Today was the second Entrepreneur Camp Houston, sponsored by a whole bunch of community-focused companies and organized by a whole bunch of other good people. I was honored to be included among some of my colleagues and mentors, Brian Block, JR Cohen, Grace Rodriguez, and Ed Schipul, on a panel titled “Building Brand Communities.” It turned out to be one of the most rewarding panels I’ve ever had the opportunity to be a part of and I truly believe that each member of the panel channeled their unique passions and experience to bring something to the table for those in attendance via the web or in person. Thanks to Grace Rodriguez for both moderating and assembling the panel.
UPDATE: Audio of the panel has been included. Feel free to download, remix, share, or ignore.
For my takeaway portion of the panel I prepared the following comments relating to the importance of Brand Communities. I was only able to orate a portion of it and don’t feel that I hit the right notes in the closing portion of the panel. Full text is below:
My takeaways involve a series of couplets. The first in Communities, the second in physics, and the third in grammar. I’m mis-using couplets. Whatever.
Communities of Interest vs. Communities of Practice
Communities of Interest are groups of people who share similar affinities, careers, and interests. These people may get together and share these ideas together in groups, they may talk about their careers, and they may share stories and build camaraderie and relationships. These groups form when personal motivations and personal interests for community and social situations align. These Communities of Interest usually take the form of networking groups, happy hours, attendance-based events, or any opportunity for socialization or group quality time. Communities of Interest share space and time.
Communities of Practice are made of the same groups of people who share similar affinities, interests, careers, but they also align on values and beliefs. These communities also get together and share their ideas together, talk about their careers and share camaraderie but the difference is that the Community of Practice takes an active interest in the shared success of the group, community, and individuals within and without. Communities of Practice are self-policing, develop and evolve standards of excellence, there are educational opportunities for all of its members from novice to experts; they apply their talents and their passions to do good for their own community as well as their surrounding community. Communities of Practice do things in an active fashion: they create opportunities for their members, they collaborate for their personal and career education, they dedicate time and resources towards mutually agreed upon values and goals. Communities of Practice share space, time, also successes and growth.
Our second couplet exists in physics. The first part is potential energy; the latent energy stored in an individual, body or group. The second is kinetic energy; the energy an individual, body or group exerts as a result of its motion.
Potential energy is the capacity to do work. Kinetic energy is the application of that energy towards work.
Our third couplet involves passivity vs. activity. In grammar, passive voice is acceptable but not favored. The form shifts responsibility away from the agent of the sentence and towards the patient, indicating that the activity is not controlled or initiated by the subject of the sentence. The active voice is far stronger a form, assertive and correctly assigning responsibility to the agent of the sentence.
“Mistakes were made. The window was broken.” Passivity is convenient and easy; it escapes responsibility and action.
“I was wrong. Someone broke the window.” The active form assigns responsibility, is direct and action-oriented.
Returning to Communities of Interest and Communities of Practice
Communities of Interest passively hold incredible amounts of potential energy based in interest and shared value. Communities of Practice actively exercise kinetic energy, applying latent motivation, inspiration, passion, and shared values and shared goals. They are characterized by action and engagement.
If you are looking to build a Brand Community you need to have a Community of Practice. It’s not enough to win an awareness war. Communities of Practice in a community setting carry with them regular and actionable reward systems, standards of practice, maintenance of standards, and self-education at all levels. In a Brand sense Communities of Practice carry with them engagement, discussion, evangelism, action relating to a brand and its use.
It’s convenient and easy to align extrinsic motivations of drinks and food with intrinsic interests for company and conversation. Communities of Interest form and dissolve every day, anytime you get together with coworkers or your Star Wars interest group you’re committing an act of a Community of Interest. Communities of Practice rarely form in absentia of a community of interest except where shared latent interests overcome the interest in staying not-aligned. The recent sale of Rice University’s radio station KTRU is a clear demonstration of a community of interest who overnight sprung into a community of action at the slightest provocation. The pieces were always there but people simply weren’t motivated enough to take that extra step.
Communities of Practice form with a catalyst. This catalyst can be a catastrophic event but it doesn’t have to be. It can be just one person, or a small group of several.
In closing, successful Brand Communities, like Communities of Practice, are value based, not interest based. They are characterized by action, not words. The responsibility is owned and directed by the agents, not the patients. There is consistent motion and the kinetic application of intrinsic motivations towards the shared values of the individuals, groups and communities as a whole.