It's no secret that community is hot. 🔥
In days gone by, people would respond to a trend by saying:
- create a blog!
- start a startup or SaaS!
- create a mobile app!
- create a course!
- write a book!
Now it's 'you should start a community'.
The pressure is real. And here is an example.
With the community craze comes the problem that people don't really understand what they are asking for. Community is hard. Perhaps harder than writing a book. Often harder than starting a business. And it's certainly easier to start a blog than it is a community.
I'm convinced that people (unknowingly) lie when they say they want community. They are in love with the idea and the outcome, but not necessarily the implementation or responsibility.
Do they really want to put the effort in to create value? Or are they more interested in just extracting from it?
Community still feels fluffy
I feel part of the problem is not understanding what community is. Or perhaps not being able to explain it well. Heck, even I feel like I should be able to explain it better. A community these days can be so many things. If we better understood community and how to approach it, then maybe we would understand what it takes to build one.
And of course, if everyone understood what it takes to build and be a part of a community, then we wouldn't jump to suggesting to start a community.
Community is hard to conceptualize
I like the word 'struggling to conceptualize' phrase Michele used. I have a feeling people will come into two main categories. Those that can conceptualize and those that can't. There is probably merit in looking at community from both angles. It's a bit like a good cop and bad cop scenario.
If you can conceptualize a community:
- you can start creating a vision
- you can imagine the best possible outcome
- your ideas and creative juices will overflow
- you won't be lacking potential ideas
- you'll think of all the value you can add
- you'll get excited by the potential
If you can't conceptualize a community:
- you'll question the reason for its existence
- you'll think about all the things that will cause it to fail
- you'll think how hard it will be
- you'll question what actually needs to be done
- you'll wonder if people are even interested
- you'll be thinking what people would actually want (to do)
- you'll get stressed and confused by the amount of work involved
It's healthy to look at things from both perspectives, to come to some kind of middle ground, I like to think it may help keep you grounded.
Yet, the question still remains. What do you do with that urge to build community? Or what do you do when people recommend you should build community?
Practice drilling down
I don't think requests for building community should be ignored. I would see them more as sign that you may want to explore them.
When you are asked to build community, try asking some questions:
- why are they specifically requesting a community?
- what communities are they a part of?
- how long have they stayed part of a community?
- how do they learn day to day?
- what has been their best past community experience?
- where did they meet their friends or professional colleagues?
- do they pay for any existing communities?
- how have they contributed to past communities?
- what specific value have they gotten?
- would they like to help volunteer in your community?
- what have they given to the community?
- would they be up for hosting or speaking at an event?
- how has a previous community changed their life?
You can flip most of these questions into questions about your potential future community, however asking about how they've been involved in past communities (or not), might shed some light on whether they realize what they are asking for.
Communities don't just happen
Then comes the other angle of this perception that one can just whip up a community. When you look under the hood of the majority of communities, they have been evolving and growing over a relatively long period of time.
They'll end up with things like a forum or some good looking website after (potentially) years of ideation and work. Of course, this is not always true, but it is the most common path.
Perhaps it is because of this thing that 'communities don't just happen' that they become hard to conceptualize. It's hard to see through the woods. It's hard to know where to start. It's hard to know what will work.
And it's because of this, that often I say, don't call it community. You don't deserve community at the beginning. You haven't proven yourself. You don't know if you truly want it. You don't know if you'll get it or deserve it.
However, before any community appears people have to do things to step towards community. The best way I can explain that these days is to say conversations are the foundation of community.
- talk to people
- host events
- go to events
- ask people their opinions
- encourage people to respond to emails
- contribute and ask for contributions
- comment on people's content
I don't think we can have community without conversations. Nor can we have clarity for what a community needs without those conversations. The conversations lead to the community, to the culture, to bringing form to what we can actually conceptualize.