Making a Potent and Powerful Community: Don’t Add Water

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How Do You Make a Community?

If your answer is, “Add 3 cups of water to your concentrate and mix thoroughly,” that will make a delicious drink but doesn’t translate to communities . In fact, watering it down is the last thing you should do.

What does a community look like? If you’ve heard me speak at conferences on the subject of social media or community building before you’ve probably heard my analogy.  To me, a community looks like frozen orange juice from concentrate.

Have you ever popped the top off that can of OJ-your mouth starts watering when you see that glistening frozen orange goodness-and you’re so thirsty that you plunge a spoon in to scoop out just a taste of it?

Then you gag…cringe… and squint your eyes as your tongue is delivered a shot of super-sour.  It’s way too potent and strong.

A powerful community is like this. It’s a potent gene pool of talent. It’s not about how many members you have. Keeping score and placing value on quantity without consideration for activation and quality is like watered down juice-worthless and tastes terrible.

Seth Godin, author of the book Tribes wrote a lot about this and points out that we all consciously or unconsciously belong to several tribes (communities) in our family, work, religious and other social circles. We want to associate with people who are like-minded and accept us. And be where we can improve ourselves or just have fun.

Communities worth investing time in are strong and united, concentrated and focused on a cause or mission. And like the frozen juice, they are bonded-with people who stick together, rely on each other and meet up often to get to know each other and build relationships of trust.

If you talk to my friend Chris Brogan, social media mogul, thought leader and best selling author of the book Trust Agents, he will tell you that “community vs group or audience has to do with which way the chairs are facing.”

That is, audiences, like people who gather to watch a performance, movie or ball game all face the performance. Chris points out that in a community, the chairs face each other so there can be dialogue and interaction.

Leaders vs Followers

Finding a valuable community to join can be a challenge but starting your own and leading one is an entirely different animal! Sometimes the most unlikely person becomes a leader. And a long legacy of leadership or years of expertise in the area doesn’t necessarily qualify you or make you a better leader. In our life we’re probably the leader and follower at times. In fact, sometimes being a follower, though it carries a stigma, takes more courage and vision than being the one in charge.

Early on, I felt very unworthy and the least likely choice to lead. But then I realized that normal ordinary people like me are leading out in small ways everywhere by pursing their passion. There are ordinary people quietly doing extraordinary things because they want to change things for the better. And I think that’s all you need to get started is passion and a vision for something important-and the determination to do it. All the credit really belongs to the inspired people who are willing to support and follow you.  They become the reason your vision is important and valuable and come into the foreground as you slip into the background.

Keys to My (limited) Success

1. It’s We, not Me. Understanding that communities cannot be owned. It is a privilege and weighty responsibility to lead, but ultimately the people are in control.

2. Resisting self-promotion. One measure of how well or poorly I’m doing is by the number of people that ask me, “So, what do you do for work exactly?” The more I’m asked, the more I know I’m doing a good job because I’m not overtly selling myself or the services I provide. Of course it’s okay for people to ask and want to know-and I’m happy to tell them. But like golf, a lower score or lower number of people who know off the top of their head is better.

3. Understanding the boomerang effect of generosity and the power of working together. 1 x 1 doesn’t go very far. But 1 x 1,000 is very powerful. This is also called synergy.

4. Surrounding myself with people smarter than me. If I had to give the short answer of “what’s in it for me” I’d say the opportunity to be associated with so many amazing people.

This is a labor of love that doesn’t come without difficulty. Sometimes, the phrase, “herding cats” comes to mind…That was especially true in the beginning.

I founded Linked OC right at the close of 2008 because I saw the need for a new way to connect people in Orange County. And because I was fed up with the uninspiring “networking groups” and events I attended. Some will say that you should belong to 50+ groups and attend dozens of networking events per month to find the most business and build your network. I’m not convinced this is true. I tried it, and found very little quality in the quantity.

Some of these groups were a complete waste of time offering nothing of value. Some were traps or scams to “collect” people with the sole purpose of selling me their stuff or putting me on their crappy newsletter email list [instead of being set up to "connect" people as Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his book Tipping Point].

And some were contradictions like the groups that promoted themselves as a “local SoCal group” but were run by nice folks in Pakistan.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are a few good groups out there and Linked Orange County is not the end-all be-all. But I was never satisfied before now and so I decided to do something about it.

I organized Linked Orange County with a similar philosophy that was successful in another niche community I founded several months earlier in 2008, the SoCal Action Sports Network. That is, a philosophy of generosity, and understanding that we’re all in this together. It’s a system that resembles a bit of family loyalty and acknowledging   interdependence. Buy local and buy from people you know and trust in the community. Like living in a small town, the idea is that (when possible) we buy our vegetables from the local farmer, the farmer gets his tractor serviced by the town mechanic, the mechanic buys her tools from the local sales person an so on… Sure, the mechanic could order her tools on Amazon, but if this works properly the sale person’s tools are just as good and equally priced but it’s the personal relationship that makes all the difference.  My vision is to help the community tap into the tremendous power and leverage of being a hyper-local tight knit community.  We’re in a position to succeed or fail together.

