When was the last time you saw or heard the word community in a business context?
The last time I saw it was yesterday, at Fort Lauderdale airport. I was staring at an advertisement for a hotel chain. The copy below the image of the hotel room said: “We don’t just think of our hotels as rooms. We think of them as a community.”
I would have fully supported someone drawing obscene images on this advertisement. Here’s why.
Community Has One Solid Definition
It is about time we recognize that community (in a business context) needs to have one solid definition. Not eight. Not a spectrum. Just one. Everyone who uses the term wrong in the workplace will then be the equivalent of George Bush mispronouncing “nuclear” for eight years on television.
Community is a group of people aligned across common values, goals, or interests. Communities have “members” who self-identify as such. Members can influence one another. They share experiences. The community meets some need that they all have. Above all else, communities require that every member can contribute, not just consume.
Most businesses do not understand that final point.
Here, in more depth, are the four defining factors of a community, as stated in Dr. David McMillan’s Sense of Community Theory. His work laid the groundwork for all professional community building. All communities have these four factors in common, and all professional community builders work to bolster these four factors to strengthen their communities.
The 4 Factors of a Sense of Community
- Clear membership (just because you comment on a Facebook post once does not mean that you’re a “member” of a community).
- Influence on other members and other members have an influence on you. As a member, you have the ability to change people’s minds, stir them to action, or contribute in some way, small or large.
- Shared emotional connection. Members share experiences together, whether that is going to football games or church. This usually necessitates that they convene in a central location, not distributed across “social media” (whatever the eff that means).
- Fulfillment of needs. This is crucial for businesses to understand. Your business needs are usually not aligned with member needs. You must align them or you will fail.
What is the Cost of Getting It Wrong?
Here is what happens in businesses when they throw around the term “community” to mean everything from Twitter responses to Reddit participation to forums to Facebook Page posts.
- Business is confused about what “community managers” (I hate this title, but I’ll go into that another time) really do, but they know that they are not doing a good job of building scalable customer relationships.
- Business hires “community manager” to do All The Things™ and make people love them.
- “Community manager”, once full of life and passion, has no clear direction or leadership.
- “Community manager” roams from project to project, lost about where they are most effective, unsure about who they even report to, and beholden to both company and budding community. They are unable to report measurable results and end up in tears at least once per week… been there, done that.
- Business sees that “community manager” is confused, but blames them because they do not take responsibility for not understanding what community really is.
- Business sees “community manager” as ineffective or an outright failure. Business grasps at straws to understand, but still they cannot (I was asked once, four months into a job, to put together a PowerPoint about what I really do… This should never happen to anyone ever again).
- Business does away with community role entirely or pushes this person to the side, chalking it up to ineffectiveness of person or role in general.
- Business never creates upward mobility for community person, so the role hits a ceiling and that community manager leaves the profession.
Now imagine this on a huge scale. For community professionals, it spells a massive loss of jobs, a loss of individual and professional respect, and a loss of faith in community as a whole.
So before you think about throwing around the term community again without clarifying your understanding, think again. It could cost someone their job — or it could even cost thousands of jobs. If you’re unsure, it’s okay to ask. Just don’t pretend like you know. You’re doing more harm than good.
When was the last time you heard the word community? Want some clarity? Want to help me refine the definition? Leave me a comment!