If you build it, will they come?
Community is a fascinating dynamic, and not easy to force on a population. As marketers we attempt to find the community of people who will benefit from a product or service and then nurture that interest. Everyone is part of multiple communities and there are only so many hours in a day so to be successful a community has to find the secret sauce (I'm writing this in a McDonalds) that gets people to stay engaged. This has become a growing interest for us at Pranzare and we hope to convince more businesses and organizations to this school of thought.
Growing up in a new town (Reston, VA) there was no established community, and the developers didn't seem to invest much in it. After a stretch of golden years human nature has diluted it a fair amount, but it planted a seed that is behind our growing activity on this front.
Since then we've invested heavily in the community of Bloomington, Indiana, before moving to New York City in 2001. At IBM our work in a new business partner program, working to bring software developers into alignment with how IBM goes to market by industry expertise not separate technical specialties highlighted the role of community in business. We also worked on nurturing internal communities at IBM in an effort to bridge the gaps between people scattered around the globe working on projects.
More recently we've been working with new and established schools to develop stronger parent communities. As our kids started school we were excited to connect with other parents on some level higher than a hearty handshake at drop off and pick up, only to find that most schools cultivate a fund raising culture over everything else. Also that schools that aren't neighborhood focused are challenging to unite beyond the 20% of parents who are inclined to be involved since commuting time has to be factored in. We've been working with a few online tools trying to find one that most people can feel comfortable using, and confronting the bane of all marketers--that e-mail and mainstream social media don't work very well.
One piece of the puzzle is the dependency on user generated content for a community to take root. Most people are not inclined to write or make photos. We've been developing an approach around professionally created content, mostly photographs, as a catalyst for a community.
Most organizations will benefit from concerted efforts to foster community. We'd love to explore what will work for your organization or business.