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Defenders of Belief vs. Seekers of the Truth – A classification of communities based on members

diversity smA lot of people are looking for a good classification system for communities, or some sort of community hierarchy. Most of the ones that we have seen so far (including some we tried to develop as part of the Tribalization of Business and our upcoming book, the Hyper-Social Organization) are rather lame – descriptive at best.

We finally came up with a high level distinction between communities and tribes based on how they deal with diversity – and would love to hear what you think. We believe that understanding this distinction is key in determining the value that a community or tribe can bring to your business.

On the one hand, you have communities and tribes that are populated with people who share a common belief. They prefer to hang out with people who share that belief. We call them defenders of belief. They frown upon diversity and operate much like a religious group would. Business communities and consumer tribes that fall in that category can be found everywhere – think of the Apple zealots, who would not want to be caught anywhere near a PC owner,  or the Ducati motorcycle riders, who certainly don’t want to be confused with Harley riders.

On the other hand you have communities and tribes that embrace diversity – within certain limits. We call them Seekers of the Truth. They realize that the best solutions come from diverse groups of individuals, and not from groups with a common sense of belief – let latter often causing an echo-chamber effect or groupthink. Commercial communities and tribes in that category include cross-industry professional affinity groups, like IBM’s global CIO community, and software developer communities, like the SAP developer community that we discussed in chapter 1 – where people are willing to help one another and share even with competitors in order to find the best solution in a timely manner.

Why is it so important to understand this distinction? For starters, if you are looking for input into your product innovation process, a community full of defenders of belief would yield pretty poor results. If your goal is to involve customer tribes as part of designing new products, you need a community of people who are seekers of the truth, embrace diversity, and enjoy a good difference of opinion. The more diverse your community is the better the products they will co-design with you. Some companies, like Intuit, will go to embrace what many would consider extreme diversity – inviting not just their customers and prospects but also their detractors as part of the process.

If on the other hand your goal is to increase word of mouth through communities and tribes or leverage the power of the crowd to help you with customer service, then having communities full of defenders of belief can work – and in some cases will work even better than with seekers of the truth.

What do you think? Please let us know as we refine our thinking…

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