In these difficult economic and environmentally challenged times soft issues like community don’t immediately sound fitting. The truth is very different.
Working together as a community, or building a community around shared ideals is exactly the way to tackle these challenges. Businesses built on community are thriving despite the challenged economy. Organisations that create an internal community that involves the workforce too are not only trading strongly, but are also assured enough to do the right thing and make environmental issues a pillar of their strategy.
Community projects are tackling housing issues. The media industry is not at death’s door if it knows and understands the community it is part of. And this is the heart of my argument. Taking a focussed approach, knowing the community you exist within, cutting out the periphery players and constantly listening to your community delivers results and therefore allows positive change.
It has never been easier for organisations to find and connect with those with shared ideals. Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter connect communities together and create sub-communities. Their most powerful proposition is the direct one-to-one contact within a community that fosters debate.
Not every organisation can create a community platform and then exploit it as Facebook has, but the social media phenomenon that includes Twitter demonstrates the human desire to come together and collaborate on a topic, no matter how elevated or inane.
Individuals become a mass using social networks and together they can influence an organisation that can then influence policy. Take the Cities Fit for Cycling campaign by The Times newspaper. Twitter gave cycling commuters a platform to discuss and share ideas about improving road safety. Cycling is a very individualist activity, but with Twitter cyclists became a community, then when staff at The Times had a very personal experience of cycling dangers, they discovered the size of the community and launched their campaign which influenced the Prime Minister and Parliament to debate the issue.
The Cooperative Group and fellow retailer John Lewis operate models where customers and workers respectively become part owners in the organisations. This community model of shared responsibility has helped both to flourish and make ethical and environmental business decisions.
Planning decisions in many communities more reflect the needs of developers and shareholders than the communities that then have to live with the supermarket or infrastructure foisted upon them. But by acting as a community the development pressures on authorities and regions can be alleviated. Community Land Trusts in Georgia, Vermont, USA and London have redeveloped regions and delivered affordable and profit-making housing, thus relieving two pain points for local authorities.
The last 30 years has been an era of broad brush approaches by businesses and organisations. In the highly networked, economic and environmentally challenged 2012 the broad brush is the wrong tool for the job. Big no longer works; wide ranging products lack focus and customers and users cannot identify with them. Although there is a lot to be said for the serendipity of discovery when presented with a wide range of choices, communities require focused and specialist information and will naturally coalesce around it. Contrary to perception, targeted media products, even in printed format, are still in good health.
To engender a community, business has to accept the need for face-to-face contact. As a result the recent tendency to rely on consultants, PR or marketing agencies needs to be drastically cut or even eradicated. These organisations are sales driven, often represent a single aspect of a community and have short term targets. A community is a long term project and members increasingly find each other directly through social networking.
Direct relationships, fostered through communities, cut costs, embrace innovation and meet, in partnership, the challenges that our streets, towns, schools, organisations, countries and planet face.