For the past few weeks, I have been struggling with the way people in my tribe — marketing people, PR people, communications consultants — use the word community. There appears to be a lot of interest in creating communities that serve corporate interests, but little desire — or interest, or awareness — in serving the larger community — the world at large. The latter, I believe, is the real opportunity for business leaders in the new, always-on world. Why? Because the frenzy to create corporate communities may only aggravate the problems that communities are trying to solve — the fracturing and atomization of society, information overload, and — as one consultant noted in a presentation yesterday at Community 2.0 — the universal need to “belong.” There’s an opportunity for businesses to become better citizens, not by exploiting the need to belong, but by providing services to people — not customers — in this difficult new world.
At Community 2.0, I moderated a panel with Craig Newmark, whose very presence at the conference — he stood out — helped me to understand this opportunity. Among the many business leaders that showed up to speak and mingle at this conference, Craig was one of the very few that serve Community with a capital “C.” I was reminded that craigslist does not own a community; rather, it serves the community. He may spell his company name (a little c) in lowercase, but it’s a quiet way of expressing his commitment to a very big idea.
Not every business can or should follow Craig Newmark. But if more businesses look at the way he sees community, they may pause before starting one of their own. There are other ways to serve.