Community Building

I work hard at participating, being a good Community Member, but I am not a natural Community Builder. There are folks out there who reach out and organize better, who remember names with greater facility, who build stronger connections than me. For all my shortcomings, I have found myself in a position where I can make a difference in most of my professional communities. In pretty much every case where I am involved with a community, I want it to be stronger. But how?

After thinking for a bit, here are some useful tips I will be applying over the coming year:

  1. Define your community / membership. This is the step where you say, “This is who we are.” I think you should get detailed with this one. An example: When talking about your community at work, I recommend building Lominger competency model. This is advanced thinking about who and what you want your community to be. Also, make the effort to define what you are not.
  2. Paint and share a vision. The future is exciting and carries huge possibilities, it always has, but someone has to build the image of what we can and will be. This step is all about describing that dream and getting others to understand and buy into the future. This is not the place to develop an average vision, but the place to develop a grand vision. I firmly believe we are more excited, more connected, more alive when we are working to new visions, not maintaining the status quo or sitting on the sofa. (Transformational Leadership)
  3. Provide value. It’s all about “What’s in it for me?” If you are not providing a service people value, they will tune out. The first step is to understand what your community needs, the second is to provide it. A good next step is to communicate this, but if you doing very well, members will do this for the community without being asked. (See the Member Benefits Matrix)
  4. Strengthen the ties between members. Build relationships, not numbers. As you build relationships between members, you will find they are the backbone that keeps the community going forward when everything else is going wrong. (Bowling Alone)
  5. Expect great things. If you have build a grand vision, one requiring the organization to stretch and grow, one needing buy-in and participation from the entire community, then you must also expect your individual members to act on the all the steps required to reach the vision. This means you are enabling and empowering them to act. You are trusting them to carry the vision forward. And you must communicate this so everyone is clear on how they help build the future. (Quotations)
  6. Shower them with fanfare and praise. It’s hard work to build something great and you will not reach your community’s grand vision without significant effort. As you move towards reaching the goals and fulfilling the vision, you will find people contributing and giving in ways large and small. Don’t forget to acknowledge and reward the actions that make everyday, every project, every task a success. The people are heroes and you must lift them up and treat them as deserve, with fanfare and praise. And please be genuine. (Say Thank You)

In addition to the above links, I recommend checking out the following resources:


  1. Doug Goldberg   •  


    Great write-up here about a really important tpoic for many individuals and organizations. As a leading contributor to the building of a community, I think the best thing that you can do when applying your methods above, which are all excellent BTW, is to be proactive. This is especially important in the world of volunteer-based organizations or those orgs that rely on participation to deliver intrinsic value. Motivating people to act is a hard thing, even if they themselves are the ones who will obtain the majority of the benefit. So, being proactive in both communicaiton and action is really important, because you want to avoid waiting or depending on the individual to take action or reach out. It is a greater motivator, I believe, to reach out engage to show interest in a person’s value than to wait for the person to figure that out that he/she has something to offer and wishes to bring it forward.

    You’ve got the start of something really good here.

  2. Jim Gross   •  

    Great post, Jeff. I think you are particularly spot on about building relationships. Don’t know if you heard about Howard Stern’s “drunk dialing” Twitter escapade on New Year’s Eve, but Jeff Jarvis said on Stern’s radio show yesterday that what really sets Howard Stern apart is the way he understands that the goal of media is creating relationships with his fans (see also Jarvis’ post on Google+: All communities are alike in that way, I think.

    The real trick, in my mind, is creating value. The above-referenced Google+, for example, hasn’t really shown that it provides any marginal benefit over what we already have and had with Facebook, so why switch if everybody’s still on Facebook? (Especially so back when people couldn’t get on G+ even if they wanted to.)

    In addition to the points you’ve already made above, the keys, in my opinion, to demonstrating a clear value proposition on a well-defined, purpose-driven community (which is where your points 1 & 2 come in) are
    1) demonstrate expertise; provide answers quickly and correctly – the first time – from clearly-identified subject matter experts
    2) identify your most influential members – Malcolm Gladwell’s mavens & connectors – and encourage them (and the non-mavens, else, for that matter) to expand your community’s reach to their social and professional networks
    3) encourage participation and foster an environment where, for example, “RTFM, n00b” is never an acceptable response to any question. Also: ask questions, post polls, solicit ideas, etc.

  3. Tom   •  

    Added, I enjoy your site! 🙂

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