Hi, I'm Derek

Defining “Community Building”

I’m incredibly fortunate to be a member of a small Facebook group of thought leading “Community Builders“.

In my opinion, that term deserves quotation marks simply because it’s widely thrown around, and at this point it’s largely undefined.

I actually hate Facebook less because of this group of “Community Builders“.

It’s a group that basically comprises thoughts and questions about being a “Community Builder” or “Manager”.

It’s a discussion about managing people’s expectations, loyalty and happiness as a day job, in the context of the transparency and access that the web provides. It’s a group that’s small and intimate by design, and it’s fortunate to include people managing some of the internet’s largest communities. I would namedrop if it was appropriate but obviously it’s not.

Anyway, the subject of Community Building came up a short while ago and I wanted to repost it because it’s interestingly literal; at it’s core is a question about “Communities”…from someone who I know and respect in his approach to and respect for the “space” (another word that simply deserves quotations because it’s so awful). He’s an unsung hero of Community.

This was his question to the group:

When you’re first starting off building your community (literally a handful of people), how do you demonstrate the value you envision the community eventually creating for members?

How do you community build?

The first response was from Ryan Paugh, who embodies the undefined concept of “Community Builder” better than any written definition I’ve ever seen:

I think that trust is most important. After that, passion. After that, it’s all about fulfilling your promise so people keep coming back for more.

Which got me thinking and keeps me thinking, but this was my response:

I agree with Ryan on passion; if you’re an early member of something you’re passionate about, show it. But…there is no value to defend. A community doesn’t have value until the community decides so. That’s the misperception of community building…it’s not sales. It’s bringing people together and figuring out what they are together, and where the value is as a result of the community they appear to be building. In an early community you’re just a community member…you’re not orchestrating. You’re listening, and celebrating. As a member, you’re sharing your vision of the value that’s happening, but you’re doing that to inspire input, because in the end you don’t own the community.

What do you think?

Because I’m thinking there isn’t an answer right now.

How do you do community building?

I think my answer is that doing community building is building something new for people.

You think they’ll like it.

What’s important to the field and tools and people working at it is how you do that successfully.

Being successful and delivering incredible value for the people you’ve brought together (on and offline) is about listening to them, and letting them be who they want to be. Letting them show you what makes them happy…and then working hard to keep making them happy.

The best people I see working in “Community” are incredibly humble and dedicated to the delight and inspiration of others.

A number of them are in quiet, thankless early stages of their communities. A growing number are at the top, well known, and deliberating trying to define what it means to be great at being responsible for communities. Deliberately trying to raise the bar on the role someone plays when they’re fortunate enough to become responsible for a great community.

The best people I see working in “Community” are still debating how to do “Community”.

I like that.

I like that because I think that means that the best minds in “Community” realize that it’s not about them.

*all emphasis is mine

Written by dshan on May 25, 2011