Clicks and Mortar: Constructing an Online Community | Gagen MacDonald

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Clicks and Mortar: Constructing an Online Community

Jan 08, 2015

With the advent of countless social media tools to build bridges between people, it’s tempting to count click-throughs and page views to certify that we’ve completed our virtual public square. But building a true online community isn’t quite that simple.

To see what I mean, take a minute to think about community. If a community were just a place to stop, get out of your car for a picture, and then leave, it wouldn’t even be much of a tourist destination. It’d be more like a roadside attraction hawking the world’s biggest ball of twine: interesting for a minute, but once you’ve checked it off your bucket list, there’s no real reason to return.

Too many online “communities” are the same way–been there, done that, move on. And though that big ball of twine might have a lot of one-time visitors—the roadside equivalent of page views—it’s not a true community. Even on its busiest day.

What makes a place a community is its ability not just to attract visitors, but settlers—people who put skin in the game by adding their own energy, generating new ideas, and shaping how the place grows. And these settlers don’t always get along—they can be provocative, challenging, and at times downright annoying.

And they should be. If that idea makes you squirm, imagine the opposite scenario: a town where there’s never any controversy, never any intrigue. Let’s call it Likeville. Just like that big ball of twine, Likeville might be nice to visit, but living there would get pretty dull pretty fast.

Too often, our online communities are Likevilles—places where we want people to click a button to express their Facebook approval. That might be nice, especially if you want to keep up the appearance of virtual harmony. But if your community isn’t a place where settlers want to unpack their baggage and interact with their neighbors, you’re not giving them an opportunity to shape their experience—or a reason to return.

There is hope for community builders, though. Pioneers like Elizabeth Lupfer, the founder of The Social Workplace, are working hard to help companies understand how social media can be applied to internal audiences to help companies truly engage and empower their employees. She combines her addiction (her word!) to social media and a common-sense understanding of community to create practical, useful, and often game-changing advice. For company leaders navigating a new, digital world, her insights provide guideposts for building a more dynamic public square.

My own employer, Gagen MacDonald, has spent years building communities within corporations, tapping into the energy of executives and employees to construct better places for people to work. We’re now doing the same thing digitallyby helping companies see that online communities aren’t just about choosing the right tools, but creating the right conditions to attract settlers willing to add their own vitality and ideas.

What about you? Is your company’s internal social media building a true online community? Or just a big ball of twine?

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