In Peter Van de Voorde’s session at the 2023 Community Rebellion Conference, he talks about growing the heart of your community.
As community professionals, we know our community needs to grow. We get more members, we make sure they’re happy, and the community continues to grow. We talk about engagement, we talk about getting posts, likes, content, getting people to talk to each other, time to first response, etc. All of these things are important - growth and engagement. But often, that’s where it stops. What about the heart?
How does the community make people feel to be a part of the community? There are a number of communities out there who have massive engagement and growth, but no heart. Sometimes on Twitter, for example, we have no clue what’s happening. Technically, 4Chan is a massive community with tons of engagement and growth, but there is no heart. As community leaders, it’s up to us to build a community with heart, but how do you do this? IT’s not a number, but it’s about the people.
The heart of the community starts with belonging, giving people a place where they can be themselves, where they feel like they belong. It’s all about the people and finding the right people, the people who will help you build the beating heart of your community.
The heart of the community is also about values - what do you not compromise on, what do you stand for, what are the things that you say you believe in? And lastly, the heart of the community is about purpose - how are you making an impact, how do you impact the people around you and beyond? What is the intent of your community?
Now, how do you start to build and grow the heart of your community?
First, you start with the why. Why do you even have a community? Why do you want to build a community? Why should people want to join your community? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, get back to the drawing board; don’t even start the community. Take a step back, re-assess, and don’t start until you know the “why”.
Next, think about who. Who is your community for? Who are the people you want to help? In the developer world, for example, people often want to build a community for every developer out there. However, you can’t reach all the developers in the world and bring them into a single community - there is diversity even amongst the developers and it needs to be more specific.
Lastly, write the code of conduct for your community. This is a social contract that you build with your community, explaining why you’re creating this creating, what’s the purpose, who is the community for, what are the rules and guidelines, what are behaviors you want to see, and what is going to happen for those who break the social contract. You should have your code of conduct front and center, and it should be a living document that is re-visited frequently and evolves as the community does. It’s the first way of shifting people who do not belong in the community and are not aligned with the intent and purpose of your community.
Finding your champions is important, because they are going to be the ones owning your community and being the beating heart. They are the ones who will pump the blood through your community. These are the people who fully believe in the purpose of the community, understand the values, and will help you continue to make sure your community’s heart stays true.
Peter also mentioned that it’s incredibly important to listen to your community and your champions. You have two ears and only one mouth, and you should aim to listen twice as much as you speak. Seek out opportunities to listen to feedback, and find your canaries in the coal mine. Canaries are very sensitive to air quality, so as soon as canaries died or flew away, the miners knew to get out of the mine quickly. This holds true with people who give you negative feedback on the community; they are the ones who are speaking up when others may not. They are taking the time to give you feedback because they care about the community, and it’s always important to act on the feedback that you’ve been given.
Throughout the journey, you’ll encounter people who don’t follow the guidelines or the code of conduct, and it’s important to have conversations with those people quickly. Sometimes, it may be a simple misunderstanding or mistake, but it could do substantial damage to the heart of the community if members don’t abide by the code of conduct or believe in the culture of the community.
Community is, at the end of the day, about storytelling. Storytelling is where the community can truly shine. Community is about actual people - feeling supported, saving people, making true connections. The heart of the community is a storybook, and that is how you measure it.
November 28, 2023
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