There is much joy to be derived from seeing a community you build grow organically into something larger than you envision.
Companies can benefit from the power of building communities to grow their fan base and solicit feedback for their products and services while individuals can benefit from expanding their professional and social network by being a connector in a community they help build.
Building your own community can be one of the most enriching and life-changing experiences as I experienced from building CreativeMornings, a global monthly breakfast movement for creative types, with 2 friends in Singapore back in 2012; its first chapter in Asia.
Having been part of communities (e.g. Toastmasters) and building smaller and more intimate communities over the years (e.g. Non-fiction book club), here are some of my observations from building enduring communities.
Read about online communities we thought you should know.
Purpose, Values & Rituals
Every successful community has a clear purpose and common set of values to help guide its members and crew. Its rituals then define the experience loop for its members.
At CreativeMornings, our purpose is to have an accessible event for the local creative community. And our values exist in a form of a manifesto after some years of founding the community. As chapter organisers, we instinctively knew that “Everyone is creative. Everyone is welcome.” even though it wasn’t written down back in 2012.
A common assumption I hear is that most creative types are nocturnal and won’t attend morning events. That’s been proven false as we experience 50 to 100 attendees every month, rain or shine. The fact that a member of the community has to rise earlier to attend our monthly events that come with free coffee is a ritual. Other rituals include a Bulletin Board session where anyone in the community is given 1 minute to ask for help or shout-out what they’re working on and icebreaker tags to facilitate conversations.
Hosting an event is one of the many tools to build a shared narrative around a growing community but it isn’t the only device.The global smartphone maker, Xiaomi, is known to regularly solicit product feedback from its community via an online forum.
Give & Gain
In the non-fiction book club I run through a monthly dinner with friends and friends of friends, everyone is expected to contribute their knowledge and experience even if they are not sharing a book summary. A member’s investment would be their time, meal fee and their perspective.However, what they would gain from that short span of time would be plentiful of learning through a collection of book summaries, the group’s perspective on the issue that the book has surfaced and new friendships with eager learners just like them.
The buzz members get from learning and gaining is what keeps them coming back while they work through their new year resolution of “reading one book a month” a less achievable goal without sufficient social motivation and commitment.
Oprah Winfrey is known to give away gifts to her audience members during her program, The Oprah Winfrey Show, America’s highest rated and longest-running daytime television talk show. The most famous giveaway is a car to each and every audience member in one episode.
Curation plays a critical role in community building right at the start when a community is most fragile. It starts with setting the highest standard of content (programming), partners and people you can gather from your network. If that proves to be difficult, you could approach a friend or two whose deposition and circle of friends you greatly admire and share with them the idea. Perhaps they may join you in building a community together much like the good fortune I had with CreativeMornings / Singapore.
Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, once said, “When you’re in a startup, the first 10 people will determine whether the company succeeds or not.”
Building an enduring community requires that very same discipline that Jobs had to build Apple into one of the most admired companies in the world.
Given time and nurturing, a community can grow to a certain size and curate itself through members who are promoters and have a clear understanding of the community’s value and purpose. At the start, that responsibility lies with you, the community builder and you will have to say NO very often.
Questions to ask when building a community
- Does your community have a clear purpose and well-defined values that are known to its members?
- Are your rituals tied to your community’s purpose and values?
- What do members have to invest to be part of your community? What would they gain experience from varying levels of investment?
- Can what members gain and invest be part of your community’s ritual?
- What is the number of socially acceptable ways where people interact that can be part of your community’s common narrative?
- Who would you know in your immediate circle that would be interested to participate in the community you are building? What are some of their common character traits and can those be used to define your community values?
- What’s your litmus test for saying YES or NO to a new member trying to be part of your community?
- What are the activities you can instill to involve members who are not as active and are in the peripheral? Can they give and gain something from your community?
- Does your community need to be sustained monetarily through sponsorships or can it be self-sustaining?
Thank you for reading. If you find the above article valuable, I would encourage you to share and pass it along. Sharing useful information is a great way to re-connect with people in your professional network and establish thought leadership.
For more book recommendations and articles like this, visit our Voices section.
Contributed by Daylon Soh.
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About Daylon Soh
Daylon works in the intersection between digital marketing, digital product design and digital product management helping startups and corporations build new digital products and ventures. He uses a mix of research methods, Agile practices and communication strategies to facilitate the innovation process with teams. He currently works for Unilever as a Digital Marketing Strategist and was most recently part of the Digital Product Design team of Aviva Digital Garage working as a SCRUM Product Owner. Daylon is also an Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® & PRINCE2® Certified Practitioner in Project Management and instructs adult learners at General Assembly.
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