nothing comes for free.
3. Every community needs leadership. I know some people will debate me on this point but I don’t think a community can survive without some person in a leadership role. They don’t have to be “boss,” they don’t have to be “dictator,” however, there is usually one person who initiates a community and is the driving force behind that community. The community leadership could consist of several people, but leading by committee can bog down a community’s growth. At the end of the day, the buck must stop with someone.
4. A community dies if it is all about you. Often a community grows around a single person but that is really more “Cult of Personality” if the community continues to revolve around that person. Many blogs are activated by Cult of Personality. Successful bloggers nurture their comments sections so those who comment get the spotlight as well. Online communities may need a leader but they should not be reliant solely on a single person to survive. When that person goes, what happens to the community?
5. At some point, organic communities need roots. I’m still blown away by the power of the Internet to aggregate clusters of like-minded people. When those people keep coming back to continue the conversation from organic seeds, that is phenomenal. However, at some point, structure needs to be put into place to make sure the community is scalable if growing the community is desirable. Without some kind of structure, a community eventually implodes.
6. Community building is not all about the tools. But the right tools do help. These days, the right community building tools seem to be social networking features (friends), blogs or microblogging features, and even SMS features so the community conversation gets carried onto your mobile device. Bells and whistles don’t make an online community, but as people get used to using new networking and communications, they’ll come to expect them in the platform where they choose to start a community
Well of course this was written about on-line communities, but there are some intriguing parallels. Point three is particularly pertinent if controversial - increasingly I see the "oh we don't have a leader" emerging and missional leaders bogged down in issues about leadership - or actually failing to acknowledge the skilled but anonymous leadership which is being exercised by one or more of their number.