First we date, then we live together, then we marry?

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@Marc_Meyer maybe social media is dating and community is living together…

This quip caught my eye in Rachel Happe’s recap of #socialmedia chat over on her post Fast & Furious—Twitter Chat. The topic was “The Difference between social media and community.” She notes that this conversation is happening all around. She’s right. I was on a conference call whose topic was very much related. The call brought together a lively group of volunteers who are in the process of developing a more flexible, intuitive road map for communities in their association. We were grappling with the questions: when is a robust listserv group a community? When is a community an organization? When do we need structure?

In our conversation, one of the volunteers described how he and 6 others started what is essentially an online space for talking about off-topic listserv discussions. This new space has the feeling of being a community of peers who talk through issues and trends that have an impact but aren’t truly on topic over at their assembly listservs. Today’s call focused on the fact that the group is active and engaged so they must be ready to be something more. To which I respond – why should they? Why is success measured on traditional model of the association component (be it special interest group, chapter, community of practice, section …)?

If community is living together, does that have to lead to marriage? When we have in our mindset that every group is moving towards a formal structure, then it’s no wonder we have a failure rate for these groups akin to the divorce rate. (No I’m not going to launch into a treatise on marriage!) What if instead we expected few to formalize? If we had a system that allowed community to emerge, expand and contract – both in terms of people and the “work” – as needed, and sunset whenever. Measurement would be not on the communities, but on the engagement score for individual members. Would this create a platform for a more vibrant membership?

Consider the positive outcomes … like no more legacy SIGs or chapters, less bureaucracy, reduced volunteer recruitment angst. Interesting vision; it is possible?

Mariner Management & Marketing provides association management, volunteer coordinator and leadership development information for associations and non-profit organizations.