Earlier this week, I joined the host community over at Circle.
Upon joining, the community manager, Mathilde, asked me the following question: “Since you’re a serial community builder, I’d be curious to learn more from you, and I’m sure others too: what’s the one thing you wish you knew when you started building online communities? Your biggest lesson learned?”
Here’s how I answered her:
The one thing I wish I recognized earlier is that a community it not simply a collection of people around a particular topic (or set of topics). It’s a collection of people around a particular topic who share a genuine concern for one another.
That extra bit is what makes a gathering of people an actual community. And there is no great way to fast forward it or fake it. It takes time and care to build; but once you do, it’s incredibly special.
But I appreciated Mathilde’s question for the opportunity it gave me to stop and reflect on this essential idea for community building. It came at a useful time.
I’m in the middle of migrating one of my communities from Mighty Networks to Circle [affiliate link]. During this process, it’s so easy to get caught up in the minutiae of what makes the community operate from a technical and feature perspective. And this minutiae is important. Your members deserve an online community space that is organized, intuitive, and feature-rich.
But I look at the technology minutiae as a mere cost of engaging in community commerce. It’s the buy-in to be at the table. It needs to be there, but it’s not a long-term differentiator.
What really matters are the connections you create between yourself and your members, and the connections you facilitate between members.
I didn’t fully realize this early in my career as a community builder. Now I do, and it drives every decision and action.
I’m curious what your answer to Mathilde’s question is. What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started building online communities? Please drop a comment below and let me know.
On a somewhat related note …
A tiny feature that makes a big difference
When you migrate a community from one platform to another, you spend a lot of time hyperfocusing on the differences between the platforms. Inevitably you will find yourself wishing the new platform had some previously overlooked or taken-for-granted features you liked about the original platform.
One such feature is Mighty Networks’ [affiliate link] member tagging.
In Mighty Networks, you tag a member as you would anywhere else: using the @ sign, typing their name, and then choosing from a list that autopopulates as you type. By default, the resulting tag includes the member’s first and last name.
Here’s what’s cool: Once the first and last name have appeared, you can backspace and the last name will delete itself, leaving just the tagged first name.
In Circle, and in other social/community platforms, you’re stuck leaving the full first and last name if you want the member tag to remain when the post or comment is published.
What’s the big deal?
Mighty Networks’ tagging allows your reference to the member to fit how you would actually refer to someone who is more than an acquaintance.
Think about it: if you and I have gotten to know each other inside of a community for a year, I’m not going to refer to you by your first and last name. That would be way too formal, to the point of being awkward.
In this way, it’s a tiny feature that makes a big difference in enabling our online interactions to more closely resemble what our offline interactions would be.
No, this feature alone isn’t going to make or break a community. But the little things do add up over time. And now that we’re losing it in the community I’m migrating to Circle, I know that we’ll miss it. A couple of beta testers have already pointed it out!
Looks like I’ll be putting in a feature request with Circle. 😉
Take pride in building the best online temple you can build for your members. But always maintain the humility to remember that community is not about the technology or the bells and whistles; community is all about the people.
Now here are some additional links on community building I found useful this week …
Resources to help you build better communities
Carrie Melissa Jones, one of the authors of Building Brand Communities, announced a generous giveaway this week. You should enter. (I did.) Even if you aren’t the winner, there is still value to be gained from seeing the resources she included in her strategy kit. You may find something you hadn’t seen before — like the Freedom app.
The Ultimate Community Strategy Giveaway | Carrie Mellisa Jones
Do you know why your members are leaving?
Admittedly, an exit survey is not something I’ve done in any communities I’ve run. It seems silly to me now, given how valuable the feedback can be and how relatively simple it is to set up. I’ll be doing these in the future, and this post will serve as a useful roadmap.
How to Create an Effective Membership Exit Survey | The Membership Guys
How do we maintain intimacy as our communities grow?
Focus in on the first bullet point in this newsletter, On digital micro-communities. “We talk about digital communities being the next big thing, but rarely about how the community software options we have today make it impossible to retain the feeling of closeness and empathy at scale. Over and over I’ve seen the signal-to-noise ratios of these communities suffer as more people join. It’s network effects moving in the opposite direction — as more people join, the experience worsens.”
Check your Pulse #57 | Check Your Pulse
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.