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What makes a community (4+1+1 steps)

Communities and Community of Practice is both Science & Art.

In our expert interview series I had the opportunity to interview one of the worlds leading experts and authors in the space UK based Richard Millington from Feverbee.

If you would like to watch the full 22 minute webinar interview you can see it here.. KontentLabs Expert Interview Series (Vimeo).

But in Summary.

The four scientific Pillars

#1) The Boundary: For a community to exist you need a boundary, some sort of separation from the mass. It can be a simple membership, a badge, a meeting place. In the physical world it's as simple as a "velvet" rope at your favourite venue or a sign saying "members or VIP only”. This is not to infer that it is elitist. But it stands to reason that you need to know whether you are in a community or not.

#2) The Influence or “What is your contribution” to the group. One of the interesting observations is that when most people see or hear of a new group their default position is, “What value can I add?” as opposed to the common assessment of “What can I get?” from group membership. Our group data supports the notion that perhaps your “preferred” member is one that sees that they can add value to the group; they actually add value to the group and they themselves obtain value from adding to the groups. Dealing with a lot of experts, it is never more apparent that there is great value in “gaining knowledge” individually but there is higher order value and skill in being able to “transfer it” at scale…… The opening quote to one of our health presentations is “Measure what you can measure, but if you can’t transfer knowledge what is the point?” In a health context, we are now freeing up lots of data and making it available on “screens and dashboards” . It's great to have insight but now what actions do we change with that data? What can we contribute…..

#3) Momentum & Joint Interests. Again, it may seem obvious, but you need to have both a natural affinity to the topics discussed and usually some mutual objective you want to reach. At KontentLabs we have a Kommunity4Community (K4C) groups. K4C was initially a “user group” for community group administrators. While you would expect this community to talk a lot about application of our community software, the real momentum from the group is the individual “tips and tricks” to help their communities grow. Our mission is for industry experts (and non tech people) to be able to manage and grow their trusted communities at scale. This mission very quickly expanded into their further interest groups. So there is now our overall mission momentum in supporting community managers, with new topics emerging around distribution, learner engagement, commercial models of community support, best practice community comms or moderation. The broad mission momentum around supporting this group is expanding and supported by many smaller and deeper topic interests.

#4) Shared Emotional Connection & Experience (Safe place). How you connect with a group really depends on its structure. Physical events often build a “mutual connection” but how are they achieved in online communities or communities of practice where you may not know the individuals present? How is this going to be a safe place for me to contribute? Will there be a digital record of everything? What is the context of what we are contributing and commenting on? So working a lot with health and care operators there is usually a mission and purpose to support “patients” or clients but nothing that “connects” you individually. With purely online communities, the managers need to realise that you may actually, never meet in person but can find shared mutual connection in a “collective webinar” or “joint publication” or industry commentary. At KontentLabs we find “Community of Practice'' is often something that fits very well between structured and planned events. So maybe it’s the discussion forums before or after “formal learning” or “national congresses”. It is up to the facilitators and managers to create and manage this safe space. I can’t think of any KLE site that allows “anonymous” logins so it is a foundation expectation that these are safe spaces to contribute. (PS: Many organisation spend a lot of time around having a set of operating rules and conditions for their communities to support the notion of a safe space).

The +1: Distribution, Remove Steps or Add Value: Many organisations spend a lot of time on a “build it and they will come” strategy. Really it doesn;t seem to work. How you will reach your audience and support them is the foundation stone of any community strategy. There is a lot written about growing communities through social media, reposting and especially now with AI. Many topic groups exists using “free” social media infrastructure and they can grow and scale and in return for using the platform the data and insights “and advertising” belong to others to use. For a new or existing community to work at scale, it either has to be simpler and remove steps from a current process (i.e. easier than facebook or linkedin) or provide something that they can not obtain on those platforms. A new community that fails to grow tells as much about what you shouldn’t do as what you should. The best knowledge with no group members really isn't a group.

If you would like more insights into managing “trusted groups” at scale or would like to share your own insights simply comment below. Or click for KontentLabs Expert Community Strategy Session

+1 Extra: I like to call this the Newton effect. Based on Newtons third law, for every action (force) there is an equal and opposite reaction. Force results from interactions. At a Kommunity group level. If you are building an “expert” community group, you should build the equal and opposite group, maybe called an “emerging expert”. Why? because that’s the nature of belonging. By creating momentum into an expert group, there is a gap or a void for the “emerging experts”. Now in a Venn diagram you are more than happy to “cross pollinate” between the group but the shared emotional connection and mission/momentum are usually different. In an Industry congress you will frequently see a “startup alley” alongside the traditional vendors. Or in an online group of Clinical Professors there should be a “student or emerging clinicians” group.

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