Community Theories. As I write this article, Talent Communities are finally making the corporate rounds. Enterprise is catching on folks! Yay! It’s just what we always wanted. Talent communities are on everyone’s lips, being talked about by the biggest and brightest and still, those of us who’ve done the work, seen the scorching failures and perceived the value in not just communities but talent communities, are trying desperately to define, what precisely we MEAN.

As in the past two articles, I’m not ready to get into it yet. I just got back from speaking in San Francisco at the Social Recruiting Strategies Conference (put on by rockstar group GSMI) and while there, I did talking about the whos, whats, wheres and whys of TCs, not to mention some pretty good hows (if I don’t say so myself). But again, the questions thrown back at me from educated, intelligent people in the space revealed a misunderstanding or at best, vague understanding of what a community really was. And once again, I was unable to do better than “all of the above”. As a consultant, a vendor, a writer and a speaker, I believe that we owe these people better than that. Hence, all the commas :)

So today, I want to talk about community theories:

1) Reciprocation Theory: IMHO, this is one of the most underrated theories in all of community development. It’s pretty simple (like most theories). It states that in order for people to be a part of your community (donating time, attention span, participation bandwidth) they need to feel like they’re getting value. YOU, as the community manager (or similar) have to provide content, conversation, benefits, value, etc.

This plays out in the communities I’ve managed or had a hand in creating. Things that create value for participants:

Online Chats: The ability to raise one’s profile in a semi-closed forum, participate on an ad-hoc basis.

Chapters: A localization of the broader group, this can give people the ability again to raise their profile, connect with others and build on the credibility the group has as a whole.

Content: With more and more folks trying to build a personal brand, allowing people to “publish” and raise their awareness within the community is huge. Of course, compensation cannot be left out of this equation, whether it is through promotion, discounts or actual pay for posts.

Certifications: Many professional communities or skill based communities have this down to a veritable art form.

Acknowledgement: Again, highly underrated. People like to see their name/face/work highlighted. It makes them happy and valued. “Thank You” goes a long way for a community management team. Ditto for commenting or sharing their post, work, comment, etc.

Camaraderie: People are interested in identifying with a group (for the most part). You can see this as people “tip deals” in Groupon or on sites like Gawker, where frequent commenters seem to recognize one another. A community manager can move this forward by creating links between members who seem like-minded.

2) Consistency Theory: This theory states that once a person becomes active in a community, they are more likely to come back again and again. It makes a sense, most of us tend to be creatures of habit. Community managers can help by making their communities great places to be, welcoming everyone who comes in in a timely and consistent manner and finally, by using tools like email, social, and personal contact to remind members of why they come to the community in the first place.

3) Social Validation Theory: “I wanna be where my friends are.” This theory states that but in a way more science-y way. If a community is acceptable to one’s colleagues, friends, etc., it is more likely to enjoy significant growth in that circle. It’s part of the reason that every time you join a new network, you have the option to “find your friends” via Facebook, Gmail or any other tool that contains a crawl-able address book.However, community members can take it one step further and ask who else in the entrenched member’s circle may benefit from being part of the network. This is a theory I’d like to look at closer when we talk about talent communities specifically.

There has long been talk that talent communities MUST HAVE a component that allows talent to talk to other talent on the outside. I think the Social Validation Theory supports that intrinsic need. However, when combined with the still very prevalent competitive spirit that surrounds applying for jobs this may force the transition to internal and external workers, rather than friends with similar skill sets. (This could begin to change soon, but will not happen quickly.)