I know nothing about starting a community, okay? An influencer I am not. But I do spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting on what makes a community and how we help them flourish. Over the next three weeks, I’ll be talking about some reflections I have on what I think is important when cultivating a sense of community.
In the first week, I’d like to focus on keeping the focus small.
Not in terms of reach or ambition, of course. I like my ambitions like I like my coffee: as large as can be legally allowed. But I also love going into my local joint and having everyone know my name, my order, and catching up with me on the latest coffee gossip….you know, the buzz.
Two important parts to my approach to community are remembering the focus of the community and acting like it’s a small group of close friends.
Limit the Scope
The thing about community is that it starts for a reason. There’s something that brought everyone together and kept them there. Even as the group grows, the commonality is what binds everyone together. It can be tempting to want to try to expand, to include more sorts of people or people with peripheral interests. But really focusing on what made people interested in the first place tends to pay off, unless you’re willing to put in the work to support other aspects of the community. It’s hard to split your attention, but doing the thing you love is easy! So focus on that and infuse it with all your passion and energy.
Sometimes it makes sense to have tangents. But most of the time, if you split your core competency, you also split your loyalty. We’ve all had that experience where our favorite bar or coffee shop changes something and the clientele changes with it, making it louder, cheaper, too expensive etc. and the regulars are forced out. If the community is one you cherish, don’t forsake them.
Keep it Close
Community is about people! People who are so excited to love a hobby or ideology. And people often have very different personalities, outlooks, life experiences, and communication styles. That’s the fun of it! Here you all are, excited about this thing and able to explore it in a kind, supportive way with people who are very glad to have you talk about it incessantly! People who will go through every permutation of the difference in your opinion with you! So, give everyone the benefit of the doubt. The whole point of the exercise in community is to find people who like the things you do but who can add to your experience. This will by necessity mean that there will be differences. So, help each other understand what the others are doing when toes get stepped on, and remember at the end of the day you’re here because this community makes you feel appreciated and happy. Do everything you can to be a part of the reason they feel appreciated and happy.
For me this includes things like:
-Remembering and using folks names
-Holding dialogue-like conversations rather than talking solely about my own interests or experiences
-Noting strong feelings and remembering them for future encounters
-Being ready to reassert the peace
-Telling people how much you enjoy their company and insight
When people see your community as a group of friends, it becomes so much easier to keep conversations and disagreements amicable.
As a community grows, it can feel like the focus must change, or the individuals might get lost in the crowd, but if you’re in charge of safeguarding and fostering that community, keep in mind how small you are. Even with thousands or hundreds of thousands of people involved, it’s still such a small slice of humanity, and everyone is there for a reason. Keeping that reason in mind and making it feel like everyone is a wanted and respected member is essential to growing and maintaining a healthy community.
See you next week for part two: think big!