Leanne Chase of The Community Roundtable has a good reminder of How Do You Build a Thriving Community? It contains a lot of good, basic advice on creating / building / sustaining a community. Strangely, as I read through the items, I realized that this was a specific type of community - something I have thought at the edges of my mind, but I had not been able to articulate. It seems there are multiple types of community. Let me do some thinking out loud...
In the knowledge management arena, there has long been discussion of communities of practice, particularly inspired by the research of Etienne Wenger but also the domain of many other thinkers and practitioners, like John Tropea.
In discussions of CoP's, there is often the assumption that there are people within the organization who want (or should) be working together on a given topic or interest area and that they just need a hub around which to organize. It could be regular discussions at lunchtime and the water cooler, or it could be online forums* that bring together people from all over an organization or wider network.
When I read through Leanne's piece and when I have talked to other people doing wider evangelism of community management, I have often had that strange sense that we are talking about slightly different things with very similar terminology and needs. The community of these discussions are often already in existence in some fashion. And they are mostly online. What these conversations seem to be about is how to develop a stronger focal point and structure for the community - crafting the community into something cohesive.
The most obvious examples I can think of is a brand company reaching out to its customers, or a software company wanting to work with its community of users. At some level this seems different than a group of technical experts that get together on a regular basis to discuss the latest technology or challenges. They are more a group of people who share a common interest, and I suspect will be much larger than the more narrowly-defined CoP. (And now that I think of it, I recall the term "community of interest" or COIN to differentiate from CoP.)
That said, the list of recommendations in Leanne's article all still seem to apply to CoP's just as much to this other type of community. Maybe it is just the setup / founding / charter of the group where the difference becomes clearer. That and the actual content of what happens within the group.
* I still prefer "fora" at the plural of "forum" but I think that common usage has dropped the Latin pluralization for the familiar -s ending.
[Photo: "Community" by Coblat]