Our Mantra:

While there is strength in numbers, we don’t measure value by how many members we have. We’re not keeping score of our popularity or adding hundreds of new ‘friends’ we may never know. We’re interested in people who understand that the real value of social networking is when it translates into meaningful relationships of trust. Where members help each other, form a community and prosper. A place where innovation, creativity and collaboration thrive. And self-promotion takes a back seat to generosity.

While Linked OC did get traction pretty quickly in terms of numbers (from 0 to 5,000 members in about 1 year), it has been a struggle to lead at times with so many different people moving in different directions.

There are logical reasons for this:

By comparison the SoCal Action Sports Network is a niche network made up of many industries that share the common interest of marketing to 18-24 yr old’s in the $150 Billion Youth Industry. The community includes action sports brands (think Quiksilver), food & beverage (Red Bull) music & entertainment (Sony) etc.

Linked OC’s common bond is geographical and hyper-local. If you live, work or care about doing business in Orange County you’re in. So naturally it is a very eclectic group. A true melting pot of industries that do tend to roam in separate directions.

But there are big opportunities and unique advantages to being hyper-local and I feel like we really turned a corner on Feb. 11th when together, we were able to accomplish something remarkable. Something otherwise thought to be impossible. So in essence, that’s it. We can do more when we do things together.

The true measure of power and value in a community is during times when there’s something important to do. Deliberately eating at that restaurant as a community to save a business that’s been hit by the economy. Referring business. Helping someone find a better job. Contributing to a charitable cause. Voting together to change a policy, whatever. When it cannot be done by one person alone, the community takes action. When we all grab hold and pull the rope together, we can pull a ship in from sea. We’ve already come a long way in a short time. I’m energized and excited by the possibilities of what we can do when we do it together!

What say you?

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  • todd brown

    Thank you for sharing this information… I’m in the process of putting together a community for cycling enthusiasts and really appreciate this insight.
    Genuflecting!, tb

  • Kari Adler

    Awesome blog! To the point and very true based on my own experience. I’m 24 years-old with a Criminology/Law Degree from UC Irvine and was the top of my class with zero passion for it. Without passion for what you do, you have nothing. I knew that pretty quickly, started my own brand (HAVE A TIKI DAY) less than a year ago, the response has been amazing and I couldnt be happier. Don’t get me wrong, it hasnt been easy to follow through with my idea, but my drive to make it work and family support has made it a reality. Without family support and community (client) support, my brand doesnt exist. LOVE what I do and LOVE what you wrote! Have A Tiki Day

  • Chris Schlieter

    I’ve been a member and sometimes leader of online communities going back to CompuServe days, and I love how they can draw like-minded people together.

    One of the cat herding techniques I strive to follow is to “Focus on the Principle, not the Personality.” This really helps when how someone says something (accidentally) overshadows the point they were trying to make.

    The online tone you’ve set for Linked OC is awesome, so I’m looking forward to attending an event and experiencing it in person. Keep up the good work.

  • Reggie Escalante

    I find that the quality versus quantity to be the key. Time is precious and while it’s not about looking for someone in a particular field each time I attend a networking event, it’s about knowing who among that small community I could offer something they may be experts in.

    For instance, I’m not a mobile app developer by any definition, however I use my iPhone frequently, and, yes, it’s jailbroken. It’s jailbroken as I’m impressed with the creative apps developers provide the jailbroken iPhone community. It’s to the point that I’d share content/features of these apps with other iPhone owners. Let me get to my point. One time someone within my community asked me if I or someone I knew coud design a mobile app for their organization. Sure enough through one networking event that provided a wealth of think tanks, there was an organization who specialized in mobile app development and I made the connection for the two parties.

    I’m sure one day I’ll have a special task that I hope to work on in concert with someone within my few networking communities, as the rapport and trust will be present already. In the meantime, it’s pretty rewarding knowing that within the communities I’ve chosen to associate with that I’m able to make connections for others.

    To end on a humorous note on quality of communities, there’s a pretty challenging trail run I’m participating in really soon, and my partner will not be able to run due to her pending knee surgery. I didn’t want to participate by myself as it’s actually a pretty difficult course, but my friend and I were up to the challenge as we’d run it together. Sure enough, within my small community a friend contacted me within minutes when she saw my small plea for a trail running partner; apparently trail running is one of her specialties.

    Be sure to select the communities that you can provide value to, either through your own talents or through the talents of others within other communities. In the end we all benefit.

  • Bryan

    @ todd brown.

    why don`t you post your community when you are ready. i`m a cycling enthousiast and like to check it out!

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