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June 09, 2006

Community as a Core Competency

Church of the Customer has stepped out (twice) with the idea of nurturing a community of customer evangelists, saying that community should be a core competency for any organization that wishes to capitalize on the influence of "evangelistic customers with deep knowledge of your products."

They ask for feedback, and here's mine: Community is not something to be created, and to state that "community" must become a core competency represents a shallow understanding of the dynamics of communities. Growing a community is like growing a tree. You have to nurture it, but not smother it. And even when you do everything you're supposed to do, if the conditions aren't right (pH of the soil, amount of light, etc.) then the tree won't grow. Same goes for communities.

Communities grow up from the grass roots. They can't be spoken into existence by a company or organization. That's why I recommend staying on the lookout for communities that are already developing and finding ways to get involved. Why? Because cultivating community is a tricky business. Like I said above, you can do everything right, and still fail. Get involved with existing communities, because someone has already done the most difficult thing -- getting that community to sustain itself.

To some, this create/nurture distinction might sound like splitting hairs, but I believe that an up-front understanding about how communities form and grow can only enhance our success as we attempt to nurture any kind of community, including one of customer or member evangelists. So much of cultivating community is beyond our control, that to state "community must become a core competency" is a potentially disastrous directive. As an alternative, I would suggest that "providing the conditions necessary for a community of evangelists to organize and flourish" should be the core competency that organizations should strive to develop.

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2 comments:

Ben McConnell said...

Thanks for the comments on the post. You may be right.

Strategies and tactics will be different, but the desire for its intent should be pure: to foster connections.

The several non-profit experiences we've had professionally and personally (and certainly, they are not representative of all non-profits), demonstrated a decided lack of knowledge or concern about community-building as a path to loyalty. They're struggling with stagnant or declining membership rates because they view content as the primary or sole driver of loyalty.

But that's just part of the equation.

Ben McConnell said...

I meant to write "the several dozen non-profit experiences..."