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Can you manage a community? If not, what can you do with it?

I’ve always reacted to the term “community manager” – much in the same manner and of the similar reason as towards the concept “knowledge management”. Both knowledge and communities are by nature fluid. To borrow a Taoistic metaphor – the harder you try to wrap a hand around water and squeeze it, the less water you manage to capture and keep. In short – “manage” implies “control”. The term in itself has its roots in latin “manus”, meaning exactly that – “hand”. To place your hand on.

For the Love of Community Building

Why I bother? Well, for me, “community creation, building, sustaining and developing” is a core activity in my life mission – more distinct as my short bio states – “I love building communities for a better world”.  As for now, I keep community [place another term than “management” here] functions in three contexts. 

Much in the manner I did my inquiry and research into the concept of “sustainopreneurship”, I dive into the concept of “community” and “what you can do with it” the same way, where I derive insights and knowledge through reflective practice. I intend to share some lessons from the experience of various functions within these communities. They are by nature different in both history, geographical stretch and focus, so they have to be dealt with differently. And they are not “customer communities”, as usually conversed when we talk about communities, brands and social media/web in the wider area of “community management” – talked about as some kind of extended customer service, just with a migration from the call center to the social web at large. All too narrow in focus! Thinking about it – your community is your brand – your collective identity is built up by the perception you get from it, and the response to it, from your friends, fans and followers. Those who actually want to converse about and with you.

What is a community?

If we turn to Wikipedia and catch the intro of the article, it says;

“In biological terms, a community is a group of interacting organisms sharing a populated environment. In human communities, intentbeliefresourcespreferencesneedsrisks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness. /…/ The word “community” is derived from the Old French communité which is derived from the Latin communitas (cum, “with/together” + munus, “gift”), a broad term for fellowship or organized society.”

Yes, some common denominators are shared. Communitas.

My claim then – manage not, then what?

People are people. If you shout at them, they turn deaf. If you say “jump” – who will see them jump? No, your community is in charge of you, and not the other way around. Sure, you can manage some aspects of the community – and that is rather the interface in between your community and your organizational window to it. The supporting structures, the manuals, guidelines and references used on how to communicate and deal with community contact. How to deal with community feedback. Those assets are “manageable”. But the actual outcome of that interaction is not.


But to extend our view – what things can you do with a community? Well, I claim there are a lot of things you can do for and with a community, to which I will return to in a set of focused contributions here on Social Media Club. Build? Mobilize? Facilitate? Foster? Develop? Coordinate? Cultivate? Curate? Evangelize? Maybe all these activities collectively, in some manner, leads to a dimension of “manage”, taken together. That unsaid, and beyond – follow my shared thoughts on Community All-Things-Done-But-Manage next month.


But before you go to your next web destination, give yourself a thought – what is your community?


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