The majority of companies involved in the Social Web are listening to their communities, some are participating but almost no one is providing the necessary leadership to cultivate, nurture and shape the community engagement over a long period of time.

You can’t leave community leadership to community managers

A key skill companies need to develop over time is a deep comprehension and experience how to lead communities. Without this key skill, brands won’t be successful in the long term with any social strategies. Well-run companies have the skills and knowledge base to lead communities because an enterprise is an internal community with leadership. However, internal communities and corporate have explicit rules and rewards to shape the enterprise and reward behavior.

Leading an external community requires a different skill set

More importantly, social business leaders need to understand what shapes an external community culture. The main shortfall of brands engaging on the Social Web is their view of social platforms as a homogenous culture. Each platform has a different culture, different rules, different ways to engage successfully. What works on Twitter, won’t work on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+. Each social platform has unique community culture, which means in plain English: “This is how we do things here.”

Brands need to participate

You can’t understand a community culture without participating. How can you understand a baseball fan when you never went to a game and chanted for your favorite team? How can you understand Grateful Dead fans if you’ve never been to a performance? While we recommend full participation of brands in communities, we also make sure that they understand over time what drives people’s behavior in the community. This deep understanding is the difference between a brand just floating around and a brand leading the community by dipping into the cultural forces that are driving the overarching community culture.

Important pointers for community leadership

– Stories: What are the success stories being told, the myths shared and heroes being admired?

– Games: What are the game mechanics that work within the community and what games are being played?

– Motivation: What motivates the community to participate, collaborate and lead?

– Rewards: What behavior is being rewarded and punished?

Develop co-leaders

A very successful tactic to become a leader in a community is to identify and reward emerging leaders. Empowering other leaders gives a strong signal to the community about yourself: what you value and what kind of participation and engagement you’re willing to support. A pretty standard management practice: Identify and recognize leaders by supporting them.

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