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 society can not feel safe in today’s ever-changing uncertain business environment. On the other hand, a simple google search of the word “community” shows that thought leaders start using the word in their books in the past two centuries, especially after the industrial revolution. In this article, I try to emphasize the shift from traditional ways of getting a message out, to community building and share a collection of tips and best practices on community building. So here is my stab at it.
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 individual attitudes and interests in common. In a seminal 1986 study, McMillan and Chavis identify four elements of “sense of identity” as 1) membership, 2) influence, 3) fulfillment of needs and 4) shared an emotional connection. While this definition makes the understanding of the concept easy, the practice to build a community is so abstract to 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 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 a good reason. Manipulations work.
What most of the businesses miss is that “the price they pay for the money they make” is rather high when they use manipulation mentioned above (aka- marketing) techniques. Manipulations work, but they cost money. Lots of money. When the payment is not as available to fund those tactics, not having a loyal following hurts. On the other hand, manipulations lead to transactions, not loyalty. In contrast, members of a community happily use the products and services among their tribe! And help them in tough times.
How To do a Community Building? Start With These Tips.
No matter it’s an event, startup team, or a company board, we always build the group 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 essential to do extensive research to find the main challenges of the people involved. Also similar, existing communities may be essential 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 eight 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 higher than the Resistance. Because D, V, and F are multiplied, if anyone is absent (zero) or low, then the product will be zero or small 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 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 more comfortable 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 natural 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 were 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 real community is facilitating relationships and engagement between your readers. Most brands struggle with creating a real 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 particular set of values, they find the opportunity to contribute to those values, add/remove parts of them. The evolution of a community depends on educated community members who have the best interest of that community is 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 it sounded reasonable.
Before you start thinking about creating a community, remember these two things:
- Don’t make friends. Build the right community that 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.