The Community Test: how to measure the strength of a community

Photo from Sandbox Global Summit in Lisbon, January 2012

Because the term “community” is so loosely and vaguely applied to many different kinds of groups, it’s hard to differentiate what is really a community and what is not (definition here). Furthermore, even among actual communities, it’s hard to understand which one are working well and which ones are not. So how do you know how strong/real a community is?

The simple test

Over the years, I have developed a simple question that helps me differentiate and assess quickly how strong a community is:

The Community Test: If a person, who is a member in the same community as me, but the two of us have never met, contacts me and asks for my help, how likely am I to help her/him?

The question won’t give me precise answers, but it allows me to roughly place the community on the spectrum of trust: How much will I feel connected to her/him? Will I answer the email? Will I be open to a phone call? Am I willing to make introductions to other people? Will I invite her/him to stay with me when visiting my town? Will I invite her/him to my wedding?

Examples:

  • The “Facebook community”: would I ever open my doors to someone just because they are also part of Facebook? (My answer: hell no)
  • The “local swimming club community”: would I talk to someone who is part of the same swimming club as me? (My answer: maybe, depends on the swimming club)
  • The “AirBnB community”: would I meet with someone because we are both using AirBnB? (My answer: nope). Would I meet with someone because we are both hosting people on AirBnB? (My answer: maybe, but probably not).
  • The “alumni community”: would I help someone because we have graduated from the same university? (My answer: probably yes).

This test assumes the following:

  • The stronger a community, the stronger the shared identity and the stronger the trust among the members.
  • Stronger communities go beyond bilateral, 1:1 relationships and their overall structure (brand, membership experience, the collection of relationships) becomes a proxy that allows members to trust others within the same group, even when they have never met.
  • Trust is actionable. More trust leads to more action.

A more thorough analysis

The Sense of Community Index (SCI) is a much more thorough way to test the strength of a community. The SCI works by answering 25 questions in a questionnaire. This provides a much clearer answer than my rule-of-thumb approach above, but at the same time it is way more time and resource intense.

What other ways have you found to test the strength of a community?

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