Talent Communities Around Brands Aren’t Communities At All
// May 8th, 2011 // Behaviour
Kevin Wheeler, as always, is thought-provoking. His recent post on ERE.net about social media trends struck a chord with me, on one issue. He suggests that ‘communities’ as a term is inaccurate, and that ‘special interest groups’ is more applicable to what we’ve been building with online engagement in the talent space. Some comments agree, some disagree – I’m sure almost all have an opinion. Have a read. It’s good stuff.
And given this is my blog, I have an opinion too. And it’s that ‘communities’ is inaccurate for a completely different reason.
A community is traditionally a collective of people united by a common interest or trait. Seth Godin called them tribes to great effect in his book of the same name. Communities have a social hierarchy as well as a united view, and a universally accepted cultural set of rules. They are driven by passion and the desire to create a universally more rewarding experience for all members. And more often than not, they are anarchic, self-governing collectives. Which is why they aren’t what we’re looking for.
A closer term, in my view, is ‘congregation’. A group of people united by a common desire for information, who come together in a dedicated space to interact laterally and be educated by a pastoral figure. Within the congregation, there are accepted rules of entry that are set by the leader, about participation, protocol and etiquette. There are dedicated channels for interaction and a sense of ‘the one’ (pastor) talking to ‘the many’ (the congregation) for mutual benefit. The pastor offers information, insight and guidance about how their knowledge can improve the lives of the congregation. The congregation interacts both vertically and laterally to create both social and assistive interaction.
The reason that congregation seems a more appropriate word is that communities offer little scope for an externally ordained expertise. In a community, you’re an expert by universal acclaim – people know what you know through ongoing exposure to your viewpoint. As leader of a congregation, your expertise is established first, and you make yourself approachable. You are an authority figure first, separated from the community level of knowledge by virtue of position.
We can’t build talent communities because, as representatives of the company, we cannot be equals with those who are petitioning our employers for jobs. We are authority figures by default, as the gatekeepers of the kingdom they are trying to enter. We cannot participate in anarchic discussion – we can foster it, monitor it, report on it and correct it, but we as company faces cannot join it as equals. We have something to sell, and communities aren’t about selling – they’re about the free exchange of opinion.
I’m not suggesting we start using ‘talent congregation’ as a term, but I think the difference between a community and a congregative model is important. As recruiters and employment marketers and HR people, we are (to use a quaint model that seems applicable) the priests and nuns and monks of the church of our brand’s religion. We are acolytes that serve a faith, a faith that our employment experience is real, tangible and deliverable. We believe in a vision, and our interaction with a community that wants to be educated in that vision (and how it can make their lives better) is not equal. Our authority exempts us from being included in their curiosity, and we are, as a result, separate.
People are unified by shared interest. And it’s that interest that makes them people we can hire, people we can talk to. However, unless we are personally interested in the same thing, we aren’t part of the community. We’re something else, and we must act accordingly, whatever the name we give them. Knowing this is more important than naming it.