“If you build communities and you do things in public, you don’t have to find the right people, they find you.” – Chris Anderson, DIY Drones (quoted in the book Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismail)

What is a Community?

A community used to be based on where you lived or what you believed; a group of people who were members of the same tribe, or followers of the same religion, for example. Now, thanks to the global connectivity we experience via the internet, anyone can be a part of just about any community, sharing certain traits (interests, beliefs, preferences, and more) and information.

This concept of community, however, applies to business too. For a company, a community starts first and foremost with the internal team. They are joined by former staff, colleagues, and “alumni.” Beyond the internal team, however, come your partners, your vendors, your customers or users, and your fans. Basically anyone who creates or consumes your content/product/service. Why is your community important to identify? Because the members of your organization’s community are the front line “evangelists” for what you do. You want to launch a new product? Share it with your community first. Get new customers? As your community members to share with their five closest friends. Test a new idea? You guessed it, run it by those closest to you first.

More than just “customers”

It should be clear that you aren’t simply looking to gain customers here. You want cheerleaders, evangelists, a support system, people who would do anything to perpetuate what they believe in. A community isn’t directly about revenues. When you build a community around your mission, you can launch new ideas, products, and solutions to those who believe in you most. They become your greatest “salespeople” of all, sharing what they’re excited about with their friends and family, recruiting new members to the community, and so on and so forth.

This group of “believers” will be crucial to your growth as an entrepreneur or company. There’s an old proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This is exactly what community is all about.

Great. So how do I build a community?

  1. Use your unique values and purpose to attract and engage early members. Your purpose becomes a magnet that attracts individuals towards you. What do you stand for that is going to resonate with the hearts and minds of others? It’s important here to make sure you aren’t expecting people to be clairvoyant and intuitive about what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Sharing what you are excited about gives people permission to determine whether they like it or not. And your purpose might not be for everyone. That’s okay! By “filtering” the crowd to get through to the true believers in whatever it is that you are doing, you end up with a strong, devoted community who will bend over backwards to see you succeed.
  2. Nurture them. By asking your community what they need, and providing that to them, you begin to get a much higher ROI than you would from a simple digital marketing campaign or landing page. Your community is a long-term strategic investment that will sell what you do far more efficiently and passionately than any traditional marketing methods. Remember the quote from Maya Angelou: “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
  3. Leverage or create a platform that allows community members to interact with each other. Slack and Facebook can be great tools for this; you want to foster conversations easily, as well as gain valuable insights into what your community members are truly interested in. And don’t forget about the value of face-to-face interaction!

By taking these three steps and applying them to whatever it is that you’re passionate about, you will find that a community practically builds itself around your purpose, and your company will experience growth unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Engagement is key

Once you have identified and/or built your community around your core principles and goals, it’s important to keep them engaged (see #2 – Nurture them). Provide ways for them to stay updated on what you’re working on. Ask for their input on company goals. Make them feel as if they matter–because they do. Engagement isn’t just about making them happy. It’s important that the people around you feel emotionally committed to your purpose.

Again, the goal is to resonate with the hearts and minds of stakeholders at many levels of involvement with your organization, so that they spread the word about what you’re doing. Excitement spreads like wildfire. How are you creating excitement?

I’ve worked with several clients in a Strategy Sprint to answer this very question, and the answer is not always clear at first. In business, we don’t usually talk about getting customers ‘excited.’ The conversations tend to revolve more around revenues instead. But, do you know what people do when they’re excited about something? They are much more likely to invest in that something! Whether it’s time, dedication, ideas, referrals, purchases, or something else, your community has the potential to carry your organization to the next level, singing all the way.

Who’s really good at community?

Successful nonprofit organizations are usually good at this. Go to any signature walk or fundraising event and look around at the attendees. They’re fired up and ready to raise money for the cause they’re so passionate about. Smart organizations even work with local ambassadors (call them what you will) to recruit more people to support their cause. You see, it’s not all about donations.

Sure, the additional revenue helps to keep the lights on and fund operations, research, and other initiatives. While many nonprofit supporters do donate, they also find like-minded people with whom they can share their experiences, get tips from, and support and sympathy to their struggles. What would happen if you treated your community as a nonprofit organization sometimes does?