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While everyone is seemingly on Facebook and Twitter, don’t think for a second that there is no room for smaller niche communities that cater to specific areas of interest. New online communities are launching all the time and those that don’t subscribe to the “if you build it they will come” fallacy can be quite successful despite the dominance of the big two.

I learned of two new online communities just this week: MultiUnitLiving.com and TeamRunSmart.com. Both cater to a very distinct audience. MultiUnitLiving.com is a community for owner operators and property managers of multi-family housing. It allows them to connect with their peers and discuss industry issues.

TeamRunSmart.com is a new community created by Freightliner Trucks, aimed at educating professional drivers on how to improve their profitability. Features include educational articles, blogs, operational tips and insight from professional drivers and “coaches” on how to be more successful.  Freightliner’s director of product marketing, TJ Reed says the Team Run Smart community is the “definitive guide to help business-minded drivers succeed,”

I think online communities are a fine choice and sometimes the best solution. Facebook and Twitter can be everything to everyone. Sometimes you need a closed, owned environment that doesn’t change every week, requiring you to adapt.

I’m heading to LA tomorrow, to speak to the winners of the 2010 Knight Community Information Challenge during their three-day boot camp at USC Annenberg.

I’ve sat down several times to craft my presentation over the last two weeks, but every time I get started, it just doesn’t feel strong enough. I end up jotting down notes and ideas but never commit to anything concrete.

At first I thought it was about me being a perfectionist,which does happen from time to time, but I know that’s not it. It’s much more than that.

This group isn’t simply thinking about community projects or looking to learn enough to convince the leaders of their organizations that they should invest in online communities. They’ve got the funding to do it and they’re going to do it, so my words can have real impact on the grantees and their projects, and I don’t take that lightly.

It’s an amazing opportunity for me and I am deeply honored to have been invited. But on some level, I’m feeling the pressure because of it. It’s not the kind of pressure that makes you cave, but the kind that makes you want to give 110%.

I’ve read the project summaries at least three times each because I want to understand the mission of each and give the best advice I possibly can. All are part of a growing movement to help fund local news and information projects and ensure that residents are informed and engaged.

If you’re a regular reader, you know my thoughts on what it takes to effectively engage communities. Not to mention the fact that you have to get them there first.

I have to tell them that. They need to know that  their job will be difficult at best, and it will take serious commitment to grow any community. But I don’t want to scare them. I suspect that this is why I’ve struggled.

I know from experience that building it is not enough. So maybe that’s what I’ll say first and go from there.  After all, I can talk about this stuff all day.

I’ve got a six-hour plane ride ahead of me, which is plenty of time to pull it all together but I’m thinking this time I’ll speak more from the heart and depend less on a Powerpoint.

This group of winners has a unique opportunity to make real change in their communities, both online and off. I just want to give them something to put them on the road to success.

Wish me luck.

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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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