When a Community is not a Community - and why getting it right matters to innovative brands

It seems that not so long ago, the word community didn't used to be so ... complicated. People lived in a geographic community with neighbours, family, and friends. Many found a sense of community through their collective work, pastimes, school, faith, and/or shared history. And people fostered community spirit through local volunteering, project collaboration, celebratory events, civic participation, supporting local merchants, and so forth. 

The proliferation of the internet and social networking has changed how marketers use the word community. While these traditional meanings of community remain, today, a group of strangers who all happen to use the same dishwashing liquid or telephone app are often referred to as a community. Why do brands refer to their passive Facebook page 'likers' as their online community? Where's the true community in a web-based customer panel that gets activated sporadically for a few days or weeks of facilitator-guided discussions and multiple-choice questions? Where's the sense of community in drive-by idea hunting forums that offer so little reciprocity for contributors? The concept of open-innovation communities is gaining popularity as a highly-desirable method to tap the ingenuity of customers, citizens, suppliers and employees – but which organizations have invested in true community building? And why are user group feedback sessions on brand-conceived product prototypes mislabelled as 'co-creation communities' when very little collaboration or co-creativity is evident?

Let's explore why we think marketers have replaced traditional descriptions of audience, group or segment with community in these situations ... [READ MORE]  LINK TO REST OF PAPER ON ACADEMIA.EDU HERE

Barn raising, Brampton Ontario, Canada, 1900, (PHOTO: LIBRARY & ARCHIVES CANADA, CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE)

Barn raising, Brampton Ontario, Canada, 1900, (PHOTO: LIBRARY & ARCHIVES CANADA, CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE)


Why not?

As the inspiring Zita Cobb of Fogo Island reminds us, you need to ask "Why?" but also "Why not?" when evaluating if/how to advance on a project.  Removing perceived barriers is as important as finding purpose.

Here's some background on Zita and Fogo Island


Image source: http://thisisnthappiness.com/

Image source: http://thisisnthappiness.com/

This is my Canada. What's yours?


[A Nickelback-free Top-30 Listicle]

canada globe.jpg

"You're a lot like us," my Danish university student declared. "Canadians seem to really care about others and want things to be fair for everyone. So do we, in Denmark."

I was nearing the end of a 5-week teaching semester at the Copenhagen Business School this summer. The setting was a graduate course I'd recently developed about new models of entrepreneurial innovation. Earlier in the semester, I'd worn my "Sorry" t-shirt in class on Canada Day and most students got the joke right away about Canadians being "ridiculously polite." In this particular class, we were talking about cultural values and how they can inspire unique approaches to innovation.

I replied to the student, "I agree; many things about Denmark remind me of home." The class talked about our winters, and helping Olympic skiers in trouble. Canadian multiculturalism and immigration trends were discussed. The natural beauty in Canada was also a popular topic. Comparisons of both our countries living next door to different "superpower" nations were made.

After a while I asked, "But what's different about Canada? What have you heard about Canada that isn't so much like Denmark?"

Silence. Danes are very polite and don't want to offend. I should mention here that about 50% of my grad students were Danish, 25% from other Scandinavian countries, and the remainder from other international countries. So I offered to discuss it over lunch with whomever wished to join us.

So I sat down to a freshly-cooked meal in the Copenhagen Business School cafeteria with a diverse group of students and reignited the topic, saying: "We drive cars much more than Danes, and we throw a lot more into garbage landfills than you do in Denmark. In fact Canadians produce more garbage per capita than any other country on earth."

The lunch group students were generally surprised about Canada's high rates of car usage (Danes love their bikes) and our garbage generation rate (Danes are trying to get this under control too). Mentions of famous Canadian singers and actors bubbled up. They wanted to know if all Canadians speak French and English like their professor (me).

But some students were also aware of emerging issues affecting Canada's international reputation. They asked about the impact of oilsands and pipelines on the environment. A question arose about whether we had an "American-style" Prime Minister now. They asked if Canada had boycotted climate change talks. They questioned if we still had free health care, like Danes did. They perceived that they saw Canadians participating in more wars. And, of course, they wanted to know what happened to that "drug-addicted Toronto mayor."

