2020 is so full of 💩
I think back to pre-COVID life and realize how easy everything was in comparison to today.
Wishful thinking and all that! We are not in 2019 and we need to look ahead for 2021 and beyond to help create the kind of future we want. Things may return to some kind of normality, but it could take years and it is hard to imagine it ever truly being the same.
Instead of getting down and depressed about it, my strategy to cope is to look to the future and look for better and new ways of doing things — a mindset of starting afresh.
I often feel bad saying it, but COVID has gotten me excited again (a tired kinda excited though!). It's been pretty amazing how so many of us have adapted so quickly and how tech is evolving alongside it too.
New ideas and solutions are appearing everywhere. It's mind-boggling to try to keep up. However, no matter how amazing the innovations are, I'm not sure most of them are aligned with our human, business, and community needs.
My mindset now is to try my best to re-think all the (community) things as if I was starting from scratch. I'm clearing the deck and doing my best to (re)think about what actually brings change and value.
This post is my brain dump of how I'm thinking about this right now. No solutions, just how I’m thinkin’.
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Small is the new big
I've long felt this big push for growth. We value bigger. We value more. I'm not personally against this. Context obviously matters and I also think it is hard to get big without intentionally focusing in on the small.
I can even see it from both sides right now. Indie Hackers is big and it wants to get bigger. Then there is Rosieland, who is intentionally small, it wants to get a bit bigger, but I'm not sure how much bigger at this stage.
With Indie Hackers, my duties are split between dealing with things that big communities need to deal with (lots of writing, moderation and spam, for example), but then I'm also doing my best to find time to do the small things like meetups, helping people one-on-one and looking to spot and support people. I see time and time again that people are yearning for smallness and realness even more now.
With starting Rosieland from scratch I have the wonderful opportunity to do whatever I like! This is actually pretty liberating (and why I love doing my own projects). I can have the flexibility and fun that I don't necessarily get with Indie Hackers. Indie Hackers is a different kind of fun!
I have dreams and aspirations for Rosieland, but I'm choosing to focus on the small things for now. One email at a time. Meeting new people via the meetups. Get conversations going. Slowly getting to know one another. This is all intentionally small because I don't want to jump to assumptions about what my community needs right now.
Another advantage of doing small and intentional things is that (generally speaking and right now) I don't think people want to be pushed into something that is not quite right for them. So by focusing on small, you focus on the relationships and the small progressive steps. Hand on my rosie heart, this is a very valid way of growing any community or business. It should not be dismissed as not being important enough.
Maybe talking about 'small' seems obvious and not insightful, but increasingly I think it is the key to growth, not matter how big or small your community is. It's a chance to slow down, stop, reflect, and evaluate whether what we are doing is actually bringing any value before considering how to make a bigger impact.
Is building relationships online harder?
I'm not sure it's 'statistically' harder to make connections online (though I would love deeper insight into this). Right now I feel it's just different and still new to many of us to do it in an intentional way.
We still have good and valid reasons to connect and build community. People still want to develop relationships. Businesses still need to find ways to grow through people and communities. The need for building relationships isn't going away.
I think as community builders we need the ability and freedom to explore and experiment with how to build better relationships where technology is not the only important factor:
- what are people comfortable doing online?
- are (zoom) calls providing connection and value?
- how are you conversing one on one?
- how can you encourage people to talk and share about who they are?
- if they go quiet and don't participate, will anyone notice?
- do you know what your people would actually prefer?
- what kind of content resonates? Gifs? Emojis? TikTok? Podcasts? Videos?
- what are the best ways to communicate? Some people prefer to talk, others prefer asynchronous approaches. Some prefer being public, others are more private.
- what boundaries do people like to set?
Now is the time to rethink everything
With such a sudden shift to being remote and online, success is not a case of just replicating what we use to do by shifting it online. However, this is what many people have done. 🙈
All of a sudden we are flooded with events and communities everywhere. We've also been inundated with new tech. It's quite frankly hard to keep up.
It feels like we haven't taken the time to stop and think.
- what do the lives of your people look like right now?
- is it fair to expect people to sit/stand through a full day (or even a half day) event from their home?
- how can we gather differently?
- how can we focus in on being super efficient and not waste people's time?
- is what you are doing providing value and helping your community move forward in the world they are living in right now?
We can take 'events' as an example of community building, instead of (multi) day events, consider:
- having watch parties: to help people watch, discuss, and learn things together.
- doing different types of events, for example: tiny events, big events over a longer period of time, AMAs, courses, masterminds, accountability groups, social events, Podcast Clubs, book clubs, 'any kinda' club.
- rituals: being consistent in how you do things helps people understand what and when to expect. I know this certainly helps me, if a community runs an event on the last Friday of a month AND I value it, then I will be more likely to keep an eye out for it.
- having events is just part of the story: what content can you produce from it? Can you summarize it? Cut it up into smaller audio or video chunks? Document it somewhere efficiently so people can access when they are ready?
How do you communicate the culture?
Sometimes the little things can be hard to communicate. The frustrations. The ups, the downs. The celebrations. The stresses. Human traits and quirks.
I currently like the approach of helping people being seen. The things we talk about and the (digital) language we use helps people understand whether they belong.
- be open as a human being
- have empathy for people's situations
- share stories that resonate
- show vulnerability, struggles and mistakes to show others that they can too
- use and understand the language that they like using
- language can extend to things like memes, gifs and emojis
Focus on what you have
With such a dramatic shift to going online it's easy to focus in on the things, behaviors, actions, people, and resources that you don't have.
I'm (generally) a person with a positive mindset, so instead of focusing on what I don't have, I like to focus on what is within my reach.
As an example, in a real life meetup, I would maybe get the chance to speak to no more than a handful of people. Yes there might be 20, 50, 100 people there, but that doesn't mean I, as an attendee, get value from all the people. So if this is the case, why not do micro meetups?With meetups it's also easy to forget how much effort it takes to put on a decent size event.
Having more frequent and smaller events could prove to be much more efficient for community growth.
What do you have access to? Use it to your advantage!
Respectful and efficient marketing
Of course, we are all entitled to do the marketing that we want to do. However, in my rosie life there is no room for fluff and time-wasting.
Rituals as marketing: being consistent with what you do is marketing within itself. Not only do people end up knowing what you offer, they know when it happens and they know where to sign up. Rituals require consistency in what you do. Gentle reminders in these situations is probably all it takes to gain traction that you need.
Calendar invites: if you hold events, rather than emailing people about the details, why not give people the option to have it in their calendar? I've done this partly with Rosieland and Calendly. However, you can also set up a recurring calendar invite that people can opt into.
Respect people's preferences: we know lurkers are people too, right? We know the pandemic can make it hard for people to actually participate in the community. So, why not mix things up? If people can’t find the time to join in then consider providing a recording, a summary, key points, or edited down video. Life these days is too short to wade through content that may or may not provide the value. Now is the time to rethink and experiment on what we offer.
Revamping Business Models
Where community is core to many businesses, COVID has wrecked havoc to so many of them. Honestly, I don't think people are talking enough about this. We can see the companies that are booming, but there are so many who are not sharing the struggles that they are having. And understandably so. It's so painful.
Each situation is so different. Some are worth fighting for. Maybe some are not, it's certainly not fun fighting a losing battle.
It’s not so easy to start afresh with a business that is already running, but COVID could provide the ideal excuse to get rid of parts that you no longer need or want.Now could be the ideal time for you to take a good look at the things you are doing, or the things you have to maintain and determine whether they ‘spark joy’, or not!
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Thanks for reading. 🙏