Good business people are problem solvers. We like to identify an issue, figure out how to it could be better addressed, and fix it quickly so we can move on to the next problem. Communities come up with plenty of problems, issues, and concerns and there is not time in life to address all of them. This leads to a couple of things:
- Good business people understand the river of issues that a community could come up with and know that they can't address them all so they would prefer not to open up the floodgates at all.
- The first instinct of many business people is to address and try to fix all the problems that flow in from communities - kind of like Whack-A-Mole - leading to exhaustion on the part of those employees who do try to fix every problem and some very unreal expectations on the part of members of the community.
The result is analogous to using a hammer on a pin - it doesn't work and it breaks things in the process.
What to do then? You already have a community if you are in business (whether or not you've provided a space for them to congregate online) so forget ignoring the problem. But businesses are used to having the cost of raising an issue as their filtering mechanism...which isn't necessarily good because as a business you then address the issues of your loudest customers, not necessarily your best. So better to get it all out there in the open and vet everything.
However, don't treat a community the same way you do a bug list. Good community facilitation is all about being a bit Zen in regards to flare ups on the part of the community. Most community flare ups, if left alone, will burn out. Some will simmer. Some will spark a fire. The art is understanding which issues are core to the business (i.e. the case of the Dell batteries catching on fire in 2006), which are tangential, and which represent big opportunities that shouldn't be ignored.
Communities have a cadence that is quite different than most business activities. They meander, morph, and change in unexpected ways. Those managing communities will have more influence on them if they spend most of their time participating and only occasionally stepping in to mediate an issue. And yes, it is OK to not step in a solve every issue - and in fact, do so at the peril of community members becoming passive and expecting problems to be solved for them.
The biggest question is: Do businesses have the patience and personality to let communities meander? For most it will require a big cultural shift. But remember, it is not Whack-A-Mole.
photo by: blurradial