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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. It’s not that I haven’t been motivated, nor that I didn’t have the time. I never have the time. I’m pretty sure that no one really has  time to blog, we all just make it happen.  And typically I do. But I haven’t lately. But a recent chain of events has compelled me to do so.

This past weekend, I experienced a tornado.

There is a lot of damage in my neighborhood, from collapsed garages and shredded gazebos to uprooted trees, toppled playground structures and roofs gone AWOL, seeming to have never existed.

My house was not damaged and my family is safe.  We were without power for a little more than 48 hours, but that’s nothing compared to the plights of others.  A friend and fellow social media enthusiast, lost his home completely.

A university has suspended classes for the remainder of the semester due to structural damage, and 22 people died.

When I saw that my neighbor’s gazebo had been obliterated and he wasn’t home, I immediately grabbed my iphone and took a few pictures for him so he’d have them to file an insurance claim. Shortly after, everyone started coming out to check on everyone else and giving the details of how they ‘took cover.’

The next day, the local grocery store had a truck filled with ice. I approached the truck prepared to pay and saw a sign that read “free ice.” I asked for two bags. They gave me 6. I tweeted that Harris Teeter had free ice for those of us without power. Someone replied asking me “which Harris Teeter.” I posted the location and told her to go get some. She did.

When I got home, my husband gave our other neighbor two of the six bags. She later came over to ask us if we wanted some hamburgers they’d just grilled. At this point, the only hot food was coming from a grill.

As I think about how everyone came together to help one another, it reminded me of the online community I used to manage. They were good about coming together, even though most were only acquainted through the web.

But that community and my real community have many similarities, and there is one thing that holds true in offline and online communities.

You get back what you put in.

Maybe you’ve loaned your neighbor a lawnmower, picked up their mail when they were on vacation, or simply spent a few minutes chatting about nothing every once in a while. Those gestures may seem like nothing at the time, but all of that good will adds up.

The same holds true for any offline community. You get back what you put in.

So many online communities are built with the intention of getting people to “buy” something, or for bragging rights on how many “friends” or “followers” were accumulated as part of a campaign. Yes, this is often important for the bottom line, but you have to put something in if you want it to last or actually become to mean something to people.

Community has become a buzzword and to me, has lost its true meaning. There are so many instances where the term shouldn’t even be used. You don’t want to build community, you want a mob of people to show up in one place and make you look good. And soon as that happens, you could care less about what happens next. Why do you think there are so many abandoned communities out there?

I’ve often asked the question: “If you build it will they come?” I believe the answer is no. But sometimes they do.

Perhaps that question should be: “If you build it and they come, will you stay once your goals are met?”

I think the answer to that one for many, is also no, and I think that’s a shame.

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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