October 10, 2020

Building community with kindness

topics: kindness, articles, strategy
Rosie Sherry
The other day I was reminded of what I often preach: be kind and rosie in everything you do.

Those that have followed me or listened to podcasts that I've spoken on will know that I refer to being kind and doing kind things to build community.

However, I feel like the instant reaction to this kind of talk is:

"But kindness is not a proper business strategy!"

"Kindness doesn't scale!"

"Kindness is not measurable or repeatable!"

I have an emoji response for all that: 🐴💩

Let us dive into the idea a little bit more, first with an example of kindness in action.

Modern day indie kindness in action


Adam is mostly a lurker at Indie Hackers. He had been part of the community for 2 years, but never participated.

Until he posted this:

These types of stories often appeal to indie hackers as there are so many people wanting to leave their day job to build their own thing. In this instance, it is somewhat more appealing because Adam was leaving a well-known company (and likely well paid) gig.

This naturally raises curiosity amongst the community.

I took a quick look at his Indie Hacker profile and read his post. I upvoted and commented, however, I decided to take it a bit further with kindness at the core of my intentions. I went hunting on his website for ideas and I found something that I could give.

I saw on his website that he had written some things about mental models for developers that I knew would appeal to the Indie Hacker community. So I thought I would be kind and share it, in a tweet, as follows.

https://twitter.com/IndieHackers/status/1307068891248709632

49 likes and 16 tweets is not bad going. Not viral, but it's enough to give Adam feedback, followers, and some new email subscribers. I never asked for anything in return. Nor did I ever tell him the tweet was coming.

Along the way, I subscribed to his newsletter and as I was catching up on my overloaded inbox I caught sight of something. This is something of a win to me. 🎉


I have no idea how big his newsletter is, but that is not the point. This stuff can happen on all scales. Followers or no followers. Influencer or no influencer. Be kind and people will do things like this to help you grow.

This, my friends, is kindness driven growth in action.

People will naturally and willingly reciprocate kindness. And more importantly, these words are genuine. We never asked this of him, just like he never asked for the promotion from us. Our actions came from our desire to do so.

I'm also pretty sure this kind of action takes much less time to prepare and converts much better than any kind of ad. At least from me, it was about 20 minutes of effort all in.

Kindness is at the heart of building community, maybe...


I put maybe in there to protect myself from being told I'm wrong. 🤣

I feel like kindness is at the heart of building a community, but I also feel like I need to evolve my thinking on this. Perhaps in time it will develop into something else, most likely there are a bunch of things that are at the heart of community building, not just kindness.

When I think about kindness, it is more than just 'kindness', it's more about the culture of kindness and what that brings to the community as a whole.

If people are kind, they are considerate. They are thoughtful. They explore differing perspectives. They seek understanding. They think of things from different perspectives. They try to be fair. They give what is within reach.

As a community founder, if you are kind, it will develop a culture of kindness. People will come and if they stay they will mimic what you do.

This will naturally evolve into an amazing flywheel of kindness. People will come to know kindness as something that is just another part of who the community is.

We can compare kindness to more ‘traditional business’, where things are transactional:

You do x. Someone pays you y.

You want a product. You pay $99 for it. There is no essential further commitment.

You perform a service. You get paid an agreed $1000 fee. Everyone is hopefully happy. And the transaction is closed.

You work for someone with an agreed role for ‘40 hours a week’. You get paid an agreed salary.

The boundaries and deliverables are super clear. If you don't deliver you will get penalised, financially, legally or reputation wise. It's all focused on transactions. There is no commitment to over-deliver, or be overly kind.

In fact, people may even become suspicious of you if you are too kind in your actions. Crazy I know!

They say kindness doesn't scale...


Maybe people are right when they believe that kindness is unrealistic. I'm sure I can be given explanations or examples of when kindness hasn't worked well.

Dare I say that perhaps some of the most influential people in history have acted from kindness in their heart. Ghandi and Mother Teresa (who I once met and maybe she infected me! 🙏) spring to mind.

Perhaps these are silly examples to relate to, but oh my, didn't they build great communities around their kindness and commitment to action?

I can also tap into my own personal experience of building kindness into the culture of Ministry of Testing. We grew to $1.5 million annual revenue with zero ad spend and mostly just focusing on being good and kind to the community we served.

My belief is that kindness can scale, but it needs to be baked into the culture. And it needs to be done without the expectation of getting anything in return. You do good things because it is right and because you can. You also trust that you will grow as a result, whilst also accepting the fact that there is a good chance you won't grow at all, and that's ok too because you have grown yourself and you have done what you believed is right.

Some ideas of how you can be kind in the context of modern-day and online communities


Maybe you still feel like it’s a bit of fluff.

Here are some practical ideas of how you can be kind in today's world.

Notice people


At the heart of being human is wanting to be seen. In a culture of 'influencers' there are people everywhere who are not seen and deserve to be noticed.

Be that person who notices the quiet ones. Who reaches out to them. Notices something positive. Help them out. Smile to help break awkwardness.

How to notice people:

  • Look at your followers
  • Research your people
  • Connect with them on a personal level
  • Talk to them

There are people everywhere that want to be noticed.

Look for what people don't have


Life is a bit of a marketplace, and to be fair, it is not a balanced one. Many of us have things that people need and can't have. If you have something that people would value, how can you give it to them?

Look at what you have, maybe people:

  • Just want people to talk to
  • A shoulder to cry on
  • Or are desperate for an opportunity
  • Some work experience
  • A chance to speak, write or raise their awareness
  • Have an idea worth listening to
  • A free pass to a product you offer

Find things that you can give with no expectations in return.


Listen to people


Sometimes people just need the gift of being listened to. And by listening you can end up being given a gift of a new perspective.

The more you listen, the more you will understand.

The more you understand, the more you can give.


Give out invitations


Ever not been invited to a event that you would have loved to go to?

Be that person who is inclusive and thoughtful. That person who looks for people who would grow from having the opportunity to meet new people.

Look and reach out to people personally to invite them along. It doesn’t have to be for your own event, have an attitude of being inclusive in all the things you do.


Small doses of kindness is a habit


How can you build kindness into everything you do?

The words you use. The things you choose to uplift. How often you do it.

"That's a great idea!"

"I like the perspective on this."

"You are right, I never looked at it from that perspective."

"I really appreciate you taking the time to share this."

The little things matter more than you think.


Pause before responding


Especially when someone is wrong on the internet. 🤣

Often we think we have to resolve problems straight away. Sometimes what we need to do is take a step back and think about all the right and kind things we could do to improve the situation.


Focus on the positive


The trolls shan't rule the internet. Sometimes the best way we can be kind is to not allow them into our worlds.

I still have fear of trolls, spammers and all those kind of people. My solution is to ignore and remove them without getting involved in demands. I have one life to live and I ain't spending it on them.

Focus on change and action


At the end of the day, I believe being kind is about focusing in on things that matter. Making change. Creating action to make that change.

This is even more apparent in the COVID, BLM and frankly messed up world we live in now.

I can talk about the things that I believe I did to help people and be kind, but there’s a huge chance they are insignificant to you and your situation.

The conversations we have and the people we meet have the power to change our world, and the world.

It’s not about quantity of conversations, it’s about the quality. And honestly, a dozen of strong relationships can make a huge impact on the world.

A dozen.

How can you make a dozen, meaningful relationships, that have kindesss at the heart of them?

Tell us!

And of course, ask me anything that I may have (and probably) missed out.

👇👇👇👇👇
—Rosie Sherry