Ben posted some analysis yesterday on The Ruby Connection, an initiative from Westpac in Australia. He quite rightly points out a number of issues with the initiative while still contending that this is a pretty good first foray for Westpac.
I have to disagree. I think it misses the mark. Here's why I think that.
In my experience there is one factor above all others that is critical in establishing community. It's dialogue.
If you look at etymology for the word community, it is sugggests it is from the Latin communis -meaning shared with many. I'd take it further and say you can break it down into two words
cum: meaning with
mundus: meaning world
To have community means that you are 'with the world'. Communities are 'worlds' that gather together around a shared purpose.
Communities do not exist without dialogue. Dialogue is what makes sharing happen. Westpac have identified a shared purpose - helping women succeed in business. What they haven't done is created a dialogue. Their proposition does not have this at its heart. Rather it seeks to tell rather than encourage members to share.
The site is essentially a monologue, with the exception of some capability in the Forums to reply. There is no engagement with the key content contributors, who I am sure have been well paid for their well-written thoughts (which is fine by the way). They set the purpose but it is broadcast. The investment in their writing is not going to have a long-life.
Sustainable communities very rarely form around monologues - there is no way to engage with the message which means the message fades.Looking back at Roman history, you can see why the Forum was so important. It was the place that the community came together to engage without any barriers to dialogue.
My recommendation for anyone building community is to over-invest in the capability, processes and functionality that facilitates and encourages dialogue. Make it the heart of the community. It's what the community reverts to in the absence of anything else. The investment doesn't have to be all about 'online'. Geekgirl's suggestions on getting your community together in person is a great example of the investment that is required to encourage that dialogue and make it more meaningful.
Ben's recommendations can follow as second order priorities, making the community more vibrant.