Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guest Post - Open Community - Citizens Vs Members

I’m taking part in the virtual book tour Maddie Grant [on Twitter @maddiegrant] and Lindy Dreyer [On Twitter @lindydreyer] are doing to explore concepts from Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web. In this post, Maddie provides an excerpt from the book, which talks about the idea of the member as citizen. I have been vocal about my opinion on this and I lean towards thinking of members as citizens as opposed to passive consumers.  I want to see actively engaged participants, not passively contented consumers.  What’s your take? 

Thank you, Shelly, for having us on your blog!

Like you, we come from the association industry and for many of us “membership” people, community is old hat. It’s what we do. It’s central to our work. And yet, for some reason (actually a lot of reasons) what we know about community isn’t always translating well to building community online. Lindy and I have talked to thousands of association executives who have voiced their frustrations about the social web--from the overabundance of tools and the disorderly experimentation of staff and members, to the lack of organizational support and the unwieldy processes for monitoring and managing social media, and that’s just the beginning. It’s easy to get bogged down in the newness and the detail, and miss the bigger picture--not the 10,000-foot bigger picture, but the “just high enough to make practical sense” bigger picture.

So we started writing the book, and the idea that kept popping up is the concept of Open Community. Here’s the gist. Your Open Community is your people who are bonded by what your organization represents and care enough to talk to each other (hopefully about you!) online. To be clear, the Open Community concept is not about building an online community platform or internal, private social network. That could be one tactic in your arsenal, but one of the most important first steps toward building community online is accepting that your Open Community is out there, not just on your web site. Your stakeholders are connecting on their own terms in the social spaces where they spend the most time, and you need to be where they are. Sometimes, rather than hosting every conversation and leading every initiative, your organization can (and should) be simply present as a supportive participant.

Here’s a little excerpt for your readers from Chapter 4: Open Community Means Empowering the Periphery.

Citizens versus members.

“Community is built not by specialized expertise, or great leadership, or improved services; it is built by great citizens.” - Peter Block, author of Community: The Structure of Belonging

Here’s the rub. Citizens who are not (yet) members can bring just as much (and sometimes more) value to the online community and the association as a whole compared to long-time members who are not present online. We believe this paradox will lessen over time as social tools become mundane and the percentage of members who are not interacting online becomes negligible, but we’re not there yet.

How do citizens bring value? Maybe they are creating content. Maybe they’re leading discussions. Maybe they’re using their influence to bring in more people who care about your industry. How valuable is that engagement? If your goal is to build community online, and you believe Peter Block’s idea that community is built by great citizens, than you really cannot undervalue the gifts of all of your community’s citizens, regardless of their membership status.

The nature of Open Community begs you to ask some tough questions about who your association serves, what value the community drives, and what the association can bring to the table that the community can’t drive on its own.

You may need to look at your membership model through a new lens. What would happen if membership were driven by a citizen’s contributions rather than dues? At this stage, these conversations may be more philosophical than practical, but they are still worth having.

So we'd like to throw the same question out to your readers.  Have you thought about membership as being like "citizenship?"  How might you nurture the Open Community around your association in such a way as to
encourage, showcase and reward contributions as well as create value for its citizens?


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