Community, the (not-so) secret ingredients

com·mu·ni·ty: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals

“Community” sounds soft when associating it with developing strategy, influencing behavior or creating a movement but it’s the most powerful method to build awareness and drive change.  For over 10 years I’ve engaged diverse sets of communities and played many roles. I’ve been a community member, organizer, manager, leader and builder. Whether connecting subsistence farmers to increase food and economic security, building collaboration frameworks in a large company or raising awareness and revenue for non-profits, one thing remains the same; when like-minded people connect over a shared goal in a structured environment, potential is limitless. A few years ago my company invested in our Communities of Practice program and brought in community thought leader Jono Bacon. Jono helped us develop our frameworks and stressed 3 critical attributes before building any community. The same 3 ingredients apply to anything from software engineer communities to volunteer groups.

Social Economy

If there is no belonging there is no community.

Key to Social EconomyPeople must feel their work is valued. When people feel their contribution matters they’ll give opinions, volunteer time, deliver tasks, share creative insight and go the extra mile. This ignites open communication, collaboration and a strong sense of belonging. We developed simple hashtags at work, #ThankYouThursday and my #FollowFriday to publicly recognize people and their contributions on our collaboration platform.  Public recognition fuels social economy, enables a sense of belonging and costs nothing. It works and will keep contributions coming.

Communication Channels

Open communication platforms allow for transparent conversations and stories to be easily shared.  Transparency and shared  Communication Channelsstories embed a sense of loyalty, trust and competition to contribute within the community. I recently met with a fast growing tech company interested in creating a “tribe building” program for people using their software products. In order to build active external “tribes” the smaller teams and champions from within need to first adopt an internal culture of working out loud, sharing stories and connecting dots. Since 2006 I’ve worked with Salesforce, year-after-year they achieve success. Salesforce is a prime example of adopting open communication and collaborative models internally that has grown into powerful external communities and product offerings.  When teams can and want to work out loud through an adopted communication and community framework, ideas and opportunities transform into tangible results.

Community Manager  

Community ManagerEvery community needs a leader to curate content, highlight successes, recognize contributors and keep the group moving forward in unity. The ideal community manager has personal characteristics, passion and tacit knowledge to drive contributions, connect people and promote forward progress toward the goal or next milestone. Finding the right person to manage your community is both a leap of faith and instinct that tells you “this is the right person”.  Jono notes in The Art of Community that a person who is able to build trust, listen, respect others and avoid ego will keep the audience engaged and community thriving. I make every effort to listen, value each contribution and thank members regardless of what role I or anyone else plays in the community. Engaging and valuing people at all levels allow for a surplus of learning and experiences. This will ingrain an agile structure, collaborative culture and roadmap for you and your community to achieve success.


are you social?

I recently met with a small group of graduate students at NYU to discuss social tools, building personal brands and the power of communities. A few slides triggered a great discussion around what we’re doing, what we should be doing and how it can be done better.

Start with “Why”

Where we start matters. It defines our ability to influence, have meaningful relationships and experience (repeated) success. Without purpose output doesn’t matter. Having 500+ connections or a lot of followers is just the “what”. Creating goals like challenging the status quo, becoming a thought leader or making a dent in the universe is a good “why” to actively engage socially and collaboratively.

Golden Circle

Watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk or read his book to learn more about how people and companies innovate and deliver change by starting with “why”.

Voyeurs & Contributors

There’s an evolution. When we use social tools the journey begins as a voyeur; searching, lurking and unsure of what to do next. As we become comfortable with a technology, see others engaging or find meaning along the way we slowly become contributors. By pre-defining a goal and knowing the platform or place where the community connects our journey from voyeur to contributor moves much faster. The key is having a call to action, know your audience, build relationships, connect with communities, share relevant content and keep contributing!

Don’t be afraid

Stand out, have an opinion and be bold. No one achieved success without taking risks. Start by making it a habit to click “like”. Comment on contributions made by others and repost if don't be afraidit resonates. Recognize, reward and give regular shout-outs by “@” mentioning people. Have an opinion. We’re not robots so humanize the message. There’s passion and art in the work we produce so why not work out loud? If it’s meaningful to you, your contributions are valuable to others.

Communities create change

“Tribes are about faith – about belief in an idea and in a community. Do you believe in what you do? It turns out that belief happens to be a brilliant strategy.” ~Seth Godin

Communities are a place where like-minded people believe in the mission. They will champion your work, efforts and contributions. What are you passionate about? Don’t sit alone, find your tribe. They are in motion right now and waiting for you to join the movement.

Get started

Build your brand. Know your “why” and where the tribe lives, go there. Create and build a meaningful profile. Upload a picture, write a bio, highlight your achievements, join networks and keep being visible. The things we do matter. Have a mission, get to the start line and make your dent in the universe.

Start line