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It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Community!

Last Friday, I went to a party in Atherton and met two CEOs who used the word “community” as their secret sauce.

As I listened to each one, I realized their models and what they were specifically describing were entirely different. Yet the word describing this thing of on-line community was used generically as if they were alike. How confusing.
My Space or Facebook are communities that focus on social engagement. Wikipedia is based on community input to aggregate knowledge. Amazon’s marketplace is focused on “community” of reviewers. SAP software developers form a community that creates value on top of a community technology platform. These are all communities that contribute to a strategy for these different companies, but the ways and means and even the “what” are entirely different.
Recently, Harry Max was working on developing a monetization model for a client, based on a community destination site. And in the process he came up with a taxonomy for what he considers to be the five definitive types of community. It started to take the shape of the “what:” what was the user aiming to do in that community and therefore what could be done as a strategy from it. So he came up with community names like: purpose, proximity, passion, and so on. (yes, they are all Ps!). And it looked right.
It seems to me that even if we went out and named all five and put that lexicon of language into the tech thought-leadership community, it’s still not enough. There would be yet another person’s–or in this case, team’s–opinion on what community is.
It strikes me we ought to know what drives people to participate in various types of online community and how it effects community member interaction (how long do they stay, what do they learn, how does it influence purchase decisions, etc.). So, my team and I, started thinking deeply about this now. It just seems like with so many of us thinking about it, we ought to be talking less about the specifics and more about what makes these different kinds of community strategies work, what are the critical success factors, and how do they impact what we are able to do in business today. In Q3/Q4, we’ll field and release a study on this topic so stay tuned.

And for now, on-line community continues to grow as a centerpiece of strategy that companies are betting the future on today. I look forward to when we can describe it more clearly and know it better for what it is. Then the toolkit becomes better for all of us.

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