We'll take community seriously when it's embedded into the product experience

We'll take community seriously when it's embedded into the product experience

TLDR; The best community experiences are custom built.

Here's the thing about good community: it blends in so well that you can't even pinpoint what is community and where it is happening.

It just exists. You know community is there when you walk in the door. It is part of who we are. It's how we show up. It is what we do, and don't do. Whether it's a community of place, practice or product, in great communities you can't separate it.

It's how talk and what we say. It's what we wear. It's what we stick on our walls. It is the things we create. It is the stories we share and the things we care about.

And all of this means that containing a community in a specific location becomes hard, if not impossible.

And perhaps this is why generic community tools often struggle to find success, we try to insert them in. And we wave πŸ‘‹ and point πŸ‘‰ to where community is happening. But we don't want to go there to have community, we just want to be and have it an active part of who we are and what we do.

When people don't follow the waves πŸ‘‹ and points πŸ‘‰ we are made to feel like we don't contribute to community. That's not a great feeling to be feeling. But that is what is happening. We don't want to have conversations or take action in a separate community space, we want to do it where we are and as part of our every day lives.

Conversations are an important and perhaps foundational part of community, but there is much more to community than to always be conversing. We need to do things. Take action. Showcase our work. And perhaps most importantly, we need to make caring as easy as possible.

Can community exist without care? Every successful community has people that care deeply about their existence.

Is it that we should focus more on care than conversations? How does care show up in community products?

We need more custom built communities

I don't think we'll be taken seriously nor have the true understanding of the power of community until we have more custom built communities. SaaS businesses wouldn't be taken seriously if they all relied on third party tools that all looked the same.

I have a huge soft spot for custom built communities, they are powerful and so valuable. Of course, they are not for everyone. It's a huge commitment to go down that path. I get it.

The rewards can be pretty huge too. Bravado, a sales community, raised $26 million Series B to support their growth plans. It's not just tools that get funding. Communities do too. Of course you could do even better, like Figma, where product and community is combined.

There are no right or wrongs here. What there should be is aspiration to create better, every industry, or niche deserves at least one community striving to make their world a better place. Maybe this post can inspire someone to go and just do that.

Building community into the product

Substack

The Generalist started on Substack, moved away and have just announced they are going to Substack. A big reason is to not manage the tech, but a huge part is also community features.

In their own words:

Reason 3: More community features

Community has always been at the heart of The Generalist. We love finding ways to connect and learn alongside readers and supporters – especially through our private community.

We’re excited to bolster our core offering by experimenting with compelling Substack-specific features like discussion threads, comments, and chat. Each of these open up new possibilities that I think could be really exciting.

One feature we’re excited to introduce straight away is enabling comments for paying members at the bottom of all Generalist pieces. This makes it easy to turn briefings into conversations, and leverage the intelligence and experience of the broader readership.

Really, this is a story about Substack, perceived as a newsletter or publication tool that has embedded community features into their product. Part of it is culture of the Substack way, another part (I believe) is by embedding it into their product and giving their customers flexibility in how to switch features on and off. This is actually pretty magical in practice.

It means there is no real boundary of where the community exists. It is everywhere. It happens in the types of posts, the threads, the commenting, in the chat, the app and people's inbox.

Nice.

Product Hunt

Product Hunt is a community that has been around a good few years as has huge support from the tech and startup world.

Having a custom community means that not only can they create different revenue streams around it (advertising and a couple of subscription based products from what I can see), but they can also play around with how they engage with their community.

They have general discussions (like a forum), but more recently I noticed 'questions' on their homepage. On the face of it, it felt like another way to have forum discussions. This is not the case.

Product Hunt homepage

I'm sure lots more happens around this in the background, data being collected on tools, for example. But also, what's kind of cool is that responding to a question builds up data on your member profile.

My Product Hunt profile with two questions I responded to.

I love this. 😍

One thing I often get frustrated about as a community member is how my contributions often feel like they go unnoticed. What if every contribution mattered and brought value, not only to the community, but to myself?

These are super fun and potentially interesting problems to design and solve.

Indie Hackers

Tapping into a community and building your own list, or following should probably come as standard. At Indie Hackers there is the option to have your own free email list. What a perfect way to tap into a niche and most likely your audience.

Figma

This is Figma. Worth $20b, apparently. And a huge part of it are templates and plugins. Which are, of course, custom built and have community features embedded within. Comments. Likes. Ability to grow and get paid as a professional designer.

What's not to love?

Aspiring to better

The above examples are just the tip of the iceberg, there is so much potential to change and adapt products to become truly community-led.

At least part of the problem we have is that we are not at Community 2.o yet. In addition to that, people still refer to community as tools. As community builders we may understand that tools aren't everything, people outside of our bubble don't.

Every conversation I have with a non-community builder always involves "what tools do you recommend?" Every. Single. Time.

Or from a members perspective, people often saying things like:

"I won't join that community because I'm burnt out on Discord".

Or.

"I just joined a Slack community."

I mean, technically it's not wrong, but it is damaging our ability to do and achieve more.

Community, chat, forum and event tools are cool and they have a place and a need. But a deeper community problem is continuing to exist if we are limited to community tools.

Members need to associate with our communities in terms of how we help them progress and create meaning from their view point of the world. They can still tire out, or be ready to move on to another journey, but at least they hopefully won't associate your community with a specific tool and reject other communities based on that.

Current community tooling can only get you so far. And for what I aspire to, I don't think it's enough.

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