As I flew back to Canada, I wondered if I (the daughter of a Mountie) could capture a list of the qualities and the values of my country that I hold dear? As an international entrepreneur, business leader, community volunteer and academic, how could I draw upon my own experience ... to create a reflection of "the Canada I know" that, while imperfect, is still an amazing country? A Canada in the midst of the longest election campaign in modern history. Here's my attempt at that list:


1.     We're still ridiculously polite, for the most part. But we don't like to brag about it. ;-)

2.     We know Canada is an ever-safer place to live and fear mongering doesn't change the facts.

3.     We care about collective wellness in our own country and beyond our borders. A great many of us are willing to make personal sacrifices to help others.

4.     We embrace diversity and inclusion, for the most part. We can still improve on this point, and we know we need to.

5.     We value freedom of speech, including the voices of our scientists, bureaucrats and politicians.

6.     We value the freedom of the press to openly inquire, investigate and report.

7.     We know that more prisons do not create more safety.

8.     We know that more guns do not create more safety.

9.     We value public broadcasting to knit our great land together with stories and voices from sea to sea to sea.

10. Our country ranks high on global happiness indexes because we have reasoned, tempered expectations about our lives.

11. We're a mostly secular society and prefer to keep church and state separate.

12. We know that mental illness and terrorism are not the same thing.

13. We worry about nature and want to protect more of it for future generations. And even though we complain about the snow and cold, we know we're a winter culture that loves hockey, curling, skiing and every other sport and pastime that takes place on frozen water.

14. We want to diversify our economy beyond a dependence on extraction industries. After all, we're a nation of inventors and innovators. Just look up the history of insulin, the polio vaccine, anti-HIV drugs, cardiac pacemakers, and the electron microscope. For fun, check out the creation of basketball, Rummoli, Trivial Pursuit, and peanut butter. iStockphoto, AbeBooks, Hootsuite and Shopify are Canadian creations. We'd like to help build a sustainable economic diversification strategy, but we haven't been asked (yet).

15. We don't like queue jumping and favouritism.

16. We don't think we need to own personal guns if we're not using them in ethical hunting for food.  And we register our cars, motorcycles, pets and companies every year — we think guns should be part of that list too.

17. We wish there were a better way to fully utilize the talents of all the industrious and capable immigrants who choose to become New Canadians. After all, so many members of our extended families are recent immigrants. Two of my grandparents came "from away" and helped build this country.

18. We like progressive social policies with balanced fiscal policies.

19. We like banking regulation that protects Canadians during global fiscal crises. And we know which government built those regulations and which government tried to dismantle them before 2008 came crashing down.

20. We don't think it's fair or acceptable when people cheat on expense accounts, taxes, stock trading, or elections. And we think excuses like, "I didn't read the email" sound like "My dog ate my homework." We're better than that.

21. We will always love pointing out to others that someone famous is Canadian. (We're often a bit surprised too! )

22. We're embarrassed about the state of the homes, schools, water supplies and access to basic resources for so many of our First Nations people. How can we help?

23. Nous aimons le Québec et les Québécois. Profondément.

24. We like to be informed. We value data and research. We want the long-form census back. We like freedom of information. We don't want anyone muzzled. We like to learn. We like to argue. We like to debate.

25. We believe that omnibus budget bills that bury tactics of fear and loathing amid the bloat are a disgrace.

26. We do take note of negative, political "attack ads" ... but they still embarrass us.

27. We know there's a time to balance budgets and a time to invest in our future. There's "bad debt" and "good debt" ... just ask any good economist.

28. The scores of missing and murdered aboriginal women derive from a complex "sociological" problem that will require the concerted attention, effort and care of our entire nation to effect lasting change.

29. We'd like debate and dialogue before deciding to participate in a war.

30. We're worried that some of Canada's cultural fabric has been unraveled over the past decade. But we believe it can still be repaired and strengthened. We're willing to try. And we're going to vote.

This is my Canada.

What's yours?

Innovators need patience too

Seth Godin's daily post really resonates with me today:


"Sooner or later, the ones who told you that this isn't the way it's done, the ones who found time to sneer, they will find someone else to hassle. Sooner or later, they stop pointing out how much hubris you've got, how you're not entitled to make a new thing, how you will certainly come to regret your choices. Sooner or later, your work speaks for itself. Outlasting the critics feels like it will take a very long time, but you're more patient than they are." - Seth Godin, August 24, 2015

For everyone trying to be creatively disruptive, to really innovate, to change the status quo in a significant way, to fix a broken system, to replace an unjust leader, to give voice to the silent, the shift those "social tectonic plates" ... remember that if you're persistent and patient, your day will come and the naysayers will move on. 

Albert Einstein