What is An Open Community? | Beth’s Blog
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What is An Open Community?

Books, Guest Post, Online Community

Note from Beth: I’m taking part in the virtual book tour Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer are doing to explore concepts from Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web.    I read an early draft of the book and think it is a very important idea for those of us in the nonprofit community embrace.   I’ve been a big fan of openness and freely sharing community knowledge and have seen first hand from the early days of the social web the power of this – take for example the NPTECH community.   Yesterday,  my colleagues and I launched another open nonprofit and social media community – the Zoetica Salon.   In this post, Maddie and Lindy answer a few questions about the definition of open communities and why they are important.    The ideas around open community go hand in hand with the concept of abundance that Marnie Webb has been obsessing about lately.

I’m giving away a copy of this book.  Just leave a comment below answering Maddie and Lindy’s question after reading and thinking about the ideas in this post.

Open Community: A Conversation with Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant

Lindy: First, thank you, Beth, for reading an early draft and giving us your feedback. You are so generous with your time–we’re really grateful.

Maddie: And thank you for introducing us to Rob Cottingham at the 09NTC in San Francisco! His cartoons are just the dash of awesome sauce our little book needed. I shed tears of laughter over this one, for example.


Why did you write Open Community?

Maddie: For association executives, community is old hat. It’s what we do. It’s central to our work. And it really always has been since the day the first association held its first meeting. And yet, for some reason (actually a lot of reasons) what we know about community isn’t always translating well to building community online.

Until very recently, associations “owned” their community. These tended to be very closed systems, where the association itself had a huge amount of power by controlling the ways in which members were able to communicate with one another. If you wanted to have access to other members, you joined and kept up with your dues. Some associations still operate quite successfully this way, at least for the moment.

Lindy: For a lot of association executives, the natural way to approach social media was to recreate their closed systems using new, shiny tools. But that’s not enough, because paying dues is no longer the only way for me to interface with an association’s community.

Maddie: Lindy and I have talked to thousands of association executives who have voiced their frustrations about the social web–from the overabundance of tools and the disorderly experimentation of staff (and members!), to the lack of organizational support and the unwieldy processes for monitoring and managing social media, and that’s just the beginning. We decided to write Open Community as a way to address those frustrations and redirect the thinking about using social tools to build community online.

So, what is “Open Community?”

Lindy: Here’s the gist. Your Open Community is your people who are bonded by what your organization represents and care enough to talk to each other (hopefully about you!) online. It’s not about who’s paying dues and who isn’t. And it’s not about controlling where the community hangs out. It’s a much more, well, open way of approaching online community.

In The Networked Nonprofit we talk about how organizations are working differently. This was a theme in Open Community as well.

Maddie: Yes! We really appreciated the concepts in The Networked Nonprofit and the storytelling to support the concepts. We talk about the concept of a social organization in Open Community, and it’s very similar to that of a networked nonprofit. Where you and Allyson illustrate the networked nonprofit from the outside in, we look at the social organization from the inside out. When we talk about the social organization, we start with exploring individual behaviors and skill sets; then internal processes such as community management, establishing good social media policies, the role of staff; and then cultural issues of openness, collaboration, and decentralization.

Lindy: I think Open Community makes a great companion piece to The Networked Nonprofit, especially for nonprofits structured as membership organizations. We intend Open Community to be a  troubleshooting guide for association executives and a conversation starter to share with their staff and volunteer board members.

So what are some key takeaways?

Maddie: Haha. You tell us. That question is way too hard. I’m too close to it.

Lindy: Lindy to the rescue! Wait. Let me soak this in. Maddie so rarely needs help coming up with something to say in a blog post.

I blogged 5 takeaways earlier in the tour on Elizabeth Engel’s blog, so I got this. I’ll share two takeways I think you’ll appreciate, Beth. First, remove hurdles to engagement. In the book we identify the hurdles as 1) finding you online, 2) knowing how to participate, 3) feeling connected, and finally, 4) feeling invested. You can lose someone at any one of these barriers. 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?

Second, simplify complex structures and processes. 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 goes 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. We see this all the time in volunteer and chapter management, actually.

What’s next?

Maddie: Well, we hope lots and lots of people will get the chance to read it, and think about how the concepts affect their organization.

Lindy: And we hope to gather lots of great stories about Open Community in action, which we’ll continue to share in lots of ways throughout the year. So here’s a question for your readers to consider…

How is your nonprofit building community online? What’s your strategy for connecting with and supporting your Open Community? Is it working?

4 Responses

  1. fhseon says:

    Very intersting indeed….

  2. Beth W. says:

    I’m in the planning stages of a nonprofit that opens the door to online, community-based journalism…transparency and dialogue among players is certainly a must! However, I’ve noticed ‘openness’ backfire among conventional, for-profit media in the local area. Online comments in response to stories involving race and government assistance are quickly turned off, and two-way communication is nearly impossible. Perhaps this is a result of too-wide an audience–they aren’t connected by/invested in a common mission? I’m looking forward to building effective community online in the future–thanks for giving us a glimpse of the book!

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