When we are taught to build a business, we are often told to start small. Big ideas are great, but to get somewhere you have to start with something on a smaller scale. It makes sense — it takes time to evolve, test and validate ideas, iterate as you go.
We can take the same principle to building community. When we build community, we need to start small, and with conversations. One by one then towards many to many. Sure we want community, but we cannot force it. Conversations are key to leading us to create a vibrant and valued community.
Infact, want to know my number one go-to strategy right now at building community at Orbit? Yup, I’m doubling down on conversations. It’s no secret that I believe in conversations before community.
The big question is: yeah, but how?
The art of conversation is something community builders need to not only get comfortable and good at, they also need to create a protective forcefield around them. Dare I say our conversations are sacred and personal.
They should not be overtaken by the business, marketing or sales functions. The key is a more collaborative approach. Let community people do their work, just like as community builders we let other people do their work.
The future of community building excites me as we can begin to explore with more depth how we can create better conversations. To serve our communities. Our people. And of course, the businesses we serve.
Here’s a super quick run down on why conversations are important:
You get that conversations are important, now what?
How to kickstart and