15 November 2010

Monday Top 5: Open Community

 I'm excited to be a part of the Open Community (a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web) virtual book tour. When authors Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer and I started talking about what to do here, we thought it might be fun to break out of the interview format for a minute and play with one of this blog's tropes: the Top 5 List.

So for your MONDAY reading pleasure, I'm happy to present:  Top 5 Takeaways from Open Community, a conversation with the Lindy Dreyer, one of the babes from SocialFish.

First of all, thank you, Elizabeth, for having us on Thanks for Playing. And thanks for the great idea of doing a “top 5 takeaways” post. I think the top five list will be different for everyone who reads the book. But here are the ones I try to remember on a daily basis in my own work (in David Letterman order.)

Number 5: Fail smart and forget perfect

OK, so that’s kind of cheating, since those are two takeaways in one. Failure is a big part of the process of community building. On a micro level, for every post that gets tons of discussion, you might have dozens that don’t get much attention at all. On a macro level, knowing when a project or tool just isn’t doing the job, especially when you’ve made a big investment of time or money in it, takes a lot of bravery and soul searching. And it’s really important to separate the failure from the staff or volunteers who poured their hearts into a project.

The perfectionist in me cringes at failure, which is why I added “forget perfect” to this takeaway. Everything’s moving so fast, if you wait for it to be perfect, you’ll miss the boat. You have to know when it’s worth sacrificing perfection for speed, and when it isn’t.

Number 4: Remove the hurdles
My analytical side loves this takeaway. In the book we identify the hurdles as:

  1. Finding your organization
  2. Knowing how to participate
  3. Feeling connected
  4. Feeling invested

You can lose someone at any one of these points. So the question to ask is this: if you look at everything you’re doing to build your open community online, where are the hurdles, and how can you remove them?

Number 3: Social objects need social actions
This is so simple, and yet so easy to forget. A social object is a piece of content that draws people into social interactions. But an object can’t be social unless there is some clear social action to take: commenting, rating, re-posting to Facebook, retweeting, joining, etc. Sometimes I see web pages where there’s no obvious action I can take. Other times, I see web pages so full of actions I’m paralyzed because I don’t know which action to take. It all goes back to those hurdles, especially “knowing how to participate.” The clearer you can be about what you actually want people to DO, the better.

Number 2: Simplify, simplify, simplify

We see this one all the time. An organization might have a very complex process they are trying to move online. Many times, the reason the process is so complex, has so many steps, or needs so much oversight is because there was no better way to do it before - there was no social web to serve as the foundation for the work. So what happens when the association tries to move the process online? They recreate the complex, multi-step business logic they’re used to. They miss the opportunity to open up and engage people using the strengths of the social web, and instead build these convoluted systems that require lots of moderation, instruction and training.

So really, this takeaway is a call for people to use the social web to find ways to work differently at a fundamental level. It’s kind of a big deal.

And my Number 1 favorite takeaway:
*drumroll*

There’s something to be said for the mess.

Your open community is a living, growing, dynamic online ecosystem. It’s messy! There are so many different people, so many different websites, so many different systems that all affect the bigger picture. It’s not realistic to try to choose a single website or platform and expect your entire open community to meet you there. That might work with your most engaged champions, but the whole point of open community is to take a more holistic view of the people who influence and are influenced by your organization. Building community online is about connecting with people. And since passionate people have an irrepressible tendency to self-organize, and no shortage of social tools to use to connect amongst themselves, organizations need to learn to love the messiness of it all.

So there you have it. I feel like I may be too close to it at this point to draw out the most useful stuff, so I really look forward to hearing favorite takeaways from people who read Open Community

So, Thanks for Playing readers: what was YOUR favorite takeaway? 

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