Sharing Control in an Open Community

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. In this post, I asked Lindy and Maddie to dig a little deeper into the concept of sharing control, which they describe in the book.

Thank you, Peggy, for having us on your blog!

Like you, we come from the association industry and for many of us “membership” people, community is old hat. It’s what we do. It’s central to our work. And yet, for some reason (actually a lot of reasons) what we know about community isn’t always translating well to building community online. 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. It’s easy to get bogged down in the newness and the detail, and miss the bigger picturenot the 10,000-foot bigger picture, but the “just high enough to make practical sense” bigger picture.

So we started writing the book and the idea that kept popping up is the concept of Open Community. 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.  To be clear, the Open Community concept is not about building an online community platform or internal private social network. That could be one tactic in your arsenal, but one of the most important first steps toward building community online is accepting that your Open Community is out there and not just on your website. Your stakeholders are connecting on their own terms in the social spaces where they spend the most time. You need to be where they are. Sometimes, rather than hosting every conversation and leading every initiative, your organization can (and should) be simply present as a supportive participant.

A big part of this, of course, is the idea of sharing control. You recently mentioned that in a post on the topic, and we’re happy to dig into this a little more.  Here’s an excerpt from the book, from Chapter 2: Open Community Means Developing into a Social Organization.  This is the part you referred to in your post.

Get used to sharing control.
There are two myths of control out there that we need to debunk. The first myth is that by not engaging in social media, you can maintain much more control over your brand, your message, your member database, or your employee’s behavior and interactions. Not true. Never was true, but since communication used to be slower and one way, we had the illusion of control, even as our fans and critics formed their own opinions behind our backs. Now the pace of communication is faster (and accelerating all the time), and our fans and critics have a platform where they can spread their opinions far and wide to your community, with or without you.

Which brings us to the second myth: that you now have no control. Not true. Along the “best defense is a good offense” train of thought, you can do remarkable things that make your association stand out―stuff that people want to talk about. You can lead the way and share the spotlight with your fans (and sometimes your critics) so that the entire community benefits. You are, in essence, sharing control with the people who talk about you, which is better than ceding control all together.

Building community online may feel like being out of control at first. But the more vibrant your community, the more people you know who will come to your defense in the face of criticism. The more people you know who will spread the content and essence of your organization. The more people you know who believe in your association and your leadership. That’s a whole new kind of control, and your community is the safety net.

Peggy:  You suggest that there’s a new kind of control. What is it or what isn’t it? How new is this control really?
This new kind of control has everything to do with what we call “clarity over control” (and we talk more about this in the book too).  Clarity over control means that everyone in the organization is aware of how their role advances the mission of the organization, in a nutshell.  In terms of social media management, and online community building specifically, clarity over control means that everyone knows how they can individually participate in social media activity and what they are strategically trying to achieve with it.  It means that everyone knows how to share the information that they hear online, how to escalate something if it needs further response, and what the process is for new ideas. It means that everyone knows how online activity feeds into all the regular business timelines of the organization.  For components, it means that everyone knows how their social media activities feed into the national organization and vice versa (how the national can support the components). And no it’s not true in the basic sense for national organizations have always need clarity over control when it comes to their components.

Peggy:  You also wisely suggest that our communities are our safety net. Can you explain further?
Yes, absolutely.  Building community online means that you’re building up a core group of champions who read and respond to your stuff, and who congregate in your spaces to talk to each other (or in public spaces to talk about you!).  You will know who those people are, because this activity is all online and you’re keeping an eye on those conversations already (aren’t you? 🙂 ).  You’ll be able to watch when someone says something about the organization that might be a little negative, and before you need to respond, another member will jump in and respond or come to your defense. We’re seeing examples of this everywhere.

Peggy: Of course you know that I’m always looking for the nugget for components. Suggestions for how chapters can break through the barriers?
We’re seeing a lot of chapters who are ahead of their national orgs in terms of building community online. This makes total sense because building community means nurturing relationships between you and your members, and chapters and components are often much closer to the ground and to the members.  But we’re also keen to emphasize that chapters’ social activity is part of a much larger ecosystem which includes other chapters and the national org. Being aware of that ecosystem can do a lot to help chapters that are struggling.  In other words, chapters can more easily share their successes with each other and with the national in a thriving community ecosystem.

We’d love to hear from your readers about how their chapters and components are building community online, and specifically how they are sharing this work with their national orgs. What challenges are you facing?

P.S. Need a little more prodding? Check out Maddie & Lindy’s prezi on Open Community.