What are your goals in planning, launching, and running a community?
I’m going to assume that these two statements sum them up:
- Go deeper with the people you serve to help them achieve real transformations.
- Develop a durable, sustainable recurring revenue model for our businesses.
The linchpin to achieving these two goals is belonging.
You might be able to do #1 — say, help people someone achieve a skill-based transformation through an online course — without belonging playing much of a role.
But if you want to achieve #2, and create an online community that keeps people around paying a recurring free for the long-term, then a community that provides belonging has to be part of the equation.
That’s why belonging is so important for us to think about as online community leaders. It’s not a bonus. It’s not a nice-to-have feature of your community if you want your community to be built for the long-term.
Belonging is foundational for a profitable, sustainable online community.
What is belonging and why is it so important?
Here is a good definition of belonging:
Belonging is a sense of fitting in or feeling like you are an important member of a group. A feeling of belonging describes this sense of truly fitting or meshing, especially with friends, family members, or other sympathetic folks.vocabulary.com
The only change I would make is substituting empathetic for sympathetic. There is certainly room for sympathy in a community, but people are more often seeking empathy — a place where other people care about them and understand what they’re going through.
An even better definition is what I wrote about two weeks ago: the Cheers theme song.
A sense of belonging is going someplace where, yes, people know your name. But even more important than that, it’s going someplace where your presence is valued and where you’re among people who really get you. That’s why the line “our troubles are all the same” is so perfect.
And the thing about belonging is that it’s something human beings crave.
In fact, after having our physiological and safety needs met, it’s the next-most important need we have as humans. As we all learned from studying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the need for belonging and love comes before our needs for esteem and self-actualization.
In other words, before we can become the best versions of ourselves, we have to have our needs for love and belonging met.
Now, we shouldn’t overstate what an online community can do here. An online community cannot replace intimate family relationships and deep, lasting friendships. But it can complement them, and it can even be a useful supplement during times in our lives when we’re struggling to find a sense of belonging elsewhere.
And this is why I’m so bullish on the future of online communities.
Why online communities matter now more than ever
We’re living through an age of loneliness and isolation. This trend was already strong and persistent even before the pandemic came and exacerbated it.
Read this, from a recent article in The Guardian:
Earlier this year, research by Professor John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago found loneliness to be twice as bad for older people’s health as obesity and almost as great a cause of death as poverty. But shocking as this is, such studies overlook the loneliness epidemic among younger adults. The Mental Health Foundation found loneliness to be a greater concern among young people than the elderly. The 18 to 34-year-olds surveyed were more likely to feel lonely often, to worry about feeling alone, and to feel depressed because of loneliness than the over-55s.The Guardian
Did I say recent article? I meant that this article was from all the way back in 2014. Clearly this epidemic has been growing for a while, and it’s only growing stronger.
We’re not going to solve loneliness with our online communities, but we can give people something they really value and need. In return, we’ll become such a valued part of their online existence, that it’s a no-brainer for them to keep paying whatever the recurring fee is because the value they get so far exceeds the cost.
This is why community commerce is the future for those who can go beyond education and actually provide real community, which means providing a place where real belonging can develop.
How do you create belonging in an online community?
If you want to create belonging in an online community, you first need to recognize that the fundamentals for creating belonging in an online community are no different than the fundamentals for creating belonging in an offline community. Only the context is different.
What are these fundamentals? I’m so glad you asked, because I recently completed a seven-post series breaking down each one.
This increasingly fractured and lonely world of ours needs more belonging, which means that it needs more genuine communities. And this means that the world needs more community leaders.
It needs more people with enough pride to stand up and do what it takes to bring people together, but also enough humility to see, listen to, and really care about helping and connecting with those people.
That is the essence of servant leadership, and servant leaders make the best community leaders.
Thank you for reading this issue of Primility.
Please consider forwarding it to a friend who wants to be a better servant leader and build a strong online community.