Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Online Community Building Strategy: Nancy White On Networks, Groups and Technology Choices

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Interested in better understanding what is the difference between an online group and a network of people? Trying to build your own community of loyal readers and fans?

Photo credit: Robin Good

In this second part (first part - Online Community Building Strategy: Good Advice From Nancy White - here) of my video interview with facilitation expert Nancy White, the focus of our conversation lands around key differences and philosophies behind groups and networks and their relationship with new communication technologies.

How should we look at scaling our communities in the near future? Is it all about how to manage more and more people or does it have to do with scaling in a new and more effective way?

What is more important: the technology we select to support these communities or the strategy and the goals we want to achieve? And how do you go about selecting the right social community building platform?

To these and other related questions Nancy White provides valuable insight, a refreshing viewpoint from the typical social media recommendations and a set of strategic suggestions on how to best look at the management and growth of online communities in the future.


Group Facilitation Vs. Network Facilitation - Nancy White

Duration: 3' 03''

Nancy White: Group facilitation and network facilitation - I'm noticing - have some similarities, and have some significant differences. Particularly because you can route around nodes that are blocking in a network, and in a community you have to work it out, because there's a boundary.

I guess I have some pretty strong definitions about the distinctions between the two (group facilitation vs. network facilitation).

A community is a bounded group of people who care about something together and interact around that issue over time.

A group of people getting together once may have a fantastic interaction and may learn a lot from each other. But unless they reconvene and join together again as an online group online or whatever, they're not a community. They're a group of people who had a fantastic experience together.

One of the things about the behavior of community is we give up a little bit of me, on the service of the "we".

Identity it's not just "me", it's "we".

And in some communities that's a lot... in a cult it's all "we". But in many of the communities in my life, I am willing to give up some of the things I need for the greater good of the community, because of the value that the community has to me.

A network are bunches of people with overlapping and intersecting interests.

You may be interested in milk chocolate, I'm interested in dark chocolate. I hate white chocolate but you may have a friend who's interested in white chocolate and more of the network of chocolate. That's OK, but we don't have to give up our love of dark chocolate or white chocolate to be in that network. There is a tolerance for much more variability.

If the white chocolate people start blocking, we just go some place else. We don't need to hang out with the white chocolate people. You can route around it.

Therefore the boundaries are always shifting. You can work around blockages, and it really drives from the idea of the individual. Whether you call self-interest or enlightened self-interest, the reciprocity is not necessarily one-to-one. You give something, you get something back, but it's not necessarily equal.

You don't owe me a favor. We owe the network a favor. If you think from an altruistic standpoint.

There's very different things you can do in that community context versus the network context.

These new technologies, I feel are really strong around network context. And then the fun thing is communities fall out of networks. people discover each other and grow closer and then they form that bond, that continuity over time and become communities.

When the communities explode, they can go back out into the network, and still be connected but without maybe all that "we". "I'm done with "we", I need to go back out into the me!". But there's still a connection.

This place in between networks and communities, I think is really powerful. And I think smart marketers are discovering this. Smart educators and people interested in learning are discovering it.

It's not either or. It's all those interesting spaces in between, and I think it's a really rich space.


Distributed Conversations Inside Networks - Nancy White

Duration: 0' 58''

Nancy White: It's about replication and variation that is connected.

If something works here, it's not about "OK, let's make it here, make it ginormous and here, and here, and here" where this may not have anything to do with this in terms of context.

Uniforming is no longer guaranteed, but networks allow things to be replicated with variations. And then they can stay connected with each other, and learn from each other, so they can thrive without having to be clones. They can learn and advance without having to grow so big that they lose their value.

For example, in learning, if we're learning well in a group from fifteen to twenty, doing that same learning for 100 may not be scaling. But connecting to ten another fifteens, from when we want to cross further, as we get beyond our little group, could be very positive.

These new tools, and these network way of thinking enables us to think about what success looks in a different way.


The Importance Of Community Tools - Nancy White

Duration: 0' 47''

Nancy White: I think both. because we influence the technology and the technology influences us.

Look at how people started using the @ symbol in Twitter and the RT. They invented ways to connect with each other that the original software designers hadn't anticipated.

In a way, we will bend the tools to our needs. At the same time, if the tool offers us an opportunity to segregate, how to create groups... Look at the Twitter feeds, whatever is it... you can create groups.

Groups can allow me to give coherence when I've got too many people I'm following, and I need to focus for a moment, because network stuff can overwhelm us or can flow past us.

People say it's like a river. It is like a river: you can't swallow it all. But when a tool allows you to pull out a piece of content, or a group of people, then the experience changes.


Choosing The Right Community Tool - Nancy White

Duration: 1' 29''

Nancy White: I never start with the platform. What is the community for? What do they want to do? And what activities do they need to do that?

If I'm trying to do a community of practice, people who want to learn about their work, maybe one the things they want to do is ask questions and answers of each other. This idea of ongoing conversation looks for tools that supports conversation.

Maybe there's another community that looks about sharing and photographs, so they want ta tool that easily shares images. It depends on the activity.

Typically communities have a cluster of activities that are important to them, and once you thought about the cluster of activities then you think about the context.

I work in international development, a lot of people have hefty bandwidth.

If I use a page and it takes forever to load... nothing. So, I got to think about those different things. Then you can start picking... "You know, we want to write together. A wiki might be good, or Google Docs might be good."

We really want to keep track of our conversations, then we need a discussion forum that captures the things. Or we want to be in the moment. We don't care if it's captured. Maybe Twitter will work for some communities.

Some weeks ago we were working, doing some trainings, and we were tweeting out reports from the meeting, and there were people who were interested in the subject who could engage; for a moment in time, we were together.

Now, is this community to last forever? If people really found passion maybe they want to connect in a more formal way, so it depends on which kind of activities are you supporting.

Originally recorded by Robin Good for MasterNewMedia, and first published on August 5th, 2009 as "Online Community Building Strategy: Nancy White On Networks, Groups and Technology Choices".

About the author


Nancy White is an online facilitation and community-building expert. Nancy is the owner of Full Circle Associates, a company that develops collaboration and facilitation strategies, communications, planning and Internet collaboration solutions for non-profits, organizations and businesses.

Robin Good -
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posted by Daniele Bazzano on Wednesday, August 5 2009, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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