I'm concerned about the outlook for association-initiated online communities. A few minutes ago I was listening to a panel discussion at ASAE & The Center's Technology Conference on this very topic, and I began to get very pessimistic about the prospects for these projects. Here are my concerns:
- Communities aren't created from the top down. They evolve from the grass roots. Associations that attempt to thrust communities on their members are not likely to succeed in my opinion.
- Generational attitudes will exacerbate the problem. I'm painting with a broad brush here, but I think that as a whole, the boomers aren't into the whole online community thing. Following the boomers, generations X and Y are less likely to be defined by their profession. Most associations serve a profession or industry, so there's not much of an incentive to engage in community about their work.
This isn't to say that association-sponsored online communities can't thrive, but I think they face some stark realities.
Here's an alternative: Instead of re-inventing the community, can our associations jump on board with existing online communities, acting as a sponsor or participant in the community?