My latest contribution to the Stanford Social Innovation Review is now posted, you can visit the SSIR blog to read it there or read the full text below.

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Lately, I’m thinking about the topic of cross-platform community building. I’ve written about it, submitted a session proposal with colleague Debra Askanase to the 2011 NTC, and recently had the opportunity to start a conversation on the topic of engaging your community across platforms in a GroupVine message (more information about my use of the tool at the bottom of this post).  One idea that has emerged for me through this way of exploring the topic is that of temporary versus permanent networks.

Temporary versus Permanent Networks

Whether you are working on a campaign, a program or a service; whether it is online or offline (though I would argue it should probably touch both!); whether you are a small team or a huge office, your work requires engagement. And engagement requires people.

People are networked.

It goes without saying then that no matter what our work or our sector or our cause, we need to get better at recognizing the power in networks and become the nodes that connect networks, conversations, and people. Connecting conversations and people means cross-pollinating or jumping across platforms to share messages or actions from one to the next. In this back and forth, we encounter both temporary and permanent networks – and identifying each from the other can make a huge difference!

Individuals define networks.

The tricky part about identifying a network as either temporary or permanent is that each individual defines his or her participation/contribution as temporary or permanent, and that definition mainly impacts only him or her.  So, because one user wants to visit your forum and leave a comment only one time, creating only a temporary connection, that doesn’t mean that other users do not visit it and get/give value to that forum in a long-term way.

Individuals influence networks.

Network definitions and participation are also influenced by the user’s desire to create professional or personal connections. These kinds of preferences by users can dramatically influence a network and community. My level of activity will certainly impact the network, but so does how I act when I connect. Engagement acts as a ripple effect so if a few people present responses or communications using their organizational profile, for example, it can set the precedent for others to follow profesionally.  And likewise with a personal side.  The personal and professional sides can influence temporary and permanent network status as well – as often it is easier to maintain connections to a network that you are personally invested in, opposed to professionally (especially if the connection is via an organizational presence).

Feet drive permanence.

As I mentioned in an aside above, I have yet to come across an example of programs, services, campaigns, or other efforts that don’t benefit from being accessible online and off.  I also have a ton of experiential proof that joining people together offline, at the same time – whether it’s for an fun event, a conference, or anything else – can dramatically increase the uptake in online community engagement and the permanence of that network.

We need them both.

I really do not believe that permanent networks are “better” or more valuable than temporary networks. Look at the power of temporary collaboration, for example, in times of crisis response or large scale crowdsourcing. But, that doesn’t mean recognizing how people are treating and engaging with various networks is not important. You can more strategically engage, communication and inspire actions from one network to the next, as you operate as the node connecting one group with another, when you know why people are there and how they see that space. The more aligned our actions and messages are with the other members of the network means we are truly another member – and not an admin, or manager, or eavesdropper.

Once again, I guess the lesson is to keep being human!

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Notes on GroupVine:

GroupVine is a new application for interactive email. They have gathered a good-sized list of people working in nonprofit technology, communications, and engagement, and, well, gotten us engaged! It is a test group, essentially, but with the kinds of people who may help make the tool better and/or use it in their work. It was just the group I wanted to share questions and ideas with as far as cross-platform community building.

GroupVine is a clearly a work-in-progress, and it’s fun getting to be on the “inside” of development at this stage. But, it would still have been much preferred to have a few bits of functionality in place to position a conversation like the one I was after for success, including;

  • Multiple responses per field – so that users could really comment back and forth
  • Randomizing responses – so that I see the responses of many different users instead of only the person who responded directly before me
  • Including media – when talking about examples, tools and case studies it would be helpful to be able to include a picture/screen shot, embed a video, or more easily share links

Thanks again to the GroupVine team for giving me the opportunity to explore the tool!

New on SSIR – Be Human: Temporary versus Permanent Networks
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