If you have ever tried to put together a community newsletter then you’ll know just how depressing it can be.  After the fun and sense of achievement of producing your first edition, you can all too quickly find yourself lost in a vacuum of new ideas.  So when I was recently asked for advice for putting together a community newsletter, my immediate reaction was – “don’t!” 

Because my enquirer deserved a more serious reply, I began by asking the usual series of questions:

  1. How frequently do you intend to distribute it & via what channels?
  2. How many people can you reliably turn to for content?
  3. Have you ever run a successful newsletter before, if so, for how long?
  4. What is the problem that you are expecting the newsletter to solve?

Her responses were a little thin until she came up with a killer answer to question 4: Her newsletter was intended to ‘help build and maintain a community’ within her department.

Small companies are, almost by definition, communities in themselves.  However very large companies (that tend to scatter employees from single departments into satellite offices across the globe) often suffer from a sense of lack of community. 

We humans need communities; families, professional institutions, sports clubs, church or other interest groups, in fact almost any kind of kinship band.  Without them we become lost, even broken.  And because so many of us live detached and often fragmented lives, regular well written newsletters can play an important part in creating a sense of community, no matter how frail.   The problem is, to be any good, newsletters have to actively stimulate the notion of belonging and creatively communicate the stories and achievements of their members. 

For many, Facebook transcends the notion of a community newsletter and actually becomes the community itself.  Its snapshots of life, coupled with expressions of fun, sadness anger and anxiety, combine to create an experience that many accept as real.  What’s more, the content is kept up to date and interesting by the sheer number of its contributors. 

With over 500 million users, of which apparently more than half log on everyday to view over 30 billion pieces of content, one must say that Facebook is indeed extremely well supported! However, when looked at objectively; Facebook is a giant honeycomb of millions of communities, each of which (in principle) is open to all and able to share with the other, even if its content appears to be largely disappointing and futile.

A statistic that I find interesting about Facebook is that its average member has 130 ‘friends’.  When you compare this with the knowledge that since the beginning of time, successful nomadic tribes consisted of around 150 members, then you begin to see that small communities (where everyone knows everyone else) are as an important human need today as they ever were. 

Perhaps it is because of our broken and disconnected social structures that Facebook has become so popular, the fact that with any PC or smart phone your ‘real’ community is right there with you in the palm of your hand?

Have a good week,