It has been over a decade that I have been thinking and writing about creating, breaking, and maintaining community. Over the years, I have attempted to define the evolution of community in a networked society. Rachel Happe and my fellow community management professionals comprising The Community Roundtable have (generally) settled on the defining explanation and benefits of community. While I have been responsible for exclusive community networking platforms in the past, much of my community management experience has been the monitoring and engagement (herding) of discrete communities. In written word and when I have had the opportunity to share what I have learned on a stage in front of an audience, I acknowledge I define community management as following the ebb and flow of relevant mentions and conversations whether this happens on a networking channel or exclusive platform.
Even with a sanctioned space, the collection of people does not a community make. [Channeling my Inner Yoda.] To me, 'community' has become an overused term and the responsibilities of a community manager undervalued. Perhaps the frequency of the term 'community' and extremely high (and many times missed) expectations is because many are not (yet) managing communities. Community is aspirational. Brands cannot create a Facebook community or develop an Instagram contest and label the participants as part of the brand community. We are fostering a false sense of connection.
According to Manuel Castells in Communication Power, “Horizontal, multimodal networks, both on the Internet and in the urban space, create togetherness; this is important because it is through togetherness that people overcome fear and discover hope. Togetherness is not the same as community because community implies a set of common values, which is a work in progress within the movement, since most participants arrive with their own motivations and goals and then set out to discover potential commonality in the practice of the movement. Thus, community is a goal to achieve, but togetherness is a starting point and the source of empowerment: Juntas podemos (Together we can).”
Building a community takes time and focus. How are people naturally clustering around your values and topics of interest. Don't reinvent the wheel. Be where your consumers and visitors congregate. How do you become a trusted participant in the already existing communities and conversations? Don't think you will build a relationship with the flash only. Substance matters. Perhaps if we used 'togetherness' as a lens to create content, paid social advertising, and contests, we would discover increased participation and longevity of relationships.