How to Grow a Community by Leaving it Alone


With so much focus on social media and fostering conversation these days, companies both big and small are trying to figure out the best way to grow communities. Looking around at the number of blogs dedicated to the topic, you’d think there was some complex formula you needed to follow to get one going. Of course George Oates from Flickr would tell you you’re wrong.

In a great post over at A List Apart last week, Oates walked readers through the growth of Flickr and how the team behind the site worked (or didn’t) to foster it.

Oates lays it out like this:

At the heart of Oates’ article is the reminder that you can’t “control” social media. You can offer up the tools and the environment to allow people to congregate and communicate, but you can’t try to force them to fit your own ideas of how that communication should take place. Granted, you don’t want mass pandemonium or anarchy…there do have to be limits in terms of spam, stalking and the using the community to hock your wares. Oates and company have handled that in their own way as well:

In Flickr’s case, they were building a community of their own. In a small businesses’ case, they’ll likely be building conversation via a blog, or hoping to foster community on another site or forum. Either way, the advice and insight from Oates’ article applies. You can’t shape the conversation online, you can only encourage it…and the best way to encourage it is to provide the tools and let the conversation itself come from the community.

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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