Community Engagement

Chris Brogan wrote a great post today, asking about ways to grow an engaged community.  He spoke about the new media tools, yet a frustration at how hard it is to build communities.  Some people stay voyeurs and a precious few engage.  This happens in every aspect of life.  There are a handful of engaged moms who run the PTA.  There are a handful of people who form the core social structure at a business, or in a highschool.  I’m willing to bet that even within your family, there is one person who takes on the role of “organizer”- planning holidays, trips, and details of these events.  The person who is always calling up to see if we’re doing group gifts this year at the holidays, for example.  The Organizer- or perhaps, the Connector.

Malcolm Gladwell talks about this a bit in his great book, The Tipping Point.   Firstly, that economists have long recognized that 80 percent of what gets “done” is done by 20 percent of the people.  The Chair of the PTA, your relative who gets everything moving in the right direction, and your passionate friend who is a nut over some topic are in the 20%.  They are the people who are going to do whatever it takes to make something happen.  These are your engaged few- your core community.  Within this core community, there are connectors, mavens and salesmen.

Chris Brogan is a natural connector.  He has become, through his natural talents, the Yenta of New Media.  He is a matchmaker of extreme talent, and acts as a social hub for people to meet and then go off and do incredible things once Chris has made that important connection.

Chris Penn, the co-founder of PodCamp, is more of a maven.  Chris is like the Comsumer Reports of New Media.  He knows the latest and best tools around, and shares this with everyone he knows.  He is a connoisseur, he is passionate about his subject, and passionate about pointing people in the right direction.  When I went to purchase a new Mac laptop, the first person I asked for advice was Chris.

So the question is, if we have connectors and we have mavens, who are the Salesmen?  Who are the people that have the charm and charisma to bring this message to others?

We can all act as salesmen for New Media, but I’ll nominate all of the people who have taken the initiative to have their own PodCamps as active salespeople of the idea.  (or the PodCamp Apostles, perhaps?)  These are people who have “drunk the PodCamp Koolaid” and are so excited, they can’t wait to do the same thing in their own town, with its own flavor.   [PodCamp Philly is my version, Sept. 7, 8th and 9th 2007!Sign up now to participate and present a session of your own!] And as PodCamps continue to proliferate, the cycle of connector, maven and salesmen will continue outwards.  My list of salesmen who are active in this community and first “met” at PodCamp Boston currently numbers a minimum of Thirty-Three- more than ten percent of the attendees.

Is this a base conversion rate?  Can you expect 10% of attendees to go out and engage actively with the community further?  I don’t know, or know how you can really measure it, but I hope that’s the case.

One of the side benefits already from organizing PodCamp Philly is that we’re starting to see an active New Media community emerging.  We’re seeing people interested in participating, and becoming less isolated.  And in the end, this is perhaps the best thing about hosting a PodCamp- bringing a community of people together that endures locally and virtually, long after the event is over.

Things in new media seem to move very quickly.  I would argue the idea of Podcamp has propagated very quickly, but we haven’t yet reached a true Tipping Point.  I imagine it’s not too far off in the future, though.

The  barriers to Community engagement, large and small

And if there’s anything I have found as a common factor with many people in our community, is a horrible lack of sense of self- importance, self-assurance, and self-value.

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