I’ve been stumbling upon flywheels recently, mostly in the context of marketing and business building and it (naturally!) got me thinking about how they could apply to community building.
The way I see flywheels from a community perspective is figuring out which actions support and complement one another to lead to a sustainable or growing community.
So I went hunting for examples from my experiences of communities that I have helped build. I have a few to write about, I’ll share them over a series of posts.
First up, and probably the hardest to write, is the community culture flywheel.
Why a community culture flywheel?
When I look at Indie Hackers and Ministry of Testing I know for a fact that these communities have grown largely down to the culture that they have set. In both cases these communities have positive cultures that have had a natural flywheel effect to help them grow.
Each community will have its own culture that it will identify with. Tune into what you feel your community identifies with.
This flywheel is a bit of a ‘big one’ that encompasses so many parts of a community. To be honest it is quite hard to specifically pin down.
- Conversations: the types of conversations that happen define the culture
- People: the conversations help bring the right kind of people
- Sentiments: how everyone feels will determine if people give back
I haven’t thought deeply enough about the actual definition of culture and community. If I go down that route, I may never get anything written. For now, I feel that the conversations, people and sentiments probably define a culture well enough for this purpose. I will probably refine this over time. 🤷🏽♀️
Just so you know, my community building flywheels have squiggly lines because I believe the community journey is never smooth. Marketing flywheels are smooth because they like things (to look) polished. 😅
Diving into the Community Culture Flywheel
The conversations that people have are a huge part of setting the culture of your community. The vision you have. The words you use. The way you use them. The topics you talk about. The way you talk to people.
All these kind of things have a huge impact on what the culture ends up being.
Are you fun? Serious? Relevant? Helpful? Do you give more than you take? Are you inclusive? Do you show empathy? Where do you see your community heading?
I don’t believe you need to overthink this, it will likely be something that is forever changing. However, being aware of the types of conversations you want to host is important. It helps you focus in on your goals and guide the conversations that you do have.
And whilst you may have a certain amount of influence about the conversations that happen within your community, the conversations that happen and that you attract outside of your community have a big influence too.
People will see you and your people as the community 24/7. You can’t be super nice in your community and and idiot outside of it. It just won’t work. The same applies for all your people.
Conversations everywhere matter.
You want your people to talk in the way that you aspire your community to be. This is not in a brainwashing way. It’s more of a statement: this is who we are, come be like this with us if you identify with it too.
This is easier said than done, maintaining ongoing, useful and aligned conversations is an art within itself.
The conversations end up happening in whatever medium is relevant. These days we tend to identify with things like: forums, podcasts, blog posts, conferences, meetups. Of course the tools are important, but not so much for this conversation. The tools change, the general principles don’t.
The conversations bring the people
The conversations will naturally drive the right kind of people to you. That is the dream, at least!
I think this is why I personally believe and prefer in not pushing community growth unnaturally. The right conversations need to happen to bring the right kind of people.
Pushing growth with things like ads can often have an undesired cultural impact. That ends up being more like a funnel, pushing people down one path as quickly as possible. Someone arriving into your community without an understanding of the conversations that have happened will have a much harder time getting acclimatised to their surroundings.
The conversations that they would’ve been a part of would have developed some kind of trust in your community, but you need to build upon that.
As people arrive you need strategies to bring them into the conversations, for example:
- Registering: you’ll want them to register to something (email, profile account, etc)
- Onboarding: educating new people as they come on board
- Keeping in the loop: how will you keep in touch? How will they remember to come back? What nice email strategies can you use? How can you be most useful to them?
- Building rapport, relevance and encouragement: how will you get your people to want to come back?
The people define the sentiment
How people feel is incredibly important for communities. When you are starting out it often falls on the founder’s shoulders. However, as a community grows and scales it relies on everybody adopting the appropriate behaviour.
People need to feel:
- belonging: how do they feel like they are a part of this journey?
- purpose: they are there for a reason, is their purpose being fulfilled? (Learning, helping, solving problems, etc)
- respect: is everyone respected and treated well? Is the community well moderated?
- valued: is what they are bringing to the table of value?
- or, gaining value: are they becoming someone better as a result of being there.
When you manage to make people get something good out of spending their precious time in your community, the chances are they will come back and contribute to the conversation.
Positive Culture Flywheel at Indie Hackers
So lets’ bring this idea and see how it applies to Indie Hackers. As mentioned previously, Indie Hackers has a huge culture of positivity.
The conversations that happen around Indie Hackers:
- Indie Hackers started with text based interviews. These set the tone and standard of the conversation of what being an indie hacker meant.
- focused on being open: through interviews, podcasts, milestones and forum discussions. It is all about being open and truthful about the journey.
- educational and helpful: people share ideas, tips and experiences openly and from direct experience
- attention to detail: we focus in on the details, encourage people to write their best, format things well, clearly and visually.
- Twitter: we encourage and facilitate similar conversations through our Twitter account
- Community elsewhere: people are generally very supportive of Indie Hackers, talk about us. This is mostly on Twitter, Hackernews, YouTube and blog posts.
- amplifying the best: we focus in on ensuring the best and most relevant discussions get seen. The ones that don’t align with our vision are still there, just not as much visibility.
These conversations then bring in the people that need to be within Indie Hackers:
- they hear stories of business success and are intrigued
- they see people can start from scratch and they want in on that
- they see that they are welcomed and being helped, they then welcome and help further down the line
- they see that the people that are talking about Indie Hackers and the people seem like good people
- they see that generally speaking there is only good and positive talk
- they participate because they identify with the vision
When people participate in Indie Hackers they feel like they belong and are experiencing an exciting and relatable business journey to other indie hackers.
Even if they don’t have time to participate they can gain lots of value just by reading things that are going on. They can grow by lurking and also by participating. This brings appreciation for what Indie Hackers is.
Even if they don’t participate, they pass on the appreciation and recommendation of Indie Hackers to others.
Often people will lurk and say thank you months or years later.
Those that do participate get lots more value. They get feedback directly related to their challenges. They connect within and outside of the community. They start or attend meetups. They get relevant and actionable advice from a variety of perspectives to help them grow their business.
Whilst many conversations revolve around positive and growing stories, indie hackers rally around each other when they are feeling unsure, troubled, challenged or when they have experienced failure.
All of these types of experiences encourage indie hackers to start conversations. Some of these are within the Indie Hackers website, but many exist outside. Many that we will never actually hear.
Of course, we are not perfect, and not all conversations will be positive, but overall we trust and believe that the general sentiments of our people encourage more conversations to happen, wherever they may be.