Community–Help it grow or let it go



                                                                             photo by Kris Hoet–Creative Commons

By Ed Nicholson

I’ve had the opportunity to speak at some really great conferences in the past couple of weeks, including Interactive Austin, and the always energizing BlogWell.   One of the best things about going to these things is the opportunity to hear a diversity of smart people talk about how organizations implement social media.

A theme that seems to consistently emerge–and always interests me as a community builder–is that communities–either spontaneous or planned–will arise wherever there’s passion and common interest.  It’s always been that way, but the advent of social networking tools has significanlty aided and amplified the phenomenon.  

Brands and organizations can choose to either host these communities themselves or allow them to grow independently (which they will).   There are pros and cons to each approach.

The largest consumer fan page on Facebook is for Coke (3.4 million members and growing). It wasn’t created by Coke, and they don’t run it.  Check out this entertaining video from its creators (fortunately for Coke, they’re die-hard fans).

There are a number of large brand communities built by the avid fans of Harley-Davidson.

Planet Cancer is a quickly growing community of young adults united by their common challenge, often edgy and irreverent in their approach.  The American Cancer Society probably could have started it.  But they didn’t. (not passing judgement on that; just making note).

These communities provide a place for members to converse with each other, share information, get questions answered, post video and images–any number of things that allow members to develop relationships with each other and the brand.

Online communities can be messy and hard to control.  That’s not an easy concept for established, focused, well-ordered organizations to embrace.  I know.

The hunger community will find a home online, I’ve no doubt.  The question is, under whose roof?

By the way, just to remind you: Today is Friday.  At school lunch, hundreds of thousands of  kids will get the last good meal they’ll have until Monday.  Enjoy your weekend.



3 Replies to “Community–Help it grow or let it go”

  1. Ed Nicholson

    Jeff and Billy–You guys make some _excellent_ points.  The fact that you’re participating–here and elsewhere–is great evidence that you "get it." 

    I agree that nobody can "own" it. Nor should they.  In fact, I believe one huge barrier to moving the bar faster and further is that all of us–hunger relief orgs, advocates, agencies and corporate partners–tend to get too narrowly-focused on our own organizational objectives at times, and temporarily forget that it’s all about moving people out of the cycle of hunger.  (that may be what you’re alluding to in the first paragraph, Jeff).   

    To your point about new audiences, Billy: When we did the comment-for-food posts (see "Most Commented" on the side bar), I was struck by the number of comments from people essentially saying, "Wow, I had no idea hunger was such an issue…" I think there’s enormous upside potential to bringing more people into the discussion.  

    Thanks again for weighing in.

  2. Jeff Wiedner

    The last few posts have been really interesting for me as both an advocate and employee. It keeps me thinking, what is an online community is and how do we define success? My marketing background thinks transactionally. But relationships are more difficult to quantify. Yes, I know KDPaine and others have a boatload on quantifying the socmed efforts. However, that, IMO, is very "me-oriented" and not conducive to the success of the movement.

    Previous posts here [] and here [] ask whether the issue is boring or whether guilt keeps us from folks wanting to participate, yada yada. Considering how many people want to be a part of the discussion, sign up for news and follow/friend us, I can’t believe that’s the case. People care. They want this to change. They want to be a part of it. So what are we missing?

    You’re right — there’s not a larger discussion going on right now. Typical methods of story-telling are helpful. But let’s be real. These stories are going to feel the same after awhile. It’s unfortunate, but there is a lot of need and many of the stories are similar if not the same.

    Maybe the real point of this is that we can’t "own" it. In your examples above and also in other communities I’ve been a part of, the really good ones are bigger than the organizations.

    So the question I have is, if we can’t build it, how do we support those advocates, get them the tools they need to really succeed and then get the heck out of their way?

  3. Bill Shore


    Great insight Ed into where and how these communities are coming together. I think the unofficial and unsanctioned will always have more appeal.  The big opportunity with social media is to reach an audience beyond the usual choir – that’s always been a focus of Share Our Strength, whether through traditional or nontraditional media and its great to have the opportunity to learn from you and others in this regard.


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