This is a guest post from Spike Jones — Group Director of Engagement at WCG and co-author of the book Brains on Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable Word of Mouth Movements. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.
Let’s talk about community for a moment, shall we?
Remember when that word actually meant something? Remember when we lived in places that weren’t only called communities, but actually FELT like a community? We talked and interacted with people around us purely because we occupied space near one another. Remember?
Then people started building places online where others came together to commune and talk about shared passions. And they called them “online communities.” It made sense, because people sought these online worlds out and were there to actively participate.
But then something changed. And that word — community — started to become construed. Anybody who threw up a blog and a message board starting claiming to have a “community” because they got more than two people visiting their site on a daily basis – even if those people didn’t ever interact with one another.
Listen very carefully: there is a big difference between being a neighbor and being neighborly.
I can live next to someone for years in the same community and never talk to them, learn their name, or even give a rip about their life or interests. They are my neighbor. We are in the same community.
Yet, the way I just used those words doesn’t convey what these social media kids want you to think when you hear them. Just because a bunch of people are in the same place (online or off) doesn’t mean you have a community. Community has context. Community has meaning. Community has deep, meaningful interactions. Now, concerning the depth of those interactions and where that line is when it becomes a community can be debated.
But you get my point.
You can’t create a community — because you can’t build people.
You can only construct the buildings. Community isn’t apps and tweets and status updates. Community is shared passion. Community comes from the heart and soul and sweat and blood and love inside people. And they decide where and when and how it happens. Not you or your website or your program.