Community Building: It’s More about Your MEMBERS, Less the TECHNOLOGY

Three factors collided to spur this post.

1. I walked myself through a 224 gold-mine slideshare deck on “The Real Social Network” and found this gem quote “Understand behavior, not technology.”

2. I stumbled across an online community for Mercedes Benz owners called “Generation Benz” that is built in flash, looks like it blew out a huge marketing budget to build, and has few members and very little engagement.

3. A friend recently confided that she has no idea what to post on LinkedIn vs. Facebook vs. Twitter and wants to know how to use each technology correctly.

This perfect storm of pondering led me to what I’d like to convey here…

We seem to be obsessed with the technology we are using, rather than focusing on what we’re actually doing on the technology itself, ie; communicating, interacting, and essentially being human. We want to know how to use each technology piece correctly, and spend triple digit budgets on building a platform just to our specifications – thinking if you build the technology, that hard part is over, and humans will come (in unchartered floods). But the technology is the infinitely easier piece. That’s just code and algorithms – 1 + 1 = 2.

It happens over and over again. We build some fantastical piece of technology and it flops. Users don’t come, everything that goes in is for lack of a better word, “junk” and the creators look around wondering why the space shuttle didn’t get it’s users to Mars.

Instead, we need some serious thinking about human behavior. We need to observe exactly what motivates people, what drives their inspiration, addictions, narcissism, and selflessness. When building a community from the ground up, if all you’ve got is your platform (and by that point, empty pockets to boot), it’s going to be a lonely night, baby.

Of course, you do need some technology. That’s what got us to where we are in this cyclone of social, anyway. Otherwise we’d just be roaming the woods with sticks and leather pouches. But you can’t just have the technology.

In some ways, I see it like buying an outrageously large house with all the amenities. Everything Home Depot can deliver to your door. But unless you have people to fill it with, it’s just a big house. And cold inside.

Perhaps instead, buy something a little more reasonable and fill it with all sorts of people. Nurture conversations, make dinners together, get a bunch of dogs, cats, lovable-but-sometimes-annoying relatives, and voila – now that’s a home. Same thing with social technologies. At first nurture all the human-ness inside, and as it grows, build additions, tree-houses, an extra garage, whatever makes sense.

Ultimately, we need to manage the people, the behaviors, and less the technology.

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Sean Herron


I can’t agree with this post more. While technology is important in any organization, it’s useless without the human element. At it’s core, I think this is what the Web 2.0 movement boils down to – making the interface between people and technology more natural and facilitating development that focuses around the human element rather than the other way around.