Community: "a group of people who connect with one another to grow together and make their difference in the world."
But in practice what does that actually mean? Where do you start? What are the most important things to think about?
I come back to three things:
- A shared belief
- Experiences that bring people together
- Structures and processes that support connection.
And, I can’t take all the credit for this. These pillars marry a very popular framework used by community professionalism, the Community Canvas, where the key structures are Identity, Experience, and Structure.
Let’s discuss these in detail.
A Shared Belief
Every relationship in our life started over a similarity. Be it a class mate, colleague, hobbies or groups. There is something that you and the other person had in similar that brought you together. A reason to come together.
And, this is the most important part of any community. Why do we come together?
When we think about building a community around an organization, we should look no farther than the mission of the organization. Usually this goes well beyond the technology.
For example, an AgTech company may build vertical farms that reduces cost and accessibility, but its mission goes beyond that “Build a world where all have access to nutritious and affordable food and has a positive impact on our environment”.
The AgTech company’s community is those that believe that the world she become more food secure and that agricultural activities can have a greater positive impact on the environment.
A strong community, like a strong company, consistently comes back to its core purpose and values. It's the reason to be.
So how do we do this in community?
Through a code of conduct, aligned leadership, and a culture of trust, the community makes sure we reinforce why it exists.
Purpose-driven businesses and communities understand that focusing on person, values and a belief on how the world ought to be, and what difference needs to be made, has staying power. It gives members and employees a reason to be.
If we do not focus on that greater purpose, a community can deteriorate into a transactional place. People join to get something instead of finding a place of belonging, support, motivation and encouragement.
Think of AirBNB, for example. On its face, their hosts come together to help each other learn how to rent homes, but in reality, they come together to help build memorable experiences for their guests and help them achieve a lifestyle of flexibility and wealth creation.
Successful communities ensure the bigger why is always in sight.
Experiences that bring people together
What do we do when we get together?
It is not very fun to just sit in a room of strangers and have nothing to do.
So what do we need? Experiences.
Succesful communities have a healthy mix of content, experiences, and programs to help facilitate connection among members in different ways.
The two main components to an experience is content and connection.
Content is the hook.
Great content attracts new community members, creates excitement around what you are building, and builds out your resources and knowledge hub for future members, increasing the intellectual property of your organization.
While content is important, connection cannot be forgotten.
This is why facilitating small group connections is so critical. Be it breakout rooms, small projects or 1:1 coffees. We need to continuously connect.
A trap that community leaders can fall in is focusing too much on content. The difference between a webinar and a community event is to have a collective discussion versus talking at the audience.
One important consideration is to mix people to break “inner circles”. Providing thought starters so people can feel comfortable and ensuring a trusted and safe culture.
In addition to synchronous events is the asynchronous.
Through community platforms and forums your community can connect when they are not together. Great example of this include: asking each other questions, celebrating wins, sharing resources and finding others.
Great community moderation brings your asynchronous channels to life.
Lastly is sharing resources & documenting key findings so community members can come back to key learnings and connect with previous content.
A mix of experiences that focus on both content and connection is the recipe for community success.
Structures and processes that support connection.
How do we scale the unscalable?
Systems, processes and infrastructure.
These tend to be things that we think about last when it comes to community. From on-boarding to data management, there needs to be infrastructure that allows our communities to function efficiently.
First, the on-boarding experience is a key part of what will shape a member’s integration.
Similarly to how users of a company's product will churn in the first 90 days or not churn, that is the same for a community. Understanding that user journey and how it fits in your overall experience is key. Community members need to experience value quickly, and the most important value is connection.
Introducing new members to each other, having a welcome event or providing on-boarding programming are all important things to think about.
Next is the technology and tools that you use. Be it Slack, Discord, a Facebook Group, LinkedIn Group, Circle, Might Networks etc, you need a place for your people to come together to get to know one another. You likely also need an event software, email communications tool, resource library, and other applications to help you build your community.
Mapping and managing these tools and processes is key to ensure a streamlined community experience.
The most important part of scaling a community is roles. Roles are about decentralizing leadership and allowing others to contribute and make an impact in the community. A community can not scale without roles and this must be well thought out.
Community roles take take time to build.
Another benefit of building well-thought out roles is effective governance, which is how the community makes decisions. Is this process centralized or decentralized? How does your governance ensure community members feel heard?
Lastly, how do we collect data and feedback? What data are we collecting and how are we gathering feedback? How do we increase insight into our community so we can improve the experience? All important pieces to effectively iterate and accelerate.
So, where do you start?
- With a reason, a shared belief and identity.
- Experiences and activities to bring people together.
- Processes, tools and systems to scale.
And what does that achieve?
- Building meaningful connections
- People growing together
- Advancing a mission or purpose