At Context Partners, most of our clients are tasked with engaging their organization’s “community,” or activating their “network.” These are words we throw around every day in the business world, often interchangeably. But they are distinct concepts and understanding the difference between them can make the task at hand a lot easier. Here’s how we define them:
Community: a group of interacting people
Network: a structure of goal-oriented relationships between those people
Take your neighborhood. Most of the time, you’re a community: you wave to your neighbors, help them shovel the sidewalk or take care of a dog while they’re away. And they do the same for you. You’re informally interacting without any clear day-to-day objective or goal, but certainly sharing a common set of values, qualities and, in this case, space. Now say you want to mobilize to get your street repaved. You’re going to work together to accomplish that task: circulating a petition, showing up to city meetings, gathering cost estimates and even pooling resources to pay for it. You’ve built the structures to achieve a goal together. You’ve built a network.
In a business context, it’s not quite that easy. Effectively engaging your organization’s community has to start with understanding who they are, where they are and what they’re already doing. Then you can focus on what you want to achieve and the new structures you need to build to get there. Ultimately, it’s about building deep, loyal relationships with your customers and stakeholders, creating meaningful connection around shared values, stories and purpose.
This is not some revolutionary idea. It’s simply good business. The context is learning how do it at a new scale – utilizing technology tools that allow us to activate and engage communities on a much more consistent and dynamic basis than ever before. That’s what we do at Context Partners.