One thing I've been thinking about recently is how our understanding of our members impacts how we can build community. More specifically — how can we get better at enabling members to discover and connect with each other?
On one hand, people show up in many communities under a specific context and purpose. They may not want to show their whole true selves, that's totally understandable and ok.
In a professional community of practice, for example, the focus is on talking about the ideas that surround that profession. That is what originally enticed people in — the opportunity to be surrounded around like-minded people.
A singular point of interest may not be enough to keep people coming back
Of course for some people it can be enough.
For others, especially those that keep showing up over time, they can't help but seek or stumbleupon more. The longer we hang out in a particular space it becomes impossible to not find out more about people. To not connect on a deeper and more personal level.
Perhaps the tragedy in community is not helping speed up or enable a better connection process. It almost feels like a community sin to not let two people in a room know that there's a very high chance that they would deeply benefit from talking to one another.
In my community or indie founder world I want to know people who are even more like me. For example, as an unschooling parent I've discovered there are a few indie people who are unschoolers too. What would definitely be more meaningful to me would be to find and connect with these indie unschoolers more efficiently.
The simple knowing that we have certain things in common gives us an excuse to connect in a deeper way. To always be talking about professional stuff can be tiresome. As humans, we want and need to connect on multiple levels.
I think to some extent we can (kid ourselves to) think that strict boundaries on how we present ourselves is logical for community profiles. However, when I think about the most special thing about community — it's when people connect over something exciting or special to them. We can be excited about many things.
The conversations with connections create bonds which in turn create a stronger community.
What can we connect over in community?
The question then becomes thinking about the things we could potentially connect over.
This could be:
- an idea
- a location
- a hobby or obsession
- an identity
- personal experiences
- goals, challenges or desires
- how they want to contribute to the community
This is a starting list, not a comprehensive one.
It almost becomes a starting point for thinking about how to maintain a profile of your community. They are community data points that could be hugely valuable to inspire your community to co-create together.
Some community data points could be inputted manually. Other data points could be based on community activity.
For example: WonderfulMember2343 has posted 23 times in the 'growth' channel. Perhaps they love talking 'growth' and that could be a data point on their community profile.
The challenge then becomes making use of the data. To be intentional about it and to not just gather data for the sake of it.
When people join a community...
As a community builder I want to know as much as possible, or as much as is relevant, about our people.
The challenge becomes doing this in a human-driven way where people don't feel like they are being pursued for data around their identity and in a way we can ensure we are being ethical with our activities.
Automation would be useful in some circumstances, though to make it special community input would be essential.
How can we build this into our community habits? To make it a thing that is not reliant on the tech or the 'community team', but to make it more of a community effort?
How can we encourage people to open up and contribute to our community profiles?
- what if people could contribute to the community efforts?
- what if badges and data weren't all from automation?
- what if members could give other members (positive) labels that the member themselves never realised were important?
- how can build habits for community members to contribute to our profiles?
- how can we develop strategies to help people connect?
- what community activities could we design as a result?
- how do we spot potential commonalities?
- how do we protect the people data?