‘Communities’ and ‘Networks’: A Conceptual and Linguistic 2.0 Mess

Among the most overheard and misused buzzwords in companies are, you guessed it, ‘communities’ and ‘networks’.  One of the side effects of Marketing 2.0 is, besides embodying new relationships between brands and customers, raising awareness among top managers about the potentials of collaborative work.

Of course companies, particularly the biggest ones, are dealing with internal communities for a few years now, often without truly understanding how to energize and leverage their power, but goofy expressions such as “Facebook for Enterprise” are now making their way into executives wish lists and discourses. Social platforms vendors aren’t helping either. Socialtext’s claim is ‘Social Networking with Enterprise 2.0 Collaboration’; Jive Software presents its SBS software as “robust social networking software for employee communities”. An awful 2.0 mess…

Jive SBS: communities and networks, a conceptual mess

socialtext: communities and networks, a conceptual mess

Technology itself, introducing more and more real-time capabilities into platforms, contributes further in blurring the lines between communities and networks.

Both concepts have their place in the connected Enterprise. Not only is the understanding of what differentiates them is key to successfully implement socio-collaborative initiatives, but harnessing their complementarity also provides us with a valuable framework of building blocks to leverage the internal ecosystem of Enterprise 2.0.



StructureStableSelf-arranging and complex
ScopeAdaptive – Defined perimeterDisruptive – Global perimeter
GoalsCollaboration over timeSpecific
GovernanceManaged leadershipOrganic leadership
Level of integration into existing flowsDepartment / RoleProject / Task
Interaction modeMostly asynchronousReal time
AdoptionGradual, built on purposeAffinity based, spontaneous

Rather than fighting each other, communities and networks may, while serving different purposes, raise quality of connected work inside enterprise. Being fluid and highly interactive, networks can address specific issues out of the scope of a single community. They can be setup on demand, self-arrange to solve problems, then dismantled or put at sleep once the issue resolved. Networks act as powerful ad hoc task forces, their power amplified by real-time tools. Lot has been written about the need or not to embed community-based outcome into existing business processes.  I do believe than working in a connected environment will ultimately lead to replace our actual processes by some new adaptive individually empowered mechanisms, and we can already put this vision at work: correctly driven (and understood, which means they must not been implemented as a substitute for communities but built ASIDE them), social networks have the tremendous power to deliver.

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5 Responses to ‘Communities’ and ‘Networks’: A Conceptual and Linguistic 2.0 Mess

  1. Thierry – Great post, although I think about the mess a little differently.

    Communities are made up of networks. Sometimes there can be multiple networks in communities, sometimes the networks have very tightly connected members at the core, and sometimes you can have networks that are very loosely connected. Think of the SAP community, with 1.5M users. If you were to look for networks in there you would find many. Some of them would be pretty tight, some might have ring networks in them, etc. If you look at customer support communities on the other, you may only find very weak networks in them. And in the case of customer review communities, there may be almost no networks.

    Not sure if this distinction makes sense…


    • Thierry de Baillon says:

      Francois, I totally agree with you, communities are made up of networks, whose density and width depends on the type of community we deal with. Internal communities are usually built around roles, practices, or even ideally around clients, in which they differ from external communities like communities around technologies or around brands, if these exist 😉 I mostly see this difference like the one between marriage and relationship, where people begin by learning to know each other before feeling they belong to each other. Emergent practices will then rise which will stitch people together and allow them to work in new, collaborative ways, maybe independently from pre-existing or new formed networks.

      Not to say that there is no ‘inside’ networks there, it is notably among community management’s best practices to leverage them to help collaboration and adoption spread faster. But I think that freeing networks from a community ‘shell’, letting them evolve and operate across existing communities and processes, adds tremendous power to the connected enterprise.

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  3. Great write-up; added to the complexities of the technology is how workflow and communications amongst various elements in an organization are governed.

    Odd that without good communications a company can’t operate; these social technologies enhance/improve workflow & communication but are disruptive to traditional hierarchical organizations.

  4. Kyra Gaunt, Ph.D. says:

    Love this! This helped me see what was missing in my desire to create a self generated classroom space. Networking. Thx.

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