Social networking, critical mass, and pruning

pruning“Everything is an experiment.”

I remember sitting in a small groups conference in Chicago last year as Mark Batterson explained that is one of their core values at National Community Church in Washington, DC.

I’ve come to believe it’s a great value for any organization to have.

I think too often we’re afraid to experiment because we’re afraid of failure.  And I think too often we have this idea that once we start something it ought to go on forever.

By making “everything is an experiment” a core value, NCC is giving it’s staff and congregation to permission to try new things even if they fail.  They are also telling people they could change what they’re doing at any time if they think it’s not working or they have another experiment to try.

When it comes to social networking, everything truly is a an experiment.  In order to try to build a community or create connections online, you’ve got to be willing to try new things and many of them will fail.

Critical Mass
There are lots of reasons social networking experiments fail, but one of the most common is because they fail to reach critical mass.

In order for forums or a blog or a group to work, in order for there to be good discussion, it takes some critical mass of people participating.  I don’t know what that number is – it varies depending on circumstances – but I know it when I see it.

This is a raw idea, but I’d say a community has reached critical mass when most people feel like are getting more out if it than they are putting into it.  On the other hand, if you feel like you are constantly trying to initiate things and you’re getting very few comments, discussion, or new ideas contributed by others, then you’re not there yet.

If you’re not there yet, at some point you have to ask yourself if you’re ever going to get there.  And you have to ask yourself if it’s really worth the time and energy you put into.

I am optimistic to a fault.  I have a hard time giving up on something.  I usually think that even if things aren’t going well that maybe with a little more time, effort, or resources, maybe with some new ideas or a better plan it could be successful.

Pruning
Pruning is a good thing, though  Cutting things that are taking energy and resources but not producing frees up that energy and resources for other things.

This weekend we’ll be terminating some of our forums – those not having to with Internet stuff.  I had always hoped that we could develop a vibrant online community in the forums where people would be helping each other and exchanging ideas, but it just hasn’t happened.  Instead it’s taken a lot of time and energy to moderate them and to break up theological arguments.

Over the coming month we’ll also be making some transitions at Church Marketing Online.  We just haven’t managed to develop a community of people passionate about using the Internet to connect new people to their church.

But we’ll be taking the resources and energy freed up and putting it into some cool new things.  Some new experiments.

How about you?  Got anything overdue for a pruning?




Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

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