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Ed note: This is first in a series of  guest posts we plan on publishing on the Ning Blog. If you are interested in penning a guest post for the Ning Blog, let us know in the comments below! Today’s post come from Douglas Aiken, the author of The Culting of Brands: How Customers Become True Believers. He is a partner at Purpose, an organization that creates 21st century movements and was previously the Chief Community Officer and Partner at Meetup.

douglas*hi_2Community is making a comeback.

This is good, because for decades groups, clubs, unions, associations and communities of all kinds have been in decline. And we’ve felt it. Over the years, I’ve examined research that has shown a steady annual increase in the number of people who want to spend more time with families and friends, and be more involved in their neighborhoods. We’ve been craving more connection at the very time that we’ve driven it from our lives.

We’ve been deviant for decades.

We’ve been indulging in aberrant behavior for too long.

Whatever the culprit…commuting, working two jobs, sprawl, relocation, fear of strangers, computer games, focus on getting stuff versus getting time for friends and family… not being part of a high functioning community is just not natural.

Belonging is not an option. Humans have depended on it for survival since one of our ancestors realized he needed his friends if he was going to eat when he faced a woolly mammoth alone with nothing but a stick. It’s wired into our species. As Richard Layard notes in his book Happiness:

All primates live in groups and get sad when they are separated. An isolated individual will repeatedly pull a lever with no reward other than the glimpse of another monkey.

Even today belonging and survival are intertwined. There is a ton of research that shows that those who are part of a social network live longer and survive life-threatening diseases and events significantly better than those who don’t. And they’re happier.

Now we’re normalizing in new ways.

Technology is enabling more connection and engagement. Platforms like Ning help us find and engage with others that share our passions and interests. Facebook and Twitter are keeping us connected. Tens of thousands of Meetups are recreating local community. We’re sharing, mobilizing, educating, supporting, and acting together to enrich our lives online and offline. Some are even using these tools to retool their societies.

But there’s a problem.

We’re a generation of lost skills.

In the 1950s, five percent of American adults were presidents, not just members, but presidents of some club or voluntary association or other. Being a high functioning member or leader of a community was both expected and supported. It was in the air they breathed. With the pervasiveness of association came ready access to the collective wisdom and support from others who knew how to run a network effectively.

We don’t have that. We’re groping our way back to what De Tocqueville identified as a unique characteristic of America (and an engine of its democracy); associating with each other in all kinds of ways for all kinds of common interests. Somehow we have to fill this knowledge vacuum. And do it fast.

Launching and running networks is hard. You realize this very quickly once you start. From observing and interviewing hundreds of leaders and members of communities of all kinds, I’ve seen that most fail because the leaders have good intentions, but few skills.

We need help… from each other!

Some of the best advice you can get is from others doing what you do. Sharing how you succeeded, or failed with others in the same situation is immensely powerful. How do you recruit? How do you create stickiness? How do you run successful events? How do you get rid of toxic members? How do you keep the great ones?

These issues are universal. Whether your network is online or offline, or both; whether it’s in Manchester or Manila, whether it’s about a better social life or social change, we need a place where we can share common needs and get advice from our peers.

The Ning Creators Network is a great place to get this. And I’m trying to do a similar thing on my own Network and blog: The Glue Project. The idea is that these tools will be used to make more social glue by enabling a key ingredient: skilled-up leaders.

And then we can enjoy doing what feels natural; being high-functioning members of social networks.