In troubled times, community is everything

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I recently had a great conversation with a friend about the role of community in new media, versus monetization and business. How should someone go about building a community, or joining an existing one, and how important is community?

In old, pre-industrial times, community was everything. The idea of being exiled from a community wasn’t simply being shunned – in many cases, it was a literal death sentence. Community provided not only social outlet, but also supplies, skills, trades, and everything you needed in one small group, and as long as everyone put back into the community as much or more than they took out, the community thrived.

Fast forward to the 21st century. We’re post-industrial, where every person is an island, and the Internet gives us global reach. We don’t need community any more, right? Wrong. Community is more important than ever, because in many respects we’re more alone than ever. You’ve likely seen or had the experience of being in a public place with everyone so plugged in that they’ve tuned reality out. I’ve personally seen people walk into streetlights and traffic while using a Crackberry, or nearly get jumped because the earbuds were a little too loud. Others have posted plenty of video about people walking straight into a water fountain while on their phones.

In the world of digital islands, community is vital once again, as we’re in a digital wilderness. Every day, the rules seem to change, new services appear, old ones die, and without community, we’d be forced to try and survive in the wilderness alone. Having a digital community gives us a place of temporary refuge, a sense of belonging, a social outlet, and many of the survival aspects that old pre-industrial communities granted their participants.

Community is especially vital in troubled times, during economic rough patches, during times of great crisis. Your community can help you identify what to do, where to look, and may even provide resources to you as long as you can do the same.

Marketers be warned: if you forsake community for short term monetization, when you hit a rough spot, the community you passed over will not come to your aid. Build community in addition to monetization, and your experience might be quite different – and better.

For example, in the digital community, finding a job is easier than going it alone. I had this experience recently via a friend’s spouse, who lost a job in an afternoon, had him come to the digital community, and using the resources of the group, found lots of opportunities. For my friend Matthew Ebel, I was able to send out a few hundred inquiries to members of my communities on his behalf for audio work. (incidentally, if you’re looking for scoring, audio engineering, or other top quality audio work, Matthew can be reached here) For PodCamp DC, being able to mobilize a regional part of my community to be aware of the event and consider attending is bringing in a few extra folks.

This is the age of the digital hunter gatherer, and we each are trying to find our way in the digital wilderness. Having a community to support us makes the life of the nomad so much easier.

How do you build community? Give. Mitch Joel calls it Giver’s Gain, others call it the Golden Rule, etc. but it boils down to providing your skills and abilities to the community. Not every skill, not everything you do, just that one thing that you as a community member can do very well, such that others in the community can essentially barter for. Chris Brogan’s skill in community development also means he has the ability to share across a wide network. Jeff Pulver can bring innovation to reality incredibly quickly.

Like the pre-industrial community, you have something to contribute. Identify what it is, then jump into the community pool and see what you can help with. In turn, you might be surprised at the help that’s offered to you, too.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


6 responses to “In troubled times, community is everything”

  1. Great post. I call it Giver’s Gain, but I didn’t name it that. Many great, great people did that well before me.

    The concept is actually a little different from how you describe it. I tell people to give first and without any pre-conceived idea that anything will come back. Do it because you can, and it’s the right thing to do.

    It’s a great first step to providing value and creates energy around helping others.

    Zig Ziglar’s classic line: “you can have everything you want in life if you just help other people get what they want first.”

  2. It’s just been a constant in my life that when I give all the time, I get back something all the time. Not quid pro quo, but just because karma and life and great people tend to work that way.

    When I suffer or flail is when I am not as focused on giving, or when I go into my little hole.

    My big mantra for 2006 was “ASK. DO. SHARE.” One way I did that was to ask for help when I needed it, ask others if I could be helpful, and then do the most I could to be helpful over the year. You know that 2006 was the start of most every significant thing in my new professional life, so it must’ve worked well.

    Thanks for the post, Chris. Great to see it.

  3. @Mitch – agreed that it’s not a 1-to-1 exchange by any means, or a system of markers, but isn’t it reasonable to give with a rough understanding of karmic balance down the road? Not from the person you gave to, but the universe in general?

  4. Great Post- thanks for riting it and sharing.

    I think a key part of community is also having some real world contact- conferences, calling someone on the phone, making a connection beyond random words on a screen- it gives people that additional sense of trust and helps build relationships.

    As you said, there’s a lot of fragmented, lonely digital islands out there, but it’s always the mashups that make the magic. I may not be a marketer, but I learn a tremendous amount from my marketing friends; I am not a full time teacher, yet the educators I know always bring a different perspective to my thoughts. The overlap of what you might consider smaller communities is the area where the most interesting stuff occurs.

    For example, I may be a Mommy blogger and a podcaster, but I find more interesting ideas in the business and science section of the bookstore than in the parenting section. Looking beyond our niche both expands perspective and community reach, and you can hook people into a wholly different world of people they might not know otherwise.

    Convincing Jeff this week to go take a peek at a new progressive school was one of these moves- we’ve taken a telecomm and internet giant, who is interested in communication in general, and had him look at how communication is changing and evolving within education- that’s what sparks ideas, innovation. and expands the reach of both communities. And nothing’s more exciting than watching people really groove on ideas and possibilities.

  5. Right you are. I am just now trying to get a weblob going. Community support on the site that I have chosen for that is so important as I don’t have a lot of experience at blogging yet.

  6. It’s funny how community is truly important all the time, but it often takes troubled times for us to realize this. Insightful post. Thanks for sharing.

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