Building a community from scratch
Started slightly more than 10 months ago with an open mind, I finally perfected my one-liner pitch about The Orange Hive.
“ The Orange Hive is a community of people curious about pragmatic design and I am driving it as a hobby. ”
Angela, Kaixin and I were curious people ourselves and knew that we will only bring our hearts to do something worth learning and be around a curated group of people who can help us with that.
It is funny how we find people people singing praises about founders without having even tried using the products they’ve built. Founders of communities don’t stand out in the same way because with a community as a ‘product’, ownership and pride belongs to each one of its members. A couple of times at networking events, I listen in on conversations where someone in the group talks about The Orange Hive without even realizing that the founder is standing just adjacent to her in the circle. Trust me, that’s the best feeling any founder can have – when your ‘product’ becomes bigger than you.
We’ve just crossed the 500 chasm (requests to join) on our facebook group, with monthly workshop meetups and nothing more. We average 1-2 organic facebook posts daily, each of them garnering significant number of likes and comments. 90% of our events were full house and for a few of those, we’ve had to close RSVP a day before the event.
So I’m chanelling my gratitude to share some of my personal learnings on building a (real) community ground-up. Here are 3 key takeaways and as usual, some hacks and tips I’ve thrown in.
1. Understanding what binds your community
A community is binded by a belief, ideology, mindset — not by a person of influence, successful company or a valuable product offering. A community is organic in its product-form, changes as more people join, bringing with them their own pre-dispositions. By understanding what binds your community, communicating it clearly, enforcing it, one can then instill a sense of belonging amongst community members.
USEFUL HACK: Consistent messaging across all touchpoints is key to a strong anchor. Core values of the community needs to be drummed in the heads of each member, reiterated at every event as well as conversation, learning, facebook posting opportunity.
2. Keeping a nucleus of admirable people
Think of a community as a network that centers around the founder(s). This center then forms an outer ring of people, selectively chosen based on their suitability in examplifying the community belief, ideology, mindset – we realise some people are just a natural fit to the community – and have the ability to contribute value. By engaging them and aligning strategies to their personal causes, one can instill a sense of shared ownership within this nucleus of people that will eventually spread to others.
USEFUL HACK: Believe in the network effect. Focus 95% of your efforts for only 5% of your chosen members. The community should be seen as their playground, a comfort zone for them to be themselves and share their knowledge.
3. Working with partners as friends
A community is not a company/startup because it exists as an entity that is inclusive. Woking with partners is important to keep a community sustainable, to increase a community’s network, to enhance a community’s legitimacy. Working as friends would mean that we take all profit-making objectives out of the picture. Any collaboration should be centred on realizing beliefs, ideologies, mindsets rather than channeling to sales pipeline and PR.
USEFUL HACK: Communities run the best events, really. Because we care about having fun, and actually know how to do it. That insider knowledge is something a lot of companies would find valuable so don’t hesitate to reach out to potential partners if you think there is significant overlap in audiences.
In order to succeed as a community driver, one needs to deeply subscribe to the community belief, ideology, mindset. This person is able to communicate that effectively to members of the community (without being bossy), have good inter-personal skills for people to like you, be willing to approach you, want to hang out with you. All that charisma in a person, yet selfless in sharing ownership of the community with others, especially nucleus members and partners.