How can we unleash the power of self-organizing groups that want to collaborate online to accelerate positive change? After managing, researching, and/or participating in online communities for almost 15 years, I’ve discovered the following success criteria for geographically dispersed groups that are trying to accomplish common goals:
1. Focus – Are the goals imposed from the top-down or developed in collaboration with the stakeholder communities? In Washington, one innovative environmental network collaborated with government, education, business, and citizens at the state, regional, and local levels to create a plan for environmental education that will touch every citizen in the state. The E3 Network subsequently created a custom online platform to help members implement the plan.
2. Audience – The most active, committed, and productive communities have members that need to share information to succeed in their jobs. For communities outside of work, passion for the subject matter increases participation but engagement tends to ebb and flow because people involved in one good cause often have multiple commitments. The good news is that many Seattle seniors are actively involved in social media so there’s an opportunity to build the multi-generational communities that are needed to address our greatest challenges.
3. Credibility – Thought leaders and experts are more likely to engage in online communities that are comprised of their peers. However, if a community is important to the success of an organization then the leadership team should participate. To make it easy for busy people to chime in, online discussions might be scheduled at specific times. If membership in an online community is open to the public, you might want to pre-approve members and home page content, or your network could be vulnerable to a spam attack or angry people who want to vent.
4. Action – What is one inspiring project or campaign your community can focus on that will produce a positive result in less than a year? For example, the Compassionate Action Network asked Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and the City Council to become the first city in the world to affirm the Charter for Compassion. Now, 35 cities around the world have expressed an interest in affirming the Charter that won the 2008 TED Prize for Karen Armstrong.