Everyone is talking about building community, but what does that mean?
There are many ways to build a community. The first is to create a presence in that community that people identify with. Most online environments have various ways that you can do this: building your profile, leaving a comment, retweeting a tweet, uploading pictures and videos, sharing a resource, or collaborating on a project.
How do you create a presence online? How do you sustain an online community?
I thought I’d refer to Tucker’s Five Stages of Group Development and Five Stages when building a community.
1. Forming: The group comes together and gets to initially know one other and form as a group.
2. Storming: A chaotic vying for leadership and trialling of group processes
3. Norming: Eventually agreement is reached on how the group operates (norming)
4. Performing: The group practices its craft and becomes effective in meeting its objectives.
Tuckman added a 5th stage 10 years later:
5. Adjourning: The process of “unforming” the group, that is, letting go of the group structure and moving on.
I wanted to take these stages and how they relate to online communities.
Stage 1: Forming
This stage is about building a presence in the group or community. Group members rely on safe, patterned behavior. Group members desire acceptance by the group and a need to know that the group is safe. They gather impressions and data about the similarities and differences among them and form preferences for future subgrouping.
Self-organized learning and social media is all about starting the community around you. An online community may not have a leader. There may be multiple leaders or a self-proclaimed leader who starts the conversations. The leaders can change at anytime. Everyone and anyone can join, contribute, or leave when they want. Some members don’t have a presence. They join and lurk. They are just watching the activity in the community.
How can you build community in a group where members come and go? Can you trust that the profiles of some members are real?
Stage 2, Storming, is characterized by competition and conflict as group members organize. Individual members mold their feelings, ideas, attitudes, and beliefs to suit the group with an increased desire for structural clarification and commitment. Questions will arise about who is going to be responsible for what, what the rules are, what the reward system is, and what criteria for evaluation are. Yet, in an online community, there may be no rules. The reward is connecting or someone responding to you, sharing your picture, or retweeting your tweet.
Is this enough to keep you in the community?
What if someone in the group writes something controversial and upsets many of the members? Will people stay in the group? Some people will step forward and take responsibility for posting, answering questions, and sharing information beyond the community.
In Stage 3: Norming stage, group members are engaged in active acknowledgment of all members’ contributions, community building and maintenance, and solving of group issues. Members are willing to change their preconceived ideas or opinions on the basis of facts presented by other members, and they actively ask questions of one another. Leadership is shared, and cliques dissolve. This is the true online community that is working. When members begin to know-and identify with-one another, the level of trust in their personal relations contributes to the development of group cohesion. It is during this stage of development (assuming the group gets this far) that people begin to experience a sense of group belonging and a feeling of relief as a result of resolving interpersonal conflicts. The major task function of stage three is the data flow between group members: They share feelings and ideas, solicit and give feedback to one another, and explore actions related to the task. Creativity is high. Members feel good about being part of an effective group.
The major drawback of the norming stage is that members may begin to fear the inevitable future breakup of the group; they may resist change of any sort. Actually online communities tend to stay around even if there is no activity. Sometimes you can go back after years and realize you still have a membership there.
Is this a community? Does a community only work if there is activity? Is the community safe? Do you feel safe to post what you believe? How do you trust the people in a community?
How to Build Trust
In Stage 4: Performing stage, people work independently, in subgroups, or as a total unit. Their roles adjust to the changing needs of the group and individuals. By now, the group is the most productive. Individual members become self-assuring, and the need for group approval is past. Members are both highly task oriented and highly people oriented. There is unity: group identity is complete, group morale is high, and group loyalty is intense. The task function becomes genuine problem solving, leading toward optimal solutions and optimum group development. There is support for experimentation in solving problems and an emphasis on achievement. The overall goal is productivity through problem solving and work.
Do online communities ever get to Stage 4?
