Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What Can't You Do Without?

One of the great things about my job is that I work with some amazing people who are smart, passionate, eloquent, curious, kind, and eclectic. We have interesting conversations on a wide range of topics in the office and overall, we posses a wry sense of humor at LiveWorld.

Sometimes You Can't See The Sky For The Air

For some reason, a few of us were discussing aeronautics the other day and scientifically discounting the commonly-held teaching that the Bernoulli effect is what makes an airplane fly.

One of our engineers, a former officer in the US Air Force, who heretofore had been busy quietly writing code, suddenly raised his head, stopped typing and said non-chalantly, "I know what makes an airplane fly." The rest of us stopped talking, and listened intently. This is a guy with inside information, after all.

"Money," he said. "Money makes airplanes fly. Whenever an airline runs out of money, they stop flying. So Money must be what makes airplanes fly."

And then he went back to writing code.

We laughed, of course, because the logic is irrefutable. Without money, an airplane doesn't fly, and while we were talking about physics theory, Tim was pointing out a practical reality. Sometimes you can look so deeply at a problem that you miss an obvious connection.

Not Failing Is Better Than Not Succeeding

If we extend Tim's observation to online community, it's important to ask "what makes my community fly?" When developing a new community...or even when trying to grow an existing one, we often focus (rightly) on the core question of "what do we want to DO with this community?" We set about creating a plan and outlining the steps that in theory, will lead to success.

We ask...what are the goals and objectives? What benefits are there to be gained for the members? The brand? What's the ROI and the value? Success is elusive, so most of us will ask all of the questions we think we need to find success...but we often DON'T ask...

...what is it that we need in order to not fail?

This is an important question, in my opinion, because if you're not succeeding, you're still in the game and can turn things around. A community that is not succeeding can have an influx of ideas, strategy and tactics that can help it grow, become vital and thrive.

A failed community, however, is dead and cannot be resurrected. You have to start all over again if you fail. And it gets harder to develop a community the second...or third...or fourth time around.

Thus, I think that not failing is more important than succeeding. It's a process...a step along the way.

Without money, the Wright Brothers can't develop an airplane, and an airline doesn't fly. You could also say "fuel" is what makes airplanes fly too, because without it, the plane isn't getting off the ground either. There can be (and probably is) more than one component to "not failing".

Ask Not What You Need, But What Can't You Do Without?

So, what does a community need in order to fly? What can it absolutely not do without? Well, I don't have all the answers, but I think I'd offer this list for starters:
  • People.
  • Purpose--a common reason to be there. (see yesterday's blog entry)
  • Passion--folks have to care enough about the purpose to bother to show up.
Take away any of these three components, and the community probably isn't going to succeed. Thus, these are the most important vital signs of the community that are worth checking on a regular basis. Are you getting enough people into the community? Is the purpose of the community clear? Are you generating sufficient passion to keep visitors engaged?

Keeping your finger on the pulse and checking for these vital signs frequently will help to keep your community flying high. They are the sine quo non of building online community.

If you are interested in HOW to keep these vital signs healthy, just ask in the comments box and I'll happily reply. There's no shortage of tips, tricks and tactics here.

What do you think? Am I missing anything? What do YOU think a community needs in order to keep flying? What can't YOUR community do without?

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