Along with the excitement of launching a new community comes the realisation that you need to be the one to initiate all of the early interactions until the group has grown to the point where they happen organically. This is one of the biggest challenges that new community builders face. Many communities that are started with the best of intentions never really make it off the starting blocks because the person building them expects everyone else to be as excited about growing things as they are.
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It can be tough to admit, but you need to come to the realisation that no one in your community will be as passionate and dedicated as you. So what can you do about it?Tweet
It can be tough to admit, but you need to come to the realisation that no one in your community will be as passionate and dedicated as you. As such, you need to be intentional about creating connections between people, even if it feels forced at first. Others will be invested to varying degrees, but never as much as you.
So what can you, a builder of a new community, do about this? How can you elevate your burgeoning community from freshly formed to deeply connected?
I believe there are three things you can provide that will pave the way to natural, organic, and authentic connections between members of any community. So let me introduce you to the three S’s of creating community connections.
The first thing people need in order to form connections is the space to do so. That may seem incredibly obvious, but as the person encouraging these connections, you need to put some thought into it. This space needs to serve the needs of your community effectively – what kind of people are you wanting to attract? How many people do you anticipate will join you? How do you want them to interact?
You may not know the answers to all of those questions up front, especially when forming a new community, so a good exercise to go through is creating a membership identity for your group. No matter who you are wanting to bring into your community, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of considerations to take into account when selecting what platforms your community will use to connect:
- Live interactions
- Asynchronous conversations
- Moderation tools
- Open-source licencing
So you have a space (or multiple linked spaces) where your community meets. That’s great! At this point, many community builders take the Field of Dreams approach of “if you build it, they will come” (although my mind always goes to the Wayne’s World parody first). They feel like they’ve set up a comfortable space for people to connect so they step back to await the inevitable influx of people excited to become a part of this new space.
Does taking an approach of “if you build it, they will come” work for communities?Tweet
Except that isn’t how it works – anyone who has tried that approach has ultimately been disappointed as one of two things has happened: either no one shows up and the community never actually gets off the ground, or people do show up and the community ends up growing in a direction that was never intended. Clearly, neither of these outcomes is desirable, so what can a budding community builder do about it?
The answer is to provide structure to the space.
This structure will look different depending on your needs and what kinds of conversations you want to encourage. It can take many shapes, but the most common thing that forms the backbone of a community structure is a code of conduct. A structure refers to the rules and guidelines your community has that tells them how they are expected to behave, interact and connect.
This structure can be as loosely or tightly defined as you like – that all depends on your community and what kind of culture you’re wanting to create. You might make it very open and allow discussions about any topic, or you might decide you don’t want your community to include contentious topics, like politics. You might be explicit about how people ask questions, what they can post on certain days of the week, or even who you allow into your community.
When crafting your community structure don’t be afraid to set tight rules – many people’s natural instinct is to think their community must be all things to all people, but more often than not that ends badly as you end up with people turning your community a toxic place, even if they don’t do it intentionally. Placing restrictions on how people interact can actually make your community more attractive to people who would otherwise feel unsafe if they were to join. As the person initiating the community, you’re in a unique position to set things up for success so make sure you put some real thought into it – not to mention that changing the structure once your community is active can be a significant challenge.
By this stage, you’ve given people a place to connect and you’ve provided a framework for how they can interact safely. You’re off to a great start, but what comes next? You’re still firmly in “if you build it, they will come” territory, so what’s the next step that can really kick conversations into high gear?
You need to do what any good leader does – lead by example. In a community context like this, that means you need to seed discussions. You need to create relevant content, initiate conversations and guide people to connect.
This could be you posting questions on your community platform to encourage discussion, actively introducing two people to each other, sharing relevant articles and asking direct questions about what people think about it, or any other number of things to spark conversations that lead to personal connections.
The idea behind these seeds you plant is that they will grow and flourish into a community full of healthy, vibrant discussions that happen smoothly and organically, allowing you to step back from planting and allow things to happen within the structure you have provided.
If you follow these three S’s you’ll find yourself in a position where people feel comfortable initiating their own conversations and connecting with each other without you prompting them to do so.Tweet
If you follow these three S’s you’ll find yourself in a position where people feel comfortable initiating their own conversations and connecting with each other without you prompting them to do so. By giving them the space and structure to meet you have provided a safe platform for connection, then by seeding content and conversations you have given people implicit permission to create connections on their own.
This isn’t a magic bullet (to be honest, that doesn’t really exist in this context) and it will only be as effective as you allow it to be, but it’s the best way to set you and your community up for success.