The Secret of Successful Communities

This morning I sat down over tea and cookies with two of the most interesting, creative and smart people I know. We’ve all been friends for years and years – since I was just a wide-eyed kid embarking on my first real TV job.

My friend’s basement office was like some sort of secret lair, a place where you just know big plans are being made. We huddled over our shortbread. A large painting of our host was oddly juxtaposed behind him. The striking likeness watched over our conversation with interest, as the real man sat in front. It was at once surreal and familiar. We sat, sipping, and mulled over our own big plans. The whole experience set me on the following stream of thoughts for the rest of the day.

One of the reasons why I am so interested and engaged with social media is because it revolves around the central theme of community. Whether you are building social media strategies for multimillion dollar companies, or creating a personal blog about your passion, you are striving to achieve the same thing – to build a strong, thriving community around something people care about.

It baffles me that so many people look at community as being some kind of bold new concept, especially in conversations around social media. They talk about community building, community management, community awareness…as if it’s the next big thing, the next new wave. They totally over complicate the process, and the entire point  of community gets lost in translation. I’m as guilty as the next person of getting caught up in the fad of community – especially as it relates to the online world.

Community isn’t new. Community has been around as long as we have. Communities are not created by tools or technology…they are created by people. My two friends helped me to remember this today.

One of my friends is working on building a new community. My other friend (the guy with the secret lair) has been building communities for years. Both of them are really really good at it. They’ve got it cased. Not only do they know how to build a community, they know how to make it strong. It doesn’t matter what kinds of communities they are building. What matters is that they aren’t getting caught up in the process or the buzzwords or the tools. They are just doing it. Want their secret? Well, okay then.

  1. Surround yourself with smart, passionate people. Then, you never have to worry that there won’t be anyone around to help.
  2. Just because someone has different tastes, doesn’t mean they don’t belong in your community. Give everyone a chance to try it out. A strong community is a diverse community.
  3. Strong communities have great leaders. Great leaders have strong communities.
  4. A community doesn’t take work. It takes passionate people who care about making it work.

Sometimes I think we get so caught up in the technology and the next big thing, that we forget that really it comes down to people. It’s not hard to build a community. What’s hard is putting aside the gizmos for a bit and focusing on what kind of community you want to build. And then, just getting out there and building the darn thing.

Thanks, two friends!

Music and the Geek Set
My Name is Jack


  • April 28, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Hey Susan…we create communities to tackle a problem, organize against something important or to stand together to speak up…we’ve been doing this for a gagillion years…why the discussion?

    Community has nothing to do with friendships…I’ve been in several community groups with people I didn’t ‘click’ with overall but obviously shared that one important thing this particular community had come together for.

    What am I missing? Why all the talk about communities on Twitter. Did someone change the rules or are we just reminding people.

    Are you sitting around with two close friends reminiscing over shortbread…then I’d call that friendship….or are you sitting with two people, who happen to be friends, creating a community to better something?

    You have me so completely perplexed.


  • April 28, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    I’ll admit that many of us associate community management/building as part of the new wave in this ‘2.0’ world, but really is just the social tools and technology that helps us in these activities.

    Building your strategies around the people and their passion vs. the technology, will help make your community more successful than any tool will.

    Great reminders here!

    Sonny Gill’s last blog post..Celebrity Takeover – Optimists vs Detractors

  • April 28, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Thanks for a terrific post!

    Over the course of a couple of “me” generations, western societies have mostly lost touch with the concept, meaning and value of “community”. And, for many reasons (some obvious, some still emerging, some yet to emerge) I have a strong belief that “community” is once again becoming much more necessary to our way of life, if not future survival.

    I hope that doesn’t sound bleak. I find it hopeful.

    It’s great to see communities taking shape on the web, but I think it critical that all of us also regularly unplug ourselves, get out “in the real world”, get to know our neighbours…and relearn how to be communities again, too.

  • April 28, 2009 at 10:14 pm
    Natalie Komuro (Anacapa)

    It may that because I look for it, I see community everywhere. In urban planning we seek ways to support community through design; in church community supports our quest for spiritual growth; in homeless services we depend on community to help people heal. On the internet community takes different forms, sometimes just for fun, other times for more serious causes. People will act on what matters to them and will connect with those who are like-minded. I think that is hard to to in isolation.

  • April 29, 2009 at 7:54 am

    I think that in recent years there’s been a shift in the general mentality of business away from the secretive, command-and-control style to an open, transparent one.

    Social media tools, I feel, have been a catalyst in this change. They have given mass communication and collaboration abilities to everyone, forcing businesses to do something other than hoard these powers.

    Thus the new car smell on “community.” It is, in a sense, actually a new concept for a lot of people.

    To my mind, this is a good thing.

  • April 29, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Community… isn’t that a strange idea? I think people got old of the idea and then Oprah made it big again with Twitter.

    I wonder if people will stop caring again…


    Brian Schuster’s last blog post..Is the Dawn of New Media the End of Worldwide Pandemics?

  • April 29, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Thought provoking as usual Suzemuse but permit me to disagree somewhat.

    I think the tools are more important than you seem to be implying. Community takes more than just passionate people with a common interest and strong leadership.

    The tools can be an important element for bringing certain communities together that otherwise wouldn’t come together or disintegrate.

    Take family as an example. Yvonne and I have family all over Canada and Western and Eastern Europe. If it wasn’t for skype & facebook, we would never connect .. which exactly what happened for many years. Nearly zero contact!

    One could argue that the “family” community was there all along but it may as well not have been because if the people in the community don’t interact, calling it a community is perhaps not accurate.

    Because of these tools, we have reconnected not just on-line but also off-line in a massive way.

    So the tools are important and will allow us to extend our community around the world and possibly change the world. So don’t count web2.0 and social media utilities and all that stuff off … they could save the planet by unifying it.

    Or not, and I’m full of it.

    allan isfan’s last blog post..We Launched Bluesfest ViewTube

  • April 29, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Successful communities revolve (involve) around folks with a shared passion. That passion could be family, geography, religion, cars, maple syrup, back hoes, old construction equipment, technologies, etc. etc.

    I’m with Alan that the tools are important, in at least they are tremendous facilitators of communities, especially more “esoteric” ones where geography would/could be a limiting factor.

    I’m increasingly reminded that the “death of distance” vision that sounded so “out there” back in the late 80’s when we were pioneering the high capacity transport systems that have become the current “Internet Backbones” has increasingly become “mission accomplished” with the current internet and social networking tools.

    I’m tremendously optimistic as to the benefits. Dr. Sylvia Earle (explorer in residence at National Geographic) summed it up best: “with knowing comes caring”.


  • May 1, 2009 at 6:44 am


15 49.0138 8.38624 1 0 4000 1 300 0