Community is Spelled With Three P’s
I find the concept of a “community manager” or “expert” interesting. For those that truly understand how communities work, neither management or expertise works. There is no such thing as a “community hacker.”
And that’s a good thing.
Communities can’t be built. They don’t appear out of thin air. it’s impossible to code your way to a community, and frankly, most everyone poorly defines what a community is in the first place.
Most companies define a community as a group of people that will sell their product or service to other people, for free.
After all, what value does a community for a company have other than to sell its product?
Before doing any effort around community building, you have to answer that question. (hint: for a business, the answer is actually none. A company exists to make money, and all the activity, effort and resource expended have to drive to that conclusion.)
Just because you have 10 million people download your app or buy your product, doesn’t mean they are a community. A community is not just a collection of people that have completed the same task, they are a group of people with rules, leadership, common interests and police.
One of my favorite philosophers, John Locke, wrote on community requiring inalienable rights (Thomas Jefferson borrowed this concept for the Declaration of independence):
That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
People join communities because they are able to share their passions. It could be a passion for the product or service, but more likely its a passion around what the company allows the membership to achieve. If your product or service does not allow the membership to “obtain happiness” while pursing their passion, your community will never succeed.
Ensure a path to share and drive passion (beyond like and tweet buttons), and more importantly understand what your community is passionate about. This is a common mistake of many online communities: assuming that your users are passionate about the same things you are … or your product. Listen, understand and support.
[H]e that thinks absolute power purifies men’s blood, and corrects the baseness of human nature, need read the history of this, or any other age, to be convinced to the contrary.
Your community can not be managed. It is made up of people that exist within the community to see the community continue to exist and grow. You may find that the initial group of people that start or grow the community get washed out by a newer group as the community evolves. It is often important to not look to your early adopters as indicators of the longterm shape and makeup of the community itself, unless that is what the business requires.
If that is the case, then making recruitment simple is paramount.
Any single man must judge for himself whether circumstances warrant obedience or resistance to the commands of the civil magistrate; we are all qualified, entitled, and morally obliged to evaluate the conduct of our rulers. This political judgment, moreover, is not simply or primarily a right, but like self-preservation, a duty to God. As such it is a judgment that men cannot part with according to the God of Nature. It is the first and foremost of our inalienable rights without which we can preserve no other.
For a community to grow, it must be transparent with its members. The trust between the company and the community must be held sacrosanct, and everything must be focused on that goal. The moment the community stops trusting the company, the community dies. Forever.
Don’t need a quote for this one. Communities don’t grow overnight. The online communities we all point to - Reddit, Threadless, 4chan, Etsy and others took years to grow. Years. You take a long view on building your product, you should take a similar long view on building your community.
The failures of today will lead to the successes of tomorrow.
Communities continue to be one thing that companies are measured on by investors, users and customers. A strong community, built through passion, people and perseverance, is hugely beneficial to the success of a company, and be joyous wonderful places to spend time.