The goal of community is not engagement

I've spoken about visions and not ideas in the past and how important it is to work towards and believe in something greater than one specific idea or project.

This week's post comes inspired by Rob Fitzpatrick and Community Camp. Earlier this week we held a space to talk about how four people started their communities, Rob was one of them.

For context, Rob has had some great success with writing books, The Mom Test being the most recognised book. Since then he's started a community to help people write useful books.

What makes a community successful?

One thought I have is that a successful community evolves around one core concept:

Getting people from A to Z.

How it happens varies. Everyone engages in different ways. Everyone seeks different opportunities. Everyone has different needs. It is this variety that makes community building so hard to measure.

Sometimes people need hand-holding for a long time.

Sometimes people just need a space to drop in, ask a question and get a good answer.

Sometimes people just want to read, watch discreetly and explore rabbit holes.

Sometimes people just have a lot going on in their own life.

Some people love written words. Others love audio or video.

We're all different, but mostly we all have some kind of personal goals we'd love to achieve.

When we think of community in this way, it becomes crazy to think we should measure the success of it on engagement. Engagement is almost irrelevant. What is important is if the community and the people within it are getting from A to Z.

What do your people want to achieve?

In Rob's case, his community is still very small and he felt iffy about focusing on vanity metrics. It felt wrong to be chasing and monitoring the discussions. And the more he thought about it the more he felt that a better thing to focus on, as a measurement of success, is how many people can he help write a bestselling book?

After all, that's really what everyone who joins his community wants. Their basic goal is to write a book, but really it's to write a book that people read. The icing on the cake is achieving the dream of a best-selling book.

When I was doing Ministry of Testing, my mind was always on how can I improve the industry and create better testers. This is a similar mindset. I kept an eye on things like discussions and traffic. I did things to create a great environment, but I didn't do it for engagement's sake. I did it because I believed that we needed to create better testers. All the things I did was in hope and belief that it would nudge people and the industry forward.

An online forum was part of that, as were a multitude of other things β€”for example, giving people opportunities, publishing, and running conferences. When I look at Ministry of Testing, for me it has been a success. Not because of money it has made. Nor the engagement that we can see. But more because it has changed software testers lives for the better. In the time of it's existence, the industry has shifted, and I believe Ministry of Testing had a big part to play in that.

But I can't measure all of it.

Community is only part of the business picture

I think the reality is that when we build community, it is not just community we are building. We need to become problem solvers. Communities are the ultimate 'mom test'. The discussions people have. The things they share. The struggles they deal with. All of these types of things are often openly, or semi-openly shared within community.

The challenge for communities, or the companies that support communities, becomes is solving people's problems. Only some of this can be dealt with directly via community.

In Rob's, Write Useful Books community. He can bring in experts to deliver value. He can help answer people's questions, as can the community. However, it can be a hamster wheel if we don't seek to do more than just that.

For now, Rob has written a book on how to write a book (how meta) to help people too. He's also building software to help people write books. There are now bestselling authors who can connect their success back to Rob.

When we start seeing it this way, we can see that community is core as a foundation, but what rises up from it does not necessarily look like community.

Looking at the whole picture

From this perspective, we need to start looking at community in a different light.

It's not about how much, or how active, or having an upwards growth chart.

It's understanding that investing in community gives you the roots and foundation to build many amazing things. I believe people are starting to see this. We can't just 'market' to people, increasingly people don't care, or don't listen.

The way through this is to build the trust through community, so that when you do have something to market, not only will people listen, they will also happily believe and share on your behalf.


How can we build better communities?

We are on a quest to learn and explore what makes great communities.


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