The word community has been with us for centuries.
A town, a church, a school, a collection of hobbyists, have all long been identified as communities.
Only in more recent years have we begun to apply the concept to business.
Every business today has a community that is made up of its employees, customers, supporters, networks, suppliers, and mentors.
The real question I suppose is whether each business realizes both the existence and power of this community.
Today, a healthy business is defined by the health of the community it draws.
Recognition of the fact that total community is far greater than a customer list is key to the most profitable business growth.
Many members in one’s business community – seen and unseen – wield tremendous influence on the growth, reputation and success of a business and intentionally nurturing community participation must be seen as a core element of business development.
A community, as described above, can serve a business in a number of ways.
A community can be a direct element of a business or it can simply be an ecosystem that indirectly serves a business.
Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Community
Here’s an example to illustrate my thinking on this.
I have a network of independent marketing consultants that make up a business known as the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
These business owners choose to join this network in order to gain access to a set of tools and other benefits, but they are also drawn by a common point of view and network of like-minded individuals.
They voluntarily pay a fee to be part of this network as they see it as a valuable contributor to both their business and personal growth.
On paper, this is a transaction based on perceived return on investment.
In reality, the value of this network or in belonging to this network grows as each member chooses to contribute in ways that benefit other members.
Recently, we held our annual Summit at a ranch in the Colorado Rockies and session after session of the 3-day event were led, facilitated and orchestrated by various network members willing to share their individual talents to benefit the group.
New mastermind groups formed to go to work on areas of specific interest. Documents, templates, examples and other intellectual property were freely distributed to participants.
A regional leadership team made up of long-standing members was formed with the express intention of helping to assure that new members successfully tapped the benefits of the network.
These regional leaders plan to create accountability groups and hold “office hours” communication sessions to ensure that information is broadly spread across the network.
This layer of community infrastructure is what will allow this network to grow and prosper.
The World Domination Community
The second example I want to share is a community of which I am a member.
Chris Guillebeau has created what could only be called a movement that sprung out of his pursuit of non-conformity. The WDS community is one that’s unified by a simple idea that work can be what you say it is and that there are many, many people who would like to help you realize the work you were meant to do.
Each year for last five years WDS types trek to Portland Oregon to commune at the World Domination Summit.
I spoke at the event in 2014 and while I’ve spoken at hundreds of conferences over the years I can say with little hesitation this is the most fun I’ve had in my speaking career.
The event itself is ridiculously well run and put together, but it’s the tribe that shows up that makes this a one of a kind event.
While I’m sure that Chris’ business benefits from the collective word of mouth, sharing and spending of community members, this is first and foremost a community curated around an idea more than a business.
Members meet, mastermind, support, push and promote each other with vigor I’ve witnessed in few other places.
The event draws over 3,000 attendees and is planned by a few paid positions, but it’s run by community volunteers willing to contribute significant amounts of time and energy to ensure the experience is unique and fulfilling.
When Chris released a new book (he’s written three to date) WDS members around the world vie to host him in their city. The power of this very active community is evident to anyone that’s exposed to it.
So, I guess the real point of all of this is ask and answer this question – If intentional community building is so vital how does one go about embracing the idea.
There are certainly those who know more about this than I, but over the years I’ve experienced the positive benefits of community by focusing on these five elements.
Communicate a unifying why
This advice is pretty mainstream these days as there’s no question that people rally around ideas, not businesses.
Whether you have the next big way to save the world or those in need or you simply want to create an innovation in your industry, you must create something worth joining.
Show me a business with a healthy culture and I’ll show you a unifying why. Show me a strong community and you can rest assured there is something that draws and engages its members.
People like to have fun, they like to feel they are making a difference, they like to contribute to ideas worth spreading, they like to be around people with similar values, they like to fight injustice, and they like to know they aren’t the only weirdoes who have been told they are crazy for going for something they feel passionate about.
The mistake many organizations make is to limit their community building efforts to marketing initiatives. When community starts with your why you quickly come to realize that community is every department.
Find your fire starters
When an idea grows big enough that divergent tribes start to form from within it’s essential to find and nurture leaders in the community. These leaders start little fires in little pockets and sometimes form their own communities. But, more often than not they help hold a community together by mentoring new members, spreading the good news and even performing functions that benefit the community as a whole with little regard for reward and recognition.
Nurture these fire starters as they hold the keys to creating a blaze that attracts far and wide.
In some instances, it makes sense to hire these fire starters and give them an official capacity.
Mike Stelzner of Social Media Examiner has done an incredible job identifying his fire starters and in some cases making them a part of the full-time team. He’s also got a large number of volunteer fire starters who help run the extremely popular and growing Social Media Marketing World Conference.
While a big idea is what attracts people to a community, giving members the ability to engage and contribute is what holds them.
You might start by forming some mastermind groups to help attack issues, contribute to long-range plans and advise on short-term initiatives.
There’s no question that live events help community members connect in ways that no other tactic can. Spending time working on problems or just having lunch with someone is incredibly bonding.
Simply asking opinions before charging ahead can be a great way to gain some valuable insight while giving people a sense that their voice matters.
Waiting for consensus on every decision is a sure path to paralysis, but letting people participate in and fight for things they believe in is how you create loyalty and commitment.
As a community grows and fire starters shoulder more and more work a sense of community ownership must evolve.
If members of the community are to become more deeply committed they must also feed a much deeper stake in the planning and outcome.
This step may indeed be the greatest test for any leader in a movement or business. This step requires letting go in a way that may feel both foreign and frightening, but without it a community will plateau.
Start by letting go of things that don’t work like they should. Look at the things hold you or your business back. You may just be surprised at what an energized group of individuals tasked with tackling a community constraint just might come up with.
Protect and serve
As a community grows that role of leader or leaders comes full circle. While you may indeed spark the fire that attracts people to rally, you eventually need to step back and perform a more strategic function.
The leader of any successful organization starts as the visionary, builds a team of leaders and then transitions to the role of story or brand leader.
Your job is to protect the vision, tell the story, and be the voice of the unifying why.
That’s how you serve a community that has matured to the point where the founder is more of an advisor and cheerleader than an implementer.
I don’t mean to suggest that this role is passive in any sense. If the core values of the community veer from a vision that serves, the leader must jump in aggressively to protect the community.
Community is a hot term in business these days and rightly so. In the past, community was about place, but today it’s about belonging, regardless of physical location and that change has the power to transform any business that embraces it.
I would love to hear about the communities that you belong to – the ones that make you feel you are part of something worth joining.