Along For The Ride

The amount of control a community has over process and direction within a project has recently come up in a situation I’ve been involved with and I think it’s a great topic for a post since it strikes at the heart of many company’s trials and tribulations in creating vibrant communities.  The real question in these situations is not one of control but of trust.  Can you just be along for the ride and let someone else influence your project even if you don’t agree with everything they do?

Many organizations and people find it difficult to let go and allow their communities to shape the overall direction and goals of their projects.  They fear that by allowing users to get involved at a deeper level chaos will ensue and they’ll be mired in endless debate over what they perceive as insignificant issues.  However, the opposite of control is not chaos, the opposite of control is trust. Trust that you’re not the only one who has good ideas.  Trust that even if it doesn’t follow your established processes it might be okay.  Trust that you don’t know everything!

This lack of trust is one of the biggest reasons your community is not growing and it’s not a lack of trust in your project (well maybe it is ;), it’s that you don’t trust your community!  This is especially common in enterprises that have well established processes or in any company that has a title of Senior Executive Vice President. In larger organizations that have worked to develop processes for product development, marketing, and sales, it’s hard to find someone in command willing to allow control to slip through their fingertips and into the community to shape their baby in some way they don’t agree with or that their processes can’t handle. But that’s what it takes to grow your brand and community. You have to be willing to hop on and let your community take you where it wants to go.

One of the best books I read in all of 2009 was Brand Hijack by Alex Wipperfurth.  In it he details the making of many brands that allowed themselves to be hijacked by their communities to become successes: Dr Marten, PBS (Pabst Blue Ribbon not the broadcasting service:), Red Bull, and others.  All of these brands did something unique, instead of trying to define themselves in a traditional marketing sense, they let their fans influence and define the brand, and that’s what you need to do in order to grow your fan base… let go.

Don’t confuse letting go with abandoning all your processes, my point is not to let your community suddenly start running everything without any leadership from you.  The point I’m trying to make is you need to stop trying to control EVERYTHING.  Pick your battles and arm yourself with good arguments.  Don’t use coercion due to your position or ignore your communities input, use your communication channels to guide your community during those times when you see it straying from the path.  Having this blend of give and take will allow your community to feel a sense of ownership and grow your community and brand.