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6 Books for Community Builders

February 17, 2023
Amanda Quintero
Senior Manager of Business Operations
6 Books for Community Builders
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

Each week we go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. We share tactics, trends and valuable resources we've observed in the world of community building.

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For almost two years, I’ve run a book club at Orbit. The core themes have been community building, entrepreneurship, and company culture.

One thing I’ve noticed while exploring what community building means, and how different organizations go about it is that “Community” is one of those umbrella concepts that represent many things and can be quickly diluted.

Someone could argue that, fundamentally, all communities are the same; therefore, community building is universal. But! the flavor of the community matters and largely influences the kind of work required from those embarking on the journey of building community.

Communities in our Orbit

When it comes to Orbit users, we’re usually talking about large-size, multi-platform, online communities that fall into one of three categories:

  1. Product - focused primarily on discussing and learning about a specific product.
  2. Practice - centered on improving one’s craft and connecting with other practitioners.
  3. Play - folks come together around a common interest, like sports, gaming, athletics, and more.

Orbit’s blog has tons of bite-size tips and short-form ideas for community builders that identify with the previous description, but sometimes we’re in the mood for a deep dive and looking for longer forms of content.

These 6 books are just that.

Caveat: some might say these are best for newcomers to the craft. I like to think everyone has something to learn and improve from reflecting on what they do on a daily basis 🤓

Books for Community Builders: why read them and golden nuggets

Tactical advice: books for community practitioners

These two books changed the way I approach communications for multicultural groups and how I organize events.

🌍 The Culture Map by Erin Meyer

Read if: you are running a global community.

It will help you understand: why things get lost in translation between people from different cultural backgrounds.

Golden nuggets

  • High-context vs. Low-context cultures, how to read explicit communications vs. implicit subtext. 
  • Managing tensions throughout the 8 dimensions where cultures typically clash, creating misunderstandings
  1. Communication
  2. Evaluation
  3. Persuasion
  4. Leadership
  5. Decision-making
  6. Trust
  7. Disagreement
  8. Scheduling

In this article, I talk about how this has played out at Orbit.

👯 The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

Read if: you want to be more strategic with your events and gatherings.

It will help you understand: why over-the-counter event recipes flop or fail to deliver meaningful value.

Golden nuggets

It’s easy to think this just applies to your quintessential annual product conference, but practice the art of gathering intentionally, and you’ll notice it applies to Zoom calls as well as weddings. 

Let’s talk business: books for community leaders

These two books are similar in nature: how to build a community sponsored or directed by a brand.

💟 Building Brand Communities by Carrie Melissa Jones and Charles Vogl

Read if: you’re starting a brand community, or want to revisit why you are building one.

It will help you understand: what kind of value your community can bring to a “brand,” the term authors use to encompass businesses, non-profits, and other types of organizations. 

Golden nuggets

  • How to create the conditions for connections and camaraderie to flourish
  • Examples of thriving brand communities
  • Advice on how to engage the community and measure success
  • If you have a marketplace type of community, with suppliers and customers, prioritize community efforts on the supplier side

This book is probably the one that applies to most Orbit users. What I appreciate about it is the invitation to reflect on what kind of value the brand adds to the community it serves. 

The community-led growth flywheel is a consequence of supporting a cause, a lifestyle, or a way to empower folks interacting with your brand. In the Orbit language, you increase the gravitational pull of your community by nurturing the love of its members 💜

💰The Business of Belonging by David Spinks

Read if: you want to refocus or narrow down your community strategy to support the business.

It will help you understand: where to focus your energy to get measurable business outcomes.

Golden nuggets

  • Introduces the SPACES model and tells you to pick 2 priorities and chip away
  • Support - CS, support, and troubleshooting
  • Product - Gathering feedback and early testing
  • Acquisition - Growth, marketing, and sales
  • Contribution - Collaboration and crowdsourcing
  • Engagement - Customer experience, retention, and loyalty
  • Success - CS and advancement
  • Advises on community experience design

We often hear questions like How do I prove the ROI of my community? Or How can I show management Community impacts the business in concrete positive ways?

The days when Community could get by on intuition alone seem to be standing behind us. 

Spinks offers a concrete list of focus areas that can serve to identify metrics the business is already tracking. Your job will be to draw the line between community metrics –cough, cough that you can get in your Orbit Reports, cough, cough– and KPIs in other business units.

If you want more tactical advice, Patrick talks in this article about 10 common methods for driving community-led impact in your organization.

Fundamentals of community: books for community purists

These two books present society-level commentary on the role of community in contemporary life. 

🧑‍🎨 The Art of Community by Charles Vogl

Read if: you want to study the community archetype and underlying principles.

It will help you understand: the essentials of what makes up a healthy community, and how they operate.

Golden nuggets

  • All communities are defined by a common identity based on shared values
  • Communities make people feel like an “insider” who is seen, understood, and accompanied by other members of the community
  • Community is different from other group forms in that the relationship is many-to-many, and every member looks out for the well-being of others beyond transactions
  • 7 principles that all communities have in common
  1. A clear boundary - there is no doubt of who is “in” and “out”
  2. An initiation - you know when you’ve entered, you can’t “accidentally join”
  3. Rituals - actions are charged with meaning and symbolism
  4. Temple - place where the community meets regularly
  5. Stories - origin, community history, and the epics that bound members
  6. Symbols - tokens that represent values and community identity
  7. Inner Rings -  levels of importance, seniority, and commitment within the community, usually in the form of concentric circles  –one might say, orbits 😉

Delving into community fundamentals can help you assess whether you’re missing some community elements. For example, can you add more rituals? Symbols? Do you have a clear boundary between who’s in and out? 

🎳 Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam

Read if: you are seeking a deep understanding of how “community” has transformed over the last century, and what the digital era of communities can expect.

It will help you understand: the source of loneliness in post-industrial societies –the US in particular–and the link between community, democracy, and social capital.

Golden nuggets

  • Generally speaking, “community participation” has moved from doing stuff together to signing up or passively consuming what others do. 
  • However, communication and communion remain at the center of building community. In the absence of both, a group can hardly reap the benefits of community.
  • Leisure time is bond-creating time. Amateur-level sports, music and art can bring back the doing stuff together as part of the community.
  • Virtual communication can remove the barriers of time and space, but the flow of information is not inherently meaningful. Building relationships remains a human act.
  • The departure from traditional institutions (referring to church, traditional family model, and state-organized communities) has created a vacuum for opportunities to connect. In market terms, it’s an underserved market need.

Even though more high-level than the rest, this book can help us question how changes in society have impacted the role community plays in our lives. 

Understanding these macro-trends can give us clues into the challenges people face to connect and revisit our approach to creating meaningful relationships that move beyond the sales funnel into community building, from value capture to value creation.

I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of these or have more book recommendations! Join the conversation on our Discord server! 🧑‍🚀

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