Community building is comprised of practices geared toward the creation or enhancement of community among individuals within a common interest.
Communities can grow organically. but once organic growth stops, focus in some areas is essential.
I have been working in the Open Source arena for the past 15 years is. During that time, I have implemented many OSS (Open Source Software) solutions and I have witnessed from up close how a community can organically grow over time.
Around 2000 the company I was working for started to use TYPO3 as a content management system. This was at the time when websites were changing from fancy folders into interactive places. This, now widely adopted, software package was started by one highly motivated developer, who put his code in the public domain at an early stage.
So the big dream and the short story is:
I had a useful tool and my idea of maximising that investment of mine was to put it in the hands of everyone, who would receive it — for free.
Making this software package freely available for everyone to use and to contribute to, quickly generated a community around it, which grew organically through people’s enthusiasm. Participation in the project was based on the ‘Scratch Your Own Itch’ principle. The Open Source world embraced this mantra a long time ago. For the open source developers, it means they get the tools they want, delivered the way they want them. But the benefit goes much deeper. It is a value proposition humans can relate to as a basis for community.
Over the years the project and its community grew at an incredible rate. I stepped in at a certain point with a budget to keep an eye on the big picture. It took me a while to find out this was called community management. Anno 2009.
Supporting an already socially cohesive community in its growth is something entirely different however than building a community from the ground up.
With the speed of internet and the plethora of communication tools we have, building a global community has come within reach of everybody. Making use of the tools does not mean we also understand each other. It is common to get caught up and stay immersed in our tools, leaving social interaction in the cold.
What we are increasingly coming across at Age of Peers, are organisations: either a company or an interest group focused around a platform, which have created software which they want to open source and then build a new community around this. Community development in such projects often needs to be given direction. How do you attract people to your project and how do you convert the shared interests into participation?
Structure and Strategy
Structure and strategy play a large role in creating your community. You need to break the structure down to small parts based on location or on interest. The same goes for strategy. Create manageable small steps allowing community teams to keep control and make them celebrate each small step.
Structure-wise, it makes sense to identify where your fans are located and what part of your organisation they can support. In software there are clearly identifiable part like design, documentation, coding, sales and marketing and event organisation, to name just a few.
It is essential to understand what brings value to your community. A project should be focused on producing an outcome, which often leaves community aspects undervalued. Diversity in your community is one such aspect I could easily dedicate another entire workshop to.
Strategy is sometimes difficult to define in a community. Communities often have a tendency towards chaos due to their uncoerced nature. Having a mission statement defining why we are all together in this wonderful project is essential, but often neglected after its creation. Guidelines are essential and provide a measuring stick to see if the small steps we take align with the strategy.
One thing that is often neglected is documentation and communication.
Documentation and communication
Documentation has long been underrated. In software land, it is often advised to read the source. Initiatives like Write The Docs amplify the importance of documentation and give writers the credit they deserve. In my current line of work, where I provide input on community strategy together with my partners in marketing communication and media relations, we recommend creating tutorials as a first step. Tutorials range from highly technical to very basic human readable manuals that take a user by the hand, guiding them through their first steps into a project. Communication for that matter needs to be understandable by humans. Storytelling is a powerful concept to get your organisation across. Don’t aim for writing whole books, but give small enticing examples of what is happening in your project and your emerging community. You can never communicate too often.
Communication is crucial and comes in many forms. Internally there are tools from simple email list to the more fancy Slack. Tools like Google hangouts and of lately Blab give us a more personalised experience so we understand each other better and do not misinterpret what is being communicated.
Another powerful means for community building are face-to-face meetings in the form of meetups, unconferences, etc. Nothing beats meeting each other in person. That is where social ties are created that last. Meetups are also relatively easy to organise and do not require a huge amount of funding.
People want to be in a community because of the sense of belonging and that should be in the back of your head when laying the foundation of your community.
Communities are all about creating value for the topic or project they revolve around, but do not forget that value largely is community itself.
There is a lot you can do to build your community. Stay aware of the needs of your community members. They are the basis of your community.
Originally published on Medium: https://ben.vanten.de/building-communities-d23a7caac209#.wzsezay0d