At a recent Internations event here in Tokyo, I was asked about ways that offline communities can connect online. The environmental group concerned has a lively and engaged constituency for its events, and wanted to take this online.
The group already uses Ning to power its communication out to its members, so my first observation was that it has a core group of permissioned users around which to build its online community. There is already a blog page, although it should be promoted more and needs a celebrity or authority blogger. There is a video links section, and a forum. It's probably a bit much for one person to handle, and the group should consider devolving responsibility for various sections to individuals - after all, the goal is to create social media which means "people".
My other observation was that the group tended to focus on CSR and corporate-level initiatives. Which is probably fine, but for me the creation of community requires a collection of galvanizing reasons-to-believe (RTB) so that people interact with a human voice.
The major "a-ha" moment for me was the potential power that a micro-blogging tool like Twitter could provide this group. See, Twitter is constructed around one very simple question - "what are you doing now?". One of the outcomes it generates is "buzz" - there are lots of small, easily digestible nuggets flying around the Twittersphere, and each tweet (a single post on Twitter) can act as the spur for a different direction for the community.
Imagine a bunch of people all providing each other with seemingly insignificant ideas to do something personal about the environmental crisis. You could end up with something as powerful as Earth Hour, where 50 million people turned off their lights for one hour all around the planet. What a powerful symbol!
Tokyo is apparently one of the most active Twitter spots in the planet, and given the growing convergence between computers and mobile platforms in this market one can imagine it could become very powerful. In this case, driving connections between members of the group could be one way to strengthen the ties that bind them.
Issues like the environment and sustainability require individuals to commit to both personal and group action. The events are providing the genesis of some group activities - but Twitter could provide a way for members to signal personal activities as well, or reach out for support.
Thought for the Day: Many people set up communities that end up being one-person soapboxes. Maybe Twitter is one way to open up the way for tens, hundreds, or thousands of people to participate in a true conversation.