This month at CMSWire we are doing a special focus on the role of Communities in Enterprise 2.0. While I don't argue that the need and demand for developing and encouraging communities is there, I'm not completely sure it's something everyone really wants to be a part of.

Community: What's in a Name?

I think the term "community" throws me for a loop sometimes. It means different things to different people. Some say having an account on Facebook or Twitter makes you part of a community because you are connected -- presumably -- to people you have things in common with. But I don't see that as community really.

Others refer to groups at work as a community -- like a team working on a project. But I've never really considered my teams, project or otherwise, as communities. Aren't communities supposed to be tight-knit groups of people with common interests and goals? While I have respected many of the people I have worked on teams with, I would rarely ever call us "close-knit".

But maybe I'm really over thinking the term. The best description of communities I've been given came from David Coleman, Founder and Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies. David defined the difference between networks and communities to me the other day:

  • Networks are large groups of people with loose social ties (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn).
  • Communities rely on the strength of social ties, where your being there is important (i.e being a part of a LinkedIn group where you always participate and would be missed if you left).

These definitions make sense to me, but I'm still unsure and here's why: I am a part of a number of "communities" -- the ProBlogger Community, the Writer's Market Community, the SharePoint HUGS LinkedIn Group and that list goes on. These are all called/considered Communities, some are really networks by David's definitions. But you know what? I rarely participate. It's not that I don't want to, it's that I either don't have time, or I have nothing I feel is valuable to add.

Active Participation Makes a Community Strong

I don't think I am alone feeling this way. I think in some ways we all want to be a part of something bigger than we are -- like many communities are. We want to have our ideas and opinions heard (because we definitely have them) and for the most part we do want to help others (as long as it doesn't hurt us). But it takes time and effort to get involved and stay involved. And not all of us are up to that task.

Internal communities are probably the easiest to put things in perspective here. Internal communities are about a groups of people working and collaborating for a common goal. That goal can be to create new ideas for a company or to work on a particular project or it could be something else altogether. To help us collaborate more easily management drops in some shiny new tools, maybe provides a little training on how to use them (just in case we've never blogged or tweeted, or Facebooked before) and let's us have at it.

But they often forget the most important thing, the human factor: we don't always like to share. It could be I'm the most knowledgeable person in my "Developer community" on the subject of SharePoint -- and everyone wants to know about SharePoint right? But why would I want to convey all my hard earned knowledge to another developer? Then I am not so important, someone else is now smarter too. I put all my hard earned knowledge in the tool -- I blog, I micro-post answers, I give away all my best URLs, etc.. Do you need me anymore? Do I deserve that extra bonus at the end of the year, or the 5% pay raise I'm getting ready to ask for? I bet not!

Are you telling me I'm being silly? That I'm missing the point? It's human nature to think of ourselves first. And you can't tell me there aren't any number of knowledge workers out there busting their butts today that aren't wondering why? What's in it for them? We all want jobs that we love going to work to every day. But if I had a choice -- love my job or not -- I would much rather be hanging out in the backyard with my kids. Money, more than anything else, keeps that from happening. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is money.

Can You Fight Human Nature?

Does everyone really think this way? Are organization's wasting their time trying to encourage communities to develop? To get workers to really collaborate? No. The key is to recognize that it's not a downhill battle. That it's about much more than technology and about much more than the 5% of your workforce that is solidly behind your initiatives. There are ways to make people want to share, collaborate and belong, you just need to really understand your people to find them.

I think the same thing can apply to external communities. Many people may join your community, but the reality is that only a small percentage actually participate actively. Can you change that? Can you implement things that will encourage participation -- engagement -- and indirectly raise your awareness of your brand/encourage sales? I think the answer is yes.

Technology plays an important role in the development of strong communities -- internal and external. But it is not the driver. People come first and as soon as organizations acknowledge what that they need to look closely what their goals ultimately are, and try things that take employees own needs, desires and concerns into consideration, can real communities develop. You can't change human nature, but you can learn to work with it -- simply by acknowledging it.

Editor's note:

We are going to dive into this topic and look at the role communities play in social business today. We have some interesting case studies lined up and lots of expert guidance. But we also want you to share your thoughts and insights. You are the best case studies we could ask for. Share with us in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter or in our LinkedIn group.