The only way I see this stage working is with a facilitator or someone nudging the members of the community to participate online. If you just want a community to share when you want, then you don’t care about a specific task or project. You join the community to connect and share resources or ideas. If you have a specific task or project, then you need a plan with who’s doing what by when… and a facilitator or coach checking in regularly.
Stage 5 Adjourning means a community ends. This is not happening in online communities and social media unless you leave the community. Or the infrastructure housing the community ends.
Some questions about building community:
- How do you design interaction so all members contribute and participate?
- How do you determine roles and responsibilities for each member and the facilitator?
- How do you see the difference of an on-site and online community of practice?
The reason I wanted to discuss this today is that I am in multiple communities where I am the only one posting. It’s frustrating. I write on this blog and people write me via email a question or comment or scoopit or retweet it. I really appreciate when someone comments on my blog even if I don’t agree with their position. People are not posting on blogs like they used to. People are commenting in social media with 140 characters or pinging back in Scoopit or pinning on Pinterest.
Is this community or just a way to share your thoughts and ideas? Online communities are different now then just a few years ago but are they sustainable? Are they real communities that have good discussions that you can refer to later?
I am in groups in Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Scoopit and many more social media environments. Are these the type of communities that you can use to build communities of practice? I’ve tried Ning and Wikispaces, but they still depend on the facilitator to get conversations going and many have no leaders. I built My eCoach for educators to build communities of practice. I wanted a safe and secure online community that allowed for private conversations and the ability to share publicly.
I know the word “transparency” is big. However, some things you discuss online happens more effectively in private areas. That means you need to trust that whatever you write or share is used the way you would hope it would be used. You can still publish publicly. Now that everything is moving toward “Open” and “Transparent,” more people are uploading all of their pictures and videos to the cloud. They are also sharing their private conversations. This more than often backfires on the author. Now you can have your own YouTube Channel. Anyone can be an author, a filmmaker, a journalist. But having a coach or facilitator helps. I know I’m taking a chance writing here my thoughts. It would probably be better if someone proofread it first. Oh well! Let’s see if any of you comment on my blog.
I found that many conversations didn’t happen effectively without a facilitator so I set up an eCoach program. eCoaches keep the conversations going and encourage members of the community to participate.
Social media doesn’t care if everyone participates. I believe the different types of communities are used for different purposes. I don’t know what I would do without social media. But I still need My eCoach and many members of My eCoach keep coming back because they know it is safe, secure, and their intellectual property is still in their digital locker. It’s all about believing that all of your material will always be there when you need it. That the conversations are still there. Try to find the tweet with the link you saw last week.
Yes, you can bookmark it on Diigo or Plurk. Facebook is trying to build community based on each member’s timeline. Google+ is trying to build community around circles. I am watching and believing that social media is going to look different in the future. Communities are evolving. Communities are becoming extensions of our families and friends. Actually many are blurring between business, family and friends. I get it that social media is about all of us nudging and supporting each other, but usually only 1-10% are really contributing. I’m keeping My eCoach because I see the importance of public and private spaces and an ability for a facilitator to nudge and help members participate. When communities ended in My eCoach, members stopped using it. All of a sudden, many are coming back. They tried to make their own eCoach system. They used existing programs using social media programs but when they realized that their data is sold to third parties, they lost trust. When they saw relevant ads based on what they were writing in their messages, they didn’t feel safe. When they came back to My eCoach, their “stuff” was still there and there are no adds. Their data is not sold to third parties. Yes, it’s not a great revenue model, but we have to believe in the cloud, in the people, in the community.
So I am part of many communities. My neighborhood is my community. I know many of the people in my neighborhood. I feel safe and secure because I can walk around the block and know that people know who I am and I know who they are. My family is my community. Many are online in my social media but we are family first. I am in different groups online and build ongoing relationships with people I met online, in My eCoach and other communities and now are close in real time face-to-face. Community is important. Building a sustainable community takes time, trust, and building relationships that matter.
What does community mean to you?