Are You Building a Group or Are You Growing a Community?

This article is part of our ongoing series on the essence of online learning communities — The 4 C’s: Connection, Collaboration, Content & Community

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Community building is now seen as a buzz word in the online sphere with people chiming in on how important it is to grow one’s community. As noted in a recent article by our CEO and cofounder, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook has even shared his vision of how Facebook is shifting its focus on community building as part of their manifesto.

Being a Community Alchemist, my fascination with community building goes far beyond inviting people together in a group and striking casual conversations, offering services or sharing relevant links.

Community for me is where the magic of connection begins. Creating a group is not synonymous to creating a community. This is, I believe, what most online community builders fail to take into perspective.

Seth Godin in his book “Tribes” mentioned that

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

I would like to expand on this premise to bring in some of the tenets I found very useful when defining communities. These are based on the work of Charles Vogel on The Art of Community: Seven Principles of Belonging.

1. Communities are where they put their “warm bodies.” I love this analogy presented by Charles on how to distinguish a group from a community. A Community is a shared space bound by shared values. These shared values are what attracts people to the community. Values bind the community and members appreciate engagement that promotes these values. A Community with shared values is where warm bodies go.

2. Communities are stamped with a membership identity. It offers answers to the following questions: Who am I? How should I act? What do I believe? Members in the community are influenced in various ways by the shared values and identity. I am reminded of this shared identity with the Filipino term “kapwa” which is central to Filipino psychology. Kapwa, as defined by the father of modern Filipino psychology, Virgilio Enriquez, means “shared identity,” “equality,” and “being with others.” To put it simply, kapwa is the obligation we have towards our fellow man. Being part of the community means looking after the welfare of the members and upholding the tenets that bind the community together.

3. Communities are forged by “moral codes”. This means there are restrictions, boundaries and rules put in place to make the community adhere to the values and shared identity. I love the idea of moral prescriptions as answers to the following question that Charles Vogel presented in his book: “What would allow for us to create a safe space for the members we seek?”

4. Communities are formed by internal understanding. Your community is that tribe that understands you. They are the ones who resonate with your values, experiences, challenges and concerns. Expanding on this internal understanding are the formal or informal code of conduct that is within the community. These can also be the core themes in the community discussions. The biggest question is how are you making this internal understanding evident for those who are non-members and wishing to know more about the community? Do you host open days or invite a friend? How do you keep the conversations going to ensure that the level of understanding goes deeper for each member of the community?

Looking at these defining characteristics, are you building a group or are you growing a community?

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