October 16, 2017
Building a community is more than a few events, it takes people working together and sharing a sense of destiny. We talked with Hugh Weber founder of OTA, a for-purpose organization focused on sparking transformation through creative connections and collisions in the Midwest, about his experiences building a community for customers and stakeholders.
Creating a Shared Sense of Destiny
Let’s be clear, the primary value that most entrepreneurs find in “community” as a tactic is a bottom-line focused primarily on loyalty and lifetime value. While valuable, this is extremely short-sited. The real value in community is in a shared sense of destiny that comes through reciprocity and mutuality. If your brand is confident enough to get out of the way and create a structure for genuine relationships between people sharing an affinity for your brand, a shared identity or geography, you have the potential to shift the perception from transactional to relational. This transition opens the door for co-creation, consumer-generated behaviors, grace in crisis, and exponential growth in word-of-mouth, lifetime value and impact beyond the bottom line.
Starting With a Vision
Differentiating a community from a list of subscribers is a critical clarification to make because almost everyone gets it wrong. Community requires more than sharing space (physical or virtual). It demands shared vision, values, dreams and burdens. Community will only thrive in a distributed network framework. If your “community” can’t exist without your company’s involvement, it’s a list. Community cannot exist strictly as a transaction between a business and individual. It must also exist between the individuals themselves. You can have an active group without community existing, but when the transition occurs, it can be transformational in terms of brand and bottom-line revenue.
I think the single best thing you can to do to establish community is to map the relationships of influence that currently exist. Determine how ideas, inspiration, enthusiasm and trends flow through your existing network. Determine who critical hub individuals are and identify who influences their behavior. How do you do this? Ask them.
Supporting Your People
You don’t “manage” a community. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what community is and how it can be influenced. You facilitate it. You foster it. You engage it. You support it. But, you never manage it.
Leaving Your Ego at the Door
I build community with clients and I always remind them that it’s not their community. It’s not about them. And, if it needs to be, they should just build an email list. When my ego or the business’s short-term objectives have been the driving force, the effort to build community has almost always fallen short. The other key insight is that building community requires fewer mixers and more matchmaking. Entrepreneurs see “networking” as a critical tactic in business growth, but in my experience, it’s just an excuse to have a drink and get rid of old business cards. I encourage intentional network building with clear objectives and expectations as a foundation for a business and a community.
Making Intentional Introductions
The skeleton in my closet is that I spent a decade as a political operative. I use those skills each and every day in my work, whether it’s an influencer campaign for a Fortune 100 company or a neighborhood non-profit. Keep an eye on the collective assets that you have at your disposal, be aware of the goals and ambitions of the members of your community, and make intentional introductions to cultivate your list into a network and your network into a community. The other transformational insight for me professionally was recognizing that our personal behaviors are robust strategies for community building corporately. I talk often about a “Potluck Strategy” for community building and believe there is nothing better than gathering for a meal, sharing a meaningful conversation, and celebrating our shared dreams for building a resilient and robust community.
Looking for Natural Groupings
Chances are good that the existing “community” is just a network or list if you are looking to build a new community. If it is an established community, I can’t for the life of me imagine a scenario when you’d want to disrupt it. If your goal is to build a sub-community, I’d recommend looking for natural groupings of individuals and behaviors. Follow the community and they’ll direct you towards opportunities for niches and sub-segments to support.
Establishing a Framework for Your Network
When I’m asked about intersecting communities, we generally find that it’s less about intersecting communities and more about multi-identity individuals who want all their needs served in one place. My recommendation is to establish a framework for a community from the start and be clear what you believe that community can provide an individual. Place a barrier to entry that requires an individual to understand this from their entry into the community. Then, leave room for evolution, but don’t forget what that community is or isn’t, who it seeks to serve, and what it hopes to provide. Communities, unexpectedly, even those of geography, can’t be everything to everyone. It would be great if they could be a one-stop shop, but different communities serve different needs for each of us.
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