I am not the first, nor will I be the last to equate community management to parenting. Connie Bensen made the analogy and recently Simon Phillips wrote a post You Teach What You Accept that got at a similar behavior modeling aspect of community management. It’s a very apt analogy and it is a good way to think about community management – knowing what kind of community you want to raise is the first step.
I would extend the point beyond just parenting to all relationships. We get the relationships we are prepared to have at any given point. If we ourselves seek out constant reassurances because we need to feed our own egos, we will attract sycophants and the relationship will necessarily be un-equal. If we have an extreme need to control, we will have relationships with people looking for others to take responsibility. If we are insecure about our own self-worth, we will hang on to abusive relationships for far too long. If we do not know what we want, we will allow others to railroad us. This 1-to-1 relationship dynamic has been well trodden by others – just search for any book on confidence, anxiety, or relationships and you can find a lot written on the topic. All these things that hold true for relationships with each other, however, also hold true for communities and their leaders. The ability of the leader to be confident but not controlling, clear but not dictatorial, tolerant yet firm – in essence their ability to maintain a healthy balance between the needs of themselves and their organization and the needs of the community members – will have a huge impact on the health of the community overall.
While this is not at all new territory on the self-help bookshelf, it is a new and uncomfortable area for businesses. Businesses like to think of themselves as logical, efficient, and non-emotive operating entities. Most people understand at some level that they are anything but that. However, there is a collective denial that organizations have emotional personalities that often come with many of the same positive and negative personality quirks that individuals do. The real problem in denying this is that customers, employees, and partners often get it and react accordingly in order for them to maintain their own health. So if you have others entities creating strategies to mitigate their exposure to the negative aspects of your own business that are not being acknowledged internally, that relationship will be limited – and is unlikely to change or improve until the issues are acknowledged, discussed, and addressed in some way. In economic terms it is an opportunity cost and without acknowledging the issues, it isn’t even clear what the opportunity costs are.
Community managers are often the people who see this relationship most holistically – across business functions – from a customer’s or employee’s perspective. In that way, if the community manager has high emotional intelligence, they can help their companies ‘see’ – often for the first time – how they are perceived by the constituent group that they serve. That, of course, is worth little if the organization is unwilling and unmotivated to hear the input and respond to it. That in turn gets to budgets and resources for community initiatives – both for the community management staff but also for functional and line staff that will need resources to investigate, acknowledge, and address the issues being raised. Without the functional and operational resources to respond, community management teams will find themselves as frustrated receptors of understanding – with no real ability to solve the recurring issues brought to them by the community.
Organizations will fall into two primary categories in this area – much like individuals – those who care to do something about it and those who don’t. Companies who don’t have any interest in improving themselves to better their relationships and grow their business are probably better off stepping down from the social express right rnow.