What’s in a Name? “Communities” in the Public and Private Sectors

Different teams of stick figures in brightly colored circles

Many of you are part of a government community. We lead a few of them here, and new ones are forming all the time. In fact, as I was writing this article, I stumbled upon a community for government Drupal users.

A co-worker recently asked me for research on communities because she is trying to increase the sense of community among her program’s customers. Her question made me realize that the public and private sectors use communities in different ways. Check out the material written about private communities. Here’s roughly how they work:

  • They are sometimes called Market Research Online Communities. For example, a company might form a community of new parents to get their opinions on baby formula. Mom and Dad may get free or discounted merchandise in exchange.
  • Forrester analyst Kim Celestre notes on their blog that some branded communities use social depth platforms, so that customers can write blogs and reviews, give ratings, and ask questions in online forums. This seems to be the dominant model these days. Celestre points out that the brand MUST stay engaged with and nurture the community, and be careful to have a strategy before selecting tools and technology.
  • Some private sector communities have less of a profit motive. For example, Google Analytics users can go to a forum and ask questions of each other. This is good for Google, because it lowers costs in terms of the amount of customer service they have to provide. Some users prefer forums over getting service from a company.

There are a few ways that government and private communities are alike. Check out this infographic on how to utilize communities, and you’ll see that there are many things both sectors can do:

  • Both can co-create through communities. What better way to improve or create a product or service than to ask current or potential users? For example, Web Content Managers frequently reach out to other community members to test the new version of a website. Showing that you are open to feedback goes a long way.
  • Both can share information. Private sector communities can blog and ask questions, and so can we. Many of you have written articles for DigitalGov, or asked a question on one of our community listservs.
  • Being too self serving is one don’t in both public and private communities. If members get the impression that they are being used for sales purposes or to increase numbers, they will leave. As Ty Manuel wrote, good content is key because it gets shared, builds relationships and establishes trust.

Getting more involved in a community is a great way for federal employees to do their jobs better and grow their careers. Here are some ways you can get started:

Have you taken part in a government or private sector community? Write us, and let us know how it was beneficial.

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