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Sep 15, 2011

Community as an aspect of our daily lives – not the television show – has become another buzzword. Many of us crave community, be it a gated community or online community. But what is a community? When you experience community you know you have it and many times it isn’t even labeled a community.

Why are we part of communities? There are many intrinsic values that are associated with being part of a community. While we sometimes think we are best alone, it is when we are part of a community that we truly shine. A community allows us to share common concerns and challenges, shouldering similar burdens. Communities rally around causes or threats; you just have to look at any of the recent disasters to see people pulling together. I live in the Washington, D.C. area – and recently we’ve been no strangers to natural disasters. After we lost power due to ______________ (fill in the blank: earthquake; flood, hurricane – we’ve had it all recently!) our community was enriched as everyone was talking face-to-face since they weren’t sitting in front of some form of an electronic box for a change.

A key component of the community experience is time. I know I am part of a community when I go to my farmers market and can say hello to many community members. My purpose in going to the farmers market is to buy my weekly groceries, but more importantly to feel part of something. My returned value is the great food and the camaraderie I experience being with like-minded individuals. The community for me was built over 10 years of my participation in it.

Community is an experience, and contrary to the stock valuation of companies who feel that “community” has monetary value, the community “experience” is the true value of the community.

What, you may ask, is the value of community in our line of work? After all, aren’t a lot of us competing against one another for similar (or sometimes the same) clients? Let’s take a look, shall we…

Defining Community

All communities have some similar key components:

  • Purpose: Simple or magnanimous – saving life on earth or coffee talk for recruiters.
  • Resources: Having resources or tools that the community participants can use together or individually is important. A challenge with some community platforms, such as Facebook, is that the tools and resources change frequently. Is this serving the platform or the community?
  • Support: Key personnel (paid or volunteer). Leaders, influencers, evangelists, and worker bees. Some folks can have multiple roles. You need a variety of voices in the community; after all, it is a community and not a monarchy.
  • Communication: Communities need to communicate but there is no one “silver bullet” communication channel. If you are a community organizer, you will need all forms as everyone communicates very differently – tweets, posts, email, cell phone, text, chat, and face-to-face.

What are some ways in which recruiting communities deliver these components to members?


Serving Needs of Members

Communities serve particular needs – the early settlers had communities because there was protection in numbers and different services were needed to keep the community going; exchanging of values, goods, and services to keep the community alive, vibrant, and growing.

Communities are created to serve one or a small number of purposes and structured to support the community and its members. Many communities were started by meeting simple needs. LinkedIn was started as an exchange of start-up contacts in Silicon Valley. Facebook was started for Harvard kids to connect about campus life. Professional communities span the gamut from purely social to purely business with many hovering in the middle.

It has been great watching the rise of recruiter communities as recruiting professionals realize they can make an impact on their profession and their professional development in a communal environment – both online and offline. Many professional groups have laid the groundwork for recruiter and HR community building but the synergy of social media tools combined with passionate individuals has created many new strong communities.

Case Study: recruitDC

As an example, recruitDC was started by a passionate group of recruiting professionals who wanted to address the lack of networking and professional development in the D.C.-area recruiting community.

The driving force behind the success of recruitDC is the enormous need coupled with the opportunity for each member of the community to participate — online and/or offline. This community showcases the understanding that there are other recruiters battling the same challenges, no matter the industry, and that support or skill acquisition is easily attainable through the community. This benefits the individual recruiter who many times will think they are alone or individually challenged with a particular problem, environment, or technology. You can see the relief on many recruiters’ faces attending one of the recruitDC events when they have an “A-ha!” moment brought about from sharing a sticky problem or getting over that particular hurdle that has been holding them back. The community benefits as it becomes a more cohesive unit to share best practices to improve overall recruiting.

The recruitDC community support comes from all forms of social media as well as meeting face-to-face. Leveraging the online network has created new opportunities either through new gigs or sharing best practices, while offline events provide best practice skills training from national leaders as well as the recruiter next door. recruitDC community management is handled through leveraging resources of committee members and making sure that the community needs are being met before any other needs are considered.

Community Killers

Finding “community” is an interesting balance and that many strive for it, but few succeed. Dead giveaway community killers are not supporting the community with resources, not being in the community for the long haul, and allowing others to take advantage rather than add value to the community. For example — the spamming that is often prevalent in LinkedIn groups.

Todd Wilms, SVP Social Media Marketing at SAP gave a great example at the Online Marketing Summit of what many think building a community is. He likened it to starting a family.

You meet someone and you tell them, “I want a big family with lots of kids.” You continue to date and continue to talk about how you want this great big family with lots of kids. You finally get married and start having kids. And you keep talking about how you want more kids, and you have more kids until you become grandparents. You have a family reunion and talk about how great it is to have a large family with lots of kids. You get together to have the family reunion picture, everyone is all lined up with their best clothes out and you step out of the picture. You get in your car, drive away, splash mud on everyone and give a profane gesture as you drive into the sunset saying, “All I wanted was the picture.”

Taking Things Offline…Sort Of

One component that some tend to disagree on is the need for offline interaction. When the dot com era came about, the demise of brick-and-mortar was predicted. Yet in an interesting reversal, new and old brick-and-mortar establishments have popped up; banks now have more retail operations in small, drive-thru locations, coffee/bar cafes abound, and everywhere you go wi-fi is available so you can be both online and offline in the same place.

While we tend to say we don’t want to be together, we actually do. Even if it is to just sit together in the same coffee shop and ignore each other or pass each other in the mob at the shopping mall, offline face-to-face interactions are key to sustain any community. Just look at the surge of Tweetup, Meetups, and Mashups. While some conferences may be on the decline there are a variety of reasons for this, including travel costs, changing attitudes, job changes, or the right content not being offered – yet we still want to be together offline, especially if we have established an online connection first.

Community Sustainability

People believe that a community can be built on the fly, go viral, and become profitable. It is too much in our culture to monetize relationships where we say “Okay, I have built this, they have come, now how can I sit back, and become rich.” All communities will hit a sustainability rough patch where they will need to make adjustments and persevere with the community feedback. This is where the rubber meets the road – how to keep the community alive, vibrant and sustainable.

Building a community for a talent pipeline is an interesting notion. The thought process is that you build a talent community and you won’t have to “recruit.” People will just come to you and you will save big bucks by not needing to purchase job board access, advertising and/or management systems. However, communities require resources and time to become sustainable — and whose role is this in a talent community? It may be the recruiter’s and the company but many times communities self select their leaders. Social media has made it very easy to launch an uprising and job seekers may launch a coup d’état if you are not providing the right resources or value exchange for your talent community.

As Todd shared in his presentation, communities cost resources to build and maintain. Putting up a Facebook page or building a LinkedIn group is not necessarily building a community. It is ad space or a place for news sharing. Follow the good rules of community building that many folks have done and be in it for the long haul. And remember to always add value – your ROI will be much greater when you give first!

What are some of the recruiting communities to which you belong, and why? Share in the comments below.

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