Laura Petrolino

Why Community Building is a Responsibility

By: Laura Petrolino | November 28, 2016 | 
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Why Community Building is a ResponsibilityFor the third year in a row, I spent my Thanksgiving working with Wayside Food Programs, serving Portlanders who need a bit of extra support.

It’s become one of my favorite holiday traditions for a number of reasons—one of the biggest being it reminds me of the many different ways we create communities around us.

Community building is a remarkable thing because communities take so many different forms and play a variety of different roles in our lives.

  • Some communities are large—large enough to have micro-communities within them.
  • Others are small and intimate, even private.
  • Some consists of people we see frequently.
  • Others we see only once a year, or maybe less than that.
  • Some are full of people just like us.
  • And some with those very different than us, but who we connect to in one small, yet substantial way.

Community Building is a Basic Need

When I work the Thanksgiving dinner at Wayside it spotlights the hundreds of different communities around us.

Many of which we often doing even appreciate.

And more than that, it spotlights how crucial a role these communities play in our lives—in our mere survival.

I wrote about this after my first Thanksgiving serving.

Communities are part of who we are as humans. They define the human experience and therefore, are something, as communications pros, we must respect and constantly work to understand.

The Communities that Create Our Lives

Take three minutes and write down all the different communities—online and off— you are involved in.

For me, some of the most prominent ones are:  

Then you have the communities you might only participate in once or twice a year, but they are still important.

If we look back to Wayside, part of what makes it so special is many of the same people volunteer each year, likewise you get many of the same dinner guests.

They know you, you see familiar faces, you catch-up with families who have grown and changed throughout the years, you follow their stories and lives.

We are all very different people in some ways, with very different lives, but also very much the same and united through those differences.

An event such as the Thanksgiving dinner provides a petrie dish for those mutual bonds to strengthen.

So you have a group of people who might not have the chance to interact or communicate on the daily basis, or might even be intimidated to do so, but this event connects, equalizes, and creates a community of very different people, celebrating a day of gratitude together.

And that’s where community building is really powerful.

Wayside Food Programs provides a great meal, but the most important thing they do is foster a great community.

Community Building the Crosses Channels

The transmedia world we live in also provides the opportunity for communities to cross channels.

For example, many of our Spin Sucks Crazies met in the comments section here, but went on to communicate on different channels, and even meet and become friends in real life.

Some of you have even created your own micro-communities, as a result of the initial connection here.

The greatest role you can play in community building is to foster it, give it a place to grow and transform, but don’t try to own it.

When your community takes on a life of it’s own—grows, creates, and succeeds separate from you—that is a success.

A Never-ending Process

Community building is a dynamic, never-ending process.

We never hear “communities built,” and there is a reason for that.

A healthy community is never really built, it’s always becoming.

A community that stops transforming, is a community that will soon become replaceable, or slowly die. 

And, in many ways, that’s why healthy communities help lead organizations through change.

If the community leads innovation and direction the organization can adapt in a way that’s natural and intuitive. The strategic decision of an organization to journey against the direction the community is building into is one that always should be made carefully. If you choose against you community, you need to know why.

Community Building in 2017

So what does this all mean as we move into the new year, a year where community will no doubt be more important than ever?

Time and time again we see that environments—communities—direct the actions and behavior of the people in them.

The communities we build, the communities we participate in, the communities we abandon….all of these matter.

As communications pros, we often lead the community building process, and we need to understand the power that position provides.

We need to build valuable communities, communities which serve to improve the lives of their members (much as Wayside does), communities that speak to the environment and culture we want to cultivate.

We often think only from a self-focused promotional capacity when community building—and that perspective undermines the whole concept of what a community should be.

In 2017 let’s all strive to make community building an important part of how we build the cultures we want to be a part of, and the success will organically come from there.

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

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