This is a guest post by the community manager of AssociationSuccess.org, a rasa.io powered community.
Every once in awhile I will peruse my LinkedIn groups for interesting articles to read. After all, the large ones have essentially become a repository of blog posts. And they tend to be rather rhetorical. People post their articles, and the well received ones are generally met with either one or two likes, or a "thanks for sharing" courtesy.
As a newcomer to the Community Engagement group, I decided to write a post myself, but rather than linking out to an article, I asked a simple question: "what does community engagement look like to you?" After all, I needed to understand the context of the group if I was going to contribute in any sort of meaningful way.
To my surprise, a lot of people answered my question. After a few weeks, the final tally was 70 likes and 60 comments. Woah.
The 60 comments were essentially 60 unique definitions of "community engagement", indicating that the term takes on different meanings for different people. Just to name a few:
What stood out to me the most is that these were written by people who are working in positions that are extremely important within their communities, and their definitions reflect a crucial understanding of this fact.
As someone who solely has experience managing online communities, it had me questioning if these definitions apply in my space. The goal of online communities, especially branded ones, tend to be quite different than that of the people in this LinkedIn group (many of which hold positions in government or non-profit organizations, which really gives a different meaning to the term "community".)
Even though their roles are different in many ways, I realized that the crux of these definitions still accurately reflect the bigger picture of our missions:
That is because, if you're doing it right, your online community...
...provides value to members.
Now, the value will differ, and this is something I can't emphasize enough. That is a function of a lot of things - such as the core purpose of your organization, and the resources that are available to you. But either way, if you pay attention, you will find net gains everywhere. You'll see people supporting each other, and offering advice, and collaborating on projects. It will go in all directions too. Staff will help members. Members will help other members. And you know what? Members will help staff. But this is only the case when you're building meaningful relationships.
...transcends your organization.
Ebay has what they call the Ebay café, which is a meeting place for vendors that use the site. One such vendor, with the username Chippie, is a quilt maker. Looking for inspiration for her next piece, she posted in the Café that she wanted to send out pieces of fabric so that members could contribute to the quilt. For the next few months, she received fabric blocks by members with their user IDs and other personal touches; she soon had 114 blocks. The group then decided to put the quilt on Ebay - which sold for $1400 - money that was then donated to the Canadian Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Who made the purchase? Another member of the Ebay café.
The commonality of the members may be that they are all Ebay vendors, but at the end of the day, this was a group of people coming together to create something powerful. And by the way, that Ebay benefited positively from this isn't a bad thing either; it just makes the community more sustainable.
...is run by people who are really passionate about what they're doing.
What struck me the most about the responses I recieved in the LinkedIn group is that you could feel the excitement in the words used. The greater good surrounding these people's roles is amazing, and the responses so rightfully highlighted this fact. It is easy to let your day-to-day tasks define your job, and this will have an effect on your mindset.
For example, picture two employees who work at the front desk of an ER. Person A describes her job as, "completing administrative duties and signing patients in", whereas Person B explains that she, "acts as the first touchpoint for people who are frightened and in pain." Which person do you think is more effective in their role?
Now, bringing it back into our context, if Harvey's mindset is any indication, she was very well suited for the role she was in:
No matter the size, the mode of communication, or the purpose of your community, I challenge you to ask yourself this very same question: what does community engagement look like to me?
That is because the next question is, am I doing everything I can to foster it?