Nick Cicero

Community Building with Strategy and Value

By: Nick Cicero | April 9, 2014 | 

167373_4260By Nick Cicero

According to materials created and distributed by Princeton University, Metcalfe’s law states the value of a network is equal to the square of the number of connected users of the network.

When this law was first proposed, they were talking about this awesome new communication device called the fax machine.

One fax machine on its own is useless – it has no other machines to communicate with.

Bring together 100 and we’re zipping files from Florida to Maine.

The same goes for communities of people: One person alone communicates with no one.

Bring together 100 people and now we’re sharing experiences and ideas, and creating new ones.

Putting the mathematical formulas and facsimile comparisons aside, let’s break down the two core components of the law: In any network or community, there’s a direct relationship between the amount of value created and the connections they can build.

Building Community

Building a community is equal parts science and social.

But what’s in a community?

It seems to me these days the word is thrown out quite liberally and its definition varies depending on who you ask.

A recent post by Christopher Pedregal made me think a lot more about what we call a community (and community manager). His post talks about community-peripheral and community-centric companies.

As he describes it: In community-peripheral companies, community is used to describe supportive and operational roles, often in marketing or customer service, while in community-centric companies, community is about strategy, as well as operations.

There seems to be a game of tug-of-war happening between these two sides.

Most PR professionals, advertisers, and marketers working in social media today would love to be true “community managers” in theory, but in the end they’re relegated to content creation and “push messaging” with little to no influence on executive level strategy.

A lot of executives forget community management is far more than creating content or even moderating and responding to fans.

Moderation is not community management. Moderation is simply the avoidance of excess – or extremes – by conversations or members, resulting in the declining value of your community.

Your moderation can be automated, your community building can not.

Having worked first in community-peripheral and now community-centric companies, I can attest the difference between these two positions of community is like night and day.

In community-centric companies, companies depend on their relationships with the people using their products, spreading their message, and growing their business from the bottom up.

Maintaining Value

If the network does not offer value, it will not last.

While many of us in North America no longer understand the value of the fax machine, it actually won’t die. 

Nearly 100 percent of all Japanese companies and 60 percent of private homes have fax machines, according to an article from the Washington Post.

And despite you and I understanding that there are far more efficient ways to send and receive messages, the fax continues to be valued because the users in the network see that value.

Will people still want to be a part of your community in 60 years? Most groups have trouble maintaining a community for six months.

You are a part of the community Gini Dietrich and her team work tirelessly to maintain.

You probably have participated or interacted with writers and readers in the comments section or on Twitter.

You may have joined the community by participating in a Livefyre Q&A with many of the amazing people in the Spin Sucks community.

These Q&As have lasted nearly two years now, creating a regular space where people want to congregate and share information with each other.

The value and relationships created in that space carries into their daily community behavior.

No matter if you’re Lyft selling rides (and careers), Nike selling running sneakers, or No Kid Hungry trying to bring quality breakfast to the nation’s children, you have the power as a company to enable like-minded people to find each other, and find the information they want.

You don’t talk to your community. You talk with them.

About Nick Cicero

Nick Cicero is Director of Client Strategy at Expion with experience building social campaigns for brands like Sony PlayStation, Universal Music Group, Winn-Dixie, Lady Gaga, Sports Illustrated, Teen Vogue and more. He’s a fan of playing trumpet, vinyl records, and good jazz. Nick lives in New York City.

  • “Your moderation can be automated, your community building can not.” – I love this quote Nick. And it’s so very true. The LiveFyre Q&A’s might be my most favourite thing we do here at Spin Sucks.

  • belllindsay  I was just about to quote that too!

  • Well, I posted quite the eloquent and beautiful comment here yesterday, and now it is gone. So I’ll try to replicate, but just remember yesterday my comment was much more insightful and intelligent. There are so many quotables in this piece, but your last line in particular stands out to me because it is so simple but so powerful. I’ve consulted with several non-profits, and the first piece of advice I always give is ‘make your community part of your story’. Without a doubt the organizations that bring people in, and make them feel as if they are part of the organization and it’s mission, are more successful. Give your community a sense of ownership and their loyalty to you, your brand, and your mission will be natural.

    Great post Nick!

  • belllindsay  Yeah, I pulled that one out, too. 
    I also like this idea of community-centric and community-peripheral companies. Makes me think about Clay’s post from yesterday – I think one of the things I loved about working for a newspaper was how community-centric it was. You knew everyone and everything that was happening and really participated in that community. And as you point out with AD/Spin Sucks – those communities can obviously be entirely online, and they’ll thrive if they’re handled with care and add value.

  • I love the the basic premise of building a community with both strategy and value. So many people don’t understand the value of their community and their approach is hodge lodge. 

    Who knew the Japanese were so into their fax machines!

  • ClayMorgan  I certainly didn’t until I did some more digging.

  • Building a community and maintaining value goes hand in hand. Every community that offers value will last and deliver on its goals. So, creating a network means providing the best value that would benefit members. 
    This comment was left in – the content syndication and social bookmarking website for Internet marketers where this post was shared. 
    Sunday – contributor

  • Hey Nick! Have you read this yet:

    It seemed a powerful indictment of the community-peripheral approach you mentioned. Since you’ve done the silicon valley thing too, wondering, what you think of it, particularly the middle section where he talks about value, ownership, etc… One of the things I’ve noticed is the assumption that anything can be scaled, it’s just a matter of finding out how to exploit it. To your point about moderation v. community building, I think it’s one of the biggest traps that startups and tech co’s get stuck in. Of course that’s only IF they care about building a business that’s sustainable in the long term.

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