Communities are a-coming and you'd better be ready for them

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett January 28, 2019
Summary:
Community has been something of a Cinderella topic but if Rachel Happe is correct, then 2019 will be the year when the value that can be delivered from this approach makes a breakthrough.

I recently caught up with Rachel Happe, founder of the Community Roundtable. The lively conversation is above. I've known Rachel since forever but we've not met for a few years although we're regular Twitter conversationalists.

I wanted to catch up with her because she's been on fire on Twitter the last few weeks. Here's an example:

I wanted a drains up on what's happening in the world of communities a topic I have covered on and off the last 10 years.

Rachel's perspective is unique because she was one of the first to understand that community can drive many good things. This was especially poignant for me in the early days as a member/contributor inside the SAP network. (I'm back in there after a four-year hiatus but only intermittently.)  In short, Rachel brings experience you can't buy and which has both shaped and honed her perspective during a period when many companies dismissed community as one of those touchy, feely soft topics that no-one can measure with any degree of business meaning.

Measuring the wrong stuff

Right off the bat in our conversation Rachel made the assertion that business wants and values metrics that are transactional in nature. An example might be page views where firms make the assumption that the more page views a story gets, the more valuable it must be. In my view, this is a highly dubious assertion, based as it is on the zombie economy aka advertising.

Engagement is a metric that matters a great deal to us at diginomica because we see it as a measure of what people are thinking, their concerns, their understanding and so on. But as the Tweet above points out, that's maybe not all there is to the topic.

Whether engagement is a lagging indicator or otherwise is certainly open to debate but where Rachel has me sitting up is in the consideration of engagement at a much deeper level and one that speaks to behaviors underpinning a set of engagements and which informs our ability to learn and adapt to changing circumstances. Rachel provides the example of her daughter's learning and how the methods used at school are equipping her to take on fresh challenges more easily than is possible using the kind of rote learning with which I am familiar.

More and much more

As we talked about engagement, Rachel provided examples of how community serves as a place of safety for people inside organizations who might otherwise feel that they cannot openly express concerns or discuss sensitive issues.

Again, this is of interest to me because while we would love it if more people commented on our content, we recognize that we often raise questions to which there are multiple answers. Couple that with the natural tendency for people to avoid looking foolish and you understand why an open system of commenting isn't always an ideal environment. But I was surprised to learn that the breadth of conversation inside well-run communities extends to personal issues as well.

Control is for amateurs

Community doesn't happen without leaders who are prepared to stand behind community efforts. In this context, Rachel argues that 'control is for amateurs.' Why? Rachel argues that the way our generation was brought up meant that we were focused on solving the kinds of problem that demand binary answers. Today, we are faced with many more problems but they are both complex and do not necessarily have simple answers yet we have to learn how to make decisions in what Rachel describes as an 'ambiguous environment.' In her view, the community provides a complex solution for a complex problem but it has to be allowed to flourish or the ideas needed to survive and thrive will not emerge. In that situation, the idea that managers can control the environment makes little sense.

My take

Rachel's upbeat assessment of community has been a long time coming and I give her much credit for carrying the banner for so long. The question for readers though is whether now is the time for community to rise as a cornerstone for both the future of work and the solution to the complex problems that business is facing. I'd like to think the answer is yes because strong communities unquestionably deliver huge value. You still have to make hard technology decisions and even there, Rachel argues that the analytical tools available are not up to snuff. But that should not prevent leaders from getting started.