In the world of community, I feel we have two big problems.
One of them is falling into the waterfall-esque trap creating too many things up front and then hoping it all works out. We still seem to be working towards 'big launches' rather than iterating.
The other is simply not doing enough research. I keep seeing it time and time again—people are excited about community and they want to dive straight into the 'community tools' without thinking of all the things that are needed first.
This becomes apparent when people get stuck and ask questions like:
- what tools should I use to build community?
- my community is dead and conversations are just not happening, how do I fix this?
- I've launched, what do I do now?
These are symptoms of an underlying problem that we don't truly seek to understand our people and how they fit into the visions we have.
My personal solution to this is to pitch the idea of starting any community project with community discovery.
Why community discovery?
My quick way of framing community discovery is to call it research. We're looking into things. We're trying to understand the landscape and the people around us. We want to understand their pains and challenges and learn to read their minds.
As we are building communities, this 'research' needs to be very hands-on and people-focused. It's not static. It requires some lurking, some conversations, some knowledge and definitely some creativity.
At the core of this, community discovery will help us understand our people better and as a result, build better communities and products for them.
It's not about asking people what they want and then just giving it to them. It's about becoming an expert and helping design experiences and products for and with your people. Increasingly community builders will become product people, communities are products too.
My gut says that we will see community discovery evolve as a practice over the coming years. There will be no one way to do it. We will have a toolkit of good ideas and good practice on the things we should do before and during community building.
I'm at the very early stages of trying to evolve this practice even if it has been 18 months of thinking and evolving thoughts around it.
So, what really is community discovery?
The work you need to do to help you build relationships, do research and make informed community decisions with confidence.
- helps you build the community you and your people want
- aligns community efforts with business needs
- equips you with insights and confidence
- helps find people and build foundational relationships
- helps you research and understand your ecosystem
- focuses on community outcomes and opportunities
- guides your Minimum Viable Community experiments
We will always fail, but taking the time to explore, become aware and be informed reduces the risks we face in community building.
How do we do community discovery?
This is the question. And it's a very big one.
I don't think there is any one solution. In time, as an industry, we will find good strategies and tactics to approach community discovery. The approaches we will end up choosing will vary between industries and communities.
And yes, the idea of community discovery comes from product discovery, but we cannot just copy and paste ideas from product. We can be inspired, but community is special and different. We need our own ways of figuring out what truly works.
“Rosie, it’s like you read my mind”
Is a comment I get a lot.
I joke that maybe I'm born with it, or maybe it’s Community Discovery. 😅
The reality is that people think that I read their minds because I have taken the time to connect and do research.
- to find out what troubles or challenges people
- how they (really) feel
- what is lacking
- the direction people want to head
- talk about the things that matter
- potential solutions to their problems
I believe a big part community discovery is about becoming an expert in your ecosystem—how can you help people if you don’t understand your surroundings?
Being an ecosystem and community expert does not mean having all the answers, it's more about:
- understand the past and present
- understand what makes the ecosystem
- have your eye on trends
- be able to help and guide people in the right direction
- work with others to create solutions to problems
This is a super important perspective because your work in the ecosystem ends up forming your community. It matters. It is not time wasted. This is how communities are built.
The community discovery series
This is a start of a community discovery series that I will continue evolving over time.
Approaches to community discovery:
- First study your people
- My current approach to content creating and note taking with community in mind
- To start a community, create a surround system
- Perhaps the goal for communities is to become relevant
- Understand the ecosystem
- Continuous conversations
- How to capture in community
- Immerse yourself (coming soon)
- Opportunity logging (coming soon)
- Community confidence (coming soon)
- [submit your community discovery idea to Rosieland] 😇