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Tag: community

Community

As someone who tried to build a fashion social network and is now an investor who sees his fair share of social networking startup ideas, I can attest to the difficulties in building a genuine community.

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So, when people question why Friendfeed users like myself are so dedicated to the site and why we don’t switch over to the new Facebook Groups feature (which has integrated many of Friendfeed’s features), I find myself scratching my forehead as to why so many web experts seem to miss out on the obvious.

The point so many web sites seem to misunderstand is that community is not a feature. If I got paid everytime someone said “we’ve added a ‘Post to Facebook’/‘bulletin board’/‘chat’/[insert other cliché “community” feature] feature” as evidence that they had a strong community, I would be a very wealthy man. To be fair, not having certain social features makes it harder to have a community, but having those features doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a community. You don’t add community to a website the way you might add Google Analytics or a new banner ad.

Community is something which has to be built and nurtured. At its core, its about users experiencing a genuine connection with other people and wanting to engage more: both on and off the site.

Similarly, community is not just having a lot number of users. Sure, Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn have a ton of users. But, that alone doesn’t make them a community. Walmart has a lot of employees too – I doubt an outsider would consider that a tight-knit community.

What matters is not so much the number of users, but the number and quality of connections that they make. That’s one reason I actually consider the core group of Twitter users that I engage with a closer community than my LinkedIn or Facebook circle  (which is composed mostly of people that I actually know and have interacted with “in the real world”!) – I “talk with” (or Tweet) that group on Twitter more than I engage with people on Facebook, get a lot more value out of those internet relationships (I learn about interesting things, keep up with the daily actions of people I know, and get comments on things I share/say) than I do through those other sites. It doesn’t mean I don’t find LinkedIn or Facebook valuable (I do, for other reasons), but its that community which keeps me coming back and more engaged with Twitter, and Friendfeed for that matter, than with LinkedIn or Facebook.

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So, back to the original question – why do I stick with Friendfeed?

  • Bookmarklet: The FriendFeed bookmarklet is extremely powerful: its not only my primary means of sharing things on Twitter, it also lets me pull in additional content beyond Twitter’s 140 character limit. This convenience and pattern of use is difficult to break.
  • Feature set: There are practically zero features on Friendfeed which haven’t been replicated by someone else (esp. Facebook). However, I have yet to see the killer social feature which has convinced me to replace Friendfeed with something else – simply put, its good enough for what I need and, until it stops being good enough or I find something else far better, I’ll be sticking around.
  • Quality of Community: The people I engage with (and people-watch) on Friendfeed and the sorts of conversations that are had are deeper and more satisfying than almost any online forum I’ve been on (with the noteworthy exception of the group of friends I interact with on Google Reader). That exclusivity and depth of engagement is something I have yet to see Facebook or any other social media site replicate and, until they do and until the community that I like engaging with on Friendfeed chooses to move elsewhere, I don’t plan on stopping.

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How to Have a Great Company Culture

This past Thursday, I attended a presentation by Kent Thiry, the CEO of DaVita, a dialysis company and former partner at the management consulting firm Bain & Company. Thiry presided over a stunning turnaround at the firm, but the focus of his presentation was not so much on the corporate specifics but on DaVita’s culture.

Culture is not something I used to consider very much, because, frankly, I thought it was mostly fuzzy BS. And, in fact, many companies deliberately make it that way. They skim books like Jim Collins’ Built to Last and half-listen to human resource fads about how the mere fact that a mission statement and a list of values exists makes a company more productive and lasting — not appreciating that the employees know it’s a sham.

What Thiry had to present was an example of a community. DaVita, as presented by Thiry, was not merely a dialysis company where manufacturers and techs work with doctors and nurses to help treat patients, it was a village, where community members watched out for each other, watched out for the community as a whole, and got together on a regular basis to show each other that they cared. Never before have I seen videos of people proudly singing and dancing to the company song, crying when they discussed how much they loved working for DaVita and working with their co-workers and of course their village mayor (his title is not CEO!) KT (Kent Thiry).

So, how did Thiry help construct such a powerful culture? He attributed it to “show that you care“, no matter if business is good or bad. After all, its really easy to stick to your values and your mission statement and your ideas of community when business is good but what makes or breaks a culture is whether or not you stick to it when business is bad.

Among the tips that Thiry had:

  1. Make hiring and firing decisions based not only business and technical competent, but on adherence to the values of the company
  2. Emphasize that DaVita was a community first, a company second
  3. Spend time honoring those who adhere to the values, not simply pay lip service to them in a vague sense, not simply reward them financially — but actually honor them, with plaques, with ceremony, with recognition
  4. Make people self conscious by having them sing the company song, recite the company motto — because when you do things that make you self conscious you really analyze whether or not your life really stacks up against your values
  5. Establish a practice whereby senior management lead by example — if the C-level management (CEO, CMO, CTO, CIO, etc.) are not following community principles, then why should anyone else?

Thiry then walked through a host of amazing cultural stories to illustrate:

  • The DaVita community (meaning the broader community and not just the corporate leaders) chose to establish a fund to help the children of DaVita employees pay for college
  • DaVita has a practice where senior management and the firm match contributions that the community endorses to charities and noble causes
  • DaVita honors doctors who it considers to have made the biggest impact in their patients’ lives, because that is a broader part of the purpose of the DaVita community
  • DaVita established a practice whereby community members in need receive assistance from other community members
  • Thiry showed off amazing videos of interviews with cancer patients/employees who tearfully described how their coworkers not only raised money to help pay for treatment but sent cards, gifts, helped around the house, etc.
  • One of the most touching stories was of a female employee who died along with her husband, leaving a daughter in college to not only deal with the emotional impact of their deaths, but with huge financial burdens and with her own college tuition. The DaVita community came together to take care of the daughter — paying her tuition so she wouldn’t have to drop out and helping to cover the funerary expenses.

If there are two takeaways from this:

  1. Culture matters. Ask any of DaVita’s workers — or any workers, period. It’s very difficult to be productive or, more importantly, to be happy if you hate the environment you work in. Yes, technical and business competence is necessary, but in no way is it sufficient for creating a good business.
  2. To get a great culture, you have to show that it matters. You can’t just write a values statement and expect a wonderful culture to spring up. You have to stick to it, especially when it is hard to, especially when there are conflicting priorities.
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