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Truths About Building Community

This post is inspired by a conversation with @billhandy and @freshpeel on Twitter, and by Bill’s (lengthy, but good) post about the science behind communities.

My key takeaways/thoughts on the subject are:

Bigger isn’t necessarily better
The ties in your community matter
Work yourself out of a job if you want to matter long-term

Bigger isn’t necessarily better because the value of a community must be defined through a particular set of lenses. Think about the value of your home. The key question is… value to whom? We all think about value of a home as the price we’d get if we sold it to another person interested in living in it. What about the value of your home as potential raw material for a new project? The value of just the land your home is on, to a non-residential user? The value of the goods/furnishing inside? The lens used to evaluate value makes a difference. You need to define the purpose of a community before you can assess its value. If the purpose is to create “a community of bicycle enthusiasts” you need to re-think. You’ve defined who you’re after (bicycle enthusiasts) but not WHY they’ve come and WHAT you hope they’ll do for or be to each other. A better purpose (lens) would be seeking to create “A place where bicycling enthusiasts can share knowledge about the best trails/rides so others can discover and enjoy them, too.”

NOW we have something… we know we’re seeking current riders to anchor the community (new riders would be welcome, but won’t necessarily have the foundational knowledge about best trails/rides to share). We know we’ll need to try to build that community in a space where sharing and organizing information, including potentially maps, photos, written descriptions, even user calendars, will be easy and seamless. We know that search/discovery within the community will be important. AND… if we build it smartly, we can define value to potential marketers of trail-proven cycles, gear, lodging and food/supplies.

ALSO… we have a community built on shared, strong affinity for not just a hobby (cycling) but a particular aspect/segment of that hobbyist community (longer rides/trails/trips). The strength of the ties in your community matter… they’ll drive longevity and advocacy. If people self-identify as belonging to that group, our carefully constructed place should give them a portal to other like-minded individuals and space to share their passion. They’ll seek out others to join who also share that passion if they love the space.

The group’s owner/moderator won’t matter… the group’s own cohesion will serve as glue. If you successfully work yourself out of a job building the community, the value of that community as a sellable, marketable thing increases. “Ownership” can be transferred easily since the group’s members feel ownership… it’s their space. If the community remains a hub-and-spoke connection (each person individually connected to the center, but not many community-member interactions) it’s in danger of becoming irrelevant, regardless of how large it is at the moment. Miley Cyrus had a huge Twitter following. She quit Twitter. Other than tweets lamenting the fact that she’s gone, that community is fast becoming irrelevant on Twitter.

So… to wrap it all up:

Know why you’re building a community, regardless of the venue.

Have a clear purpose and direction and take deliberate actions so you attract the right kind of self-elected community members.

Make it a place where people are there for the THE BIG IDEA so the community won’t falter if you need to back away.

What do you think… how do you best build community?

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