August 6, 2009

Online community building: Gardening vs. landscaping

Amy Sample WardMy latest post is up on the Stanford Social Innovation Review opinion blog. You can read the post and join the conversation on SSIR or below, where I’ve republished the full post.

My current job title includes the term “Community Builder” and I get asked nearly every day just what that means: How do you build community? Where is the community you want to build? How can I be a community builder online? Tips, secrets, ideas?! I want to take a break from all the hard work building community (does that get a wink?) to share some of what I believe is the core of successful community building (on or offline).

“Community building” is about a lot of things. Some people define it as organizing, especially around specific events, campaigns, legislation, or fundraising. Others see it as specifically applying to online community spaces, like a social networking site. I believe that community exists everywhere, really. That the Internet is a huge community of people looking to connect with others like them to form smaller, more specific communities. Those of us in positions to support those connections and collaborations are some of the luckiest people in the global network, acting as the email or Twitter post or blog reference that helps individuals make networked jumps to where they really want to be.

Gardening vs. landscaping

So, what’s the secret to successful community building? You guessed it: Be a great gardener and avoid the temptation to landscape. Here’s what that means:

  • A gardener only takes out the weeds; a landscaper takes out everything that isn’t part of the design. Think about the number of beautiful plants or trees that have sprung up in parks, your yard, or even out in nature that weren’t “intended” to be there but quickly grew to be a valuable part of the ecosystem.
  • A gardener isn’t afraid to mix things around; a landscaper plans and plots and plants.  Sometimes you can’t know ahead of time just which plants will respond well or want more sun or shade so you need to be flexible.
  • When a storm hits, a gardener can remain open to planting anew and rejuvenating others; a landscaper may just order more of the same. Sometimes it takes a storm to realize which plants just weren’t going to make it or which were able to stick it out.
  • When in doubt, a gardener will try more plants or kinds of plants and see which take root; a landscaper may default to less. What about the plants you had never used before to know about and how they took root, flowered, and bolted up right before your eyes?

Clearly, this is all very metaphorical here with the back yard options. It is, though, meant to paint a picture:

The Gardener creates an ecosystem open to change, available to new groups, and full of fresh opportunities to emerge naturally. The approach is focused on organic collaboration and growth for the entire community. The gardener is simply there to help, cultivate, and clear the weeds if/when they poke up.

The Landscaper creates an ecosystem that matches a preconceived design or pattern. The approach is focused on executing a preconceived environment, regardless of how natural or organic it may be for the larger area. The landscaper is there to ensure that everything stays just as planned.

Your community

How can you apply these ideas to your community building? The first question I always ask myself when considering a new tool or functionality online, a new project or campaign, or even new partnerships or members is: “Is this something the Community wants or something I want?” It doesn’t matter what I want, really. It matters what the Community wants. And how do you know if or what they are interested in? ASK! Be sure to always provide opportunities for your community members or those who come across your work to share their ideas about what they would like to see, how they’d like to connect with each other and how they would like to work with you. And when considering anything new, ask for feedback and share your ideas and plans ahead of time. You may be surprised, but your Community often has even better ideas than you!

What do you think? Do you have other ideas about successful community building? Have a great example or case study you want to share? Looking forward to more!

You can read the post and join the conversation on SSIR here.

June 29, 2009

Introducing Socialbrite: Why we’re here

Socialbrite team

JD fills a glaring gap in the social media world. While young people and early adopters increasingly turn to the social Web not only to socialize but to communicate, explore new ideas and share new experiences, nonprofits and social change organizations are still generally stuck in the top-down, one-way world of Web 1.0.

The young and the wired are moving at an accelerating pace away from old-school destination Web sites and toward the social media ecosystem embodied in the real-time Web. In this new world of Twitter and Facebook, of citizen journalism and astonishing grassroots campaigns like Twestival, it’s easy to feel befuddled by the dizzying pace of change.

socialbrite rings 143x143iThat’s why eight leading nonprofit technologists and social marketing experts have come together to create this learning and sharing hub. Socialbrite is here to offer articles, videos, resources and tutorials on how to take command of all this Web 2.0 jazz and put it to work for your organization or cause. (We created a cheat sheet for you to help tweet our launch.)

And please note: We’re here not only to show how social tools can be used to advance the social good – but to learn from you as well. We’ll be republishing some of these articles on learning wikis, and everything here is released under a Creative Commons license, so we hope you’ll take part in this ecosystem of sharing.

A sharing and learning hub

We invite you to cruise around the site — and we hope you’ll help us spread the word. You’ll notice that we’re not starting from scratch. You’ll find:

• A directory of Web 2.0 Productivity Tools in dozens of categories that can help organizations get a handle on the social Web.

• A Social Media Glossary that offers a deep, friendly introduction to dozens of social media terms in plain English.

• A first-of-its-kind Twitter widget that tracks tweets about nonprofits or social causes in real time.

• A Free Photos Directory, Free Video Directory and Free Music Directory that offers nonprofits, cause organizations and Web publishers a guide to hundreds of online resources for adding legal, high-quality content to their own websites, blogs, newsletters, printed materials or online presentations.

• A Causes widget that points to charitable actions and donations on other sites such as Global Giving and Facebook Causes.

• Scores of additional articles, guides and tutorials to help newcomers and veterans alike get better acquainted with this fast-moving space.

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June 14, 2009

All for Good: A Craigslist for service

allforgoodJD LasicaOn Friday I was one of 66 folks who participated in a conference call around the launch of All for Good.

It was fascinating to watch the disparate elements that came together through a single powerful idea: President Obama’s call for Americans to volunteer — for us to give back to our communities — through “a Craigslist for service” and similar efforts. The result is All for Good, a comprehensive Web presence intended to help people across the country find volunteer opportunities.

Here at Socialbrite we love silo-busting initiatives that harness the collective power of seemingly odd bedfellows — social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, political reformers, open source developers and citizen media types — to achieve a social goal.

Among those on the call were Jonathan Greenblatt, a member of the Obama transition team (note: the White House has no official role in the All for Good project); John Lyman, an associate at (who spoke at NetSquared last year about how social benefit organizations are using Google Apps to collaborate); Peter Deitz of SocialActions, who has been working with his team for more than a year to network nonprofits’ social actions together under a single interface; and representatives from cause organizations big and small (mostly small): FirstGiving, DonorsChoose, Better the World, the Extraordinaries, Network for Social Responsibility, Points of Light Foundation, Causecast, Care2, NGOPost and many others. Craigslist Foundation has been involved in this as well but I didn’t see them in the chat room.

At its simplest level, All for Good is an open source database of causes and opportunities that make a difference in people’s lives. It’s a way to gather up thousands of volunteer actions across the social-good ecosystem and put them in one place so that people can volunteer at the community level.

“If we can give more Americans the opportunity to serve in meaningful ways, then it’ll be worth it,” Greenblatt said.

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