Communities are everything. The fact that people tend to gather around a purpose or cause, can dramatically make a shift in how we look into concepts like business networking, branding, communication, and sales. Having spent the last ten years of my life building communities from small corporate boards to 5K+ plus events, I believe organizations that fail to build a community can not feel safe in today’s ever-changing uncertain business environment. On the other hand a simple google search of the work community shows that thought leaders start using the word in their books in the past two centuries, specially after the industrial revolution. In this article, I try to emphasis on the shift from traditional ways getting a message out, to community building and share a collection of tips and best practice on community building. So here is my stab at it.
Increasing use of the word “community” between in the past two centuries
By definition, a community is a group of people having particular characteristics in common or practicing common ownership or unified by common interests or sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common. In a seminal 1986 study, McMillan and Chavis identify four elements of “sense of community” as 1) membership, 2) influence, 3) fulfillment of needs and 4) shared emotional connection. While this definition makes understanding of the concept easy, the practice to build a community is so abstract to the most of the brands and organizations, that they still prefer the traditional ways of getting their message out their “target market”.
Stop selling, Start building your tribe — Manipulation vs. Inspiration
There’s barely a product or service on the market today that customers can’t buy from someone else for about the same price, about the same quality, about the same level of service and about the same features. In his book Start with Why, wise TED Speaker and author, Simon Sinek states that from business to politics, manipulations run rampant in all forms of sales and marketing. Typical manipulations include: dropping the price; running a promotion; using fear, peer pressure or aspirational messages; and promising innovation to influence behavior—be it a purchase, a vote or support. When companies or organizations do not have a clear sense of why their customers are their customers, they tend to rely on a disproportionate number of manipulations to get what they need. And for good reason. Manipulations work.
Yet, what most of the businesses miss is that “the price they pay for the money they make” is rather high when they use above-mentioned manipulation (aka- marketing) techniques. Manipulations work, but they cost money. Lots of money. When the money is not as available to fund those tactics, not having a loyal following really hurts. On the other hand, manipulations lead to transactions, not loyalty. In contrast, members of a community happily use the producs and services among their tribe! and help them in tough times.
How to build a community? Start with these tips.
No matter it’s an event, startup team or a company board, we always build the community first and here is how we do it.
Do your research
Once you have a clear idea of the community you want to build, it’s important to do extensive research to find the main challenges of the people involved. Also similar, existing communities may be important to identify. Learn about these groups and see how they engage with their members. Maybe even join a few and take note of things that you like and dislike. Pay attention to the content that’s shared and how they operate.
Give people a reason, a purpose to gather around and gather for.
To understand this, your first need to understand the nature of “change”. I have already described my 8 tools to understand and manage change within a community here in this article. My favorite tool is the Change Formula or the Change Equation to use as our mind tool to understand the root cause of the community we want to build. This equation is simple: “DxVxFs>R”. It supports the relationship between Dissatisfaction with how things are now, Vision of what is possible, First concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision; to be multiplied together to be greater than the Resistance. Because D, V, and F are multiplied, if anyone is absent (zero) or low, then the product will be zero or low and therefore not capable of overcoming the resistance.
When these three factors are defined, then it’s in the hand of your imagination to make the cause so visual people trust in that vision. You need to communicate it well. Here’s how you might have an edge:
- Fix what’s wrong: maybe you’re interested in an area inundated with bad networking options. For example, I haven’t seen one sizable group that hosts recruiter events with consistency in Tehran. Figure out what they’re doing wrong and do it right.
- Connect around shared experiences: perhaps there’s something different about you that doesn’t have a local community. Find specific similarities in groups over which you can immediately form a bond.
- Segment an existing group: search at your existing networks and find a niche. Maybe you have a strong alumni network, but do they have a focus on tech? It’s much easier and less competitive to build community at the cross-section of multiple interests.
- Change the mode of connection: stop meeting over demo days, happy hours, and panels.
When you build a community around multiple ideas, you’ve narrowed the focus. Those easy conversations are necessary to form your group’s base. Design your community with that in mind.
Foster engagement between community members
You’re the leader of your community. If your community, was a city, you would be the mayor. And in cities, people don’t just engage with the mayor! They communicate with each other, too, and form relationships. One of the cornerstones of building a true community is facilitating relationships and engagement between your readers. Most brands struggle with creating a true community because the only communication that exists is between the brand and the consumer. Foster engagement between community members. Encourage them to respond to one another’s comments on social media, do outdoor activities, and introduce them whenever sounded reasonable. Bring them together.
Adopt the “By Community for Community” policy
Most of the long-lasting communities are “self-evolving” systems. one of the main characteristics of these systems is that after the community members agreed to adopt a certain set of values, they themselves find the opportunity to contribute to those values, add/remove parts of them. Evolution of a community depends on educated community members who have the best interest of that community in heard (because it’s a part of who they are), and contribute to the cause they collectively define.
Publicize the existence of the community
If you’re going to all the trouble of catalyzing a community, don’t hide it under a bushel. Your community should be an integral part of your sales and marketing efforts. In my experience, the most effective way to do so is face-to-face conversations. Already existing community members should be advocates of the community values and speak about the existence of their community whenever sounded reasonable.
Before you start thinking about creating a community, remember these two things:
- Don’t make friends just to make friends. Build the right community who will give you the strength to act on your ideas and inspire you to be the best version of you.
- Building and growing a community is so much more about what you put in than what you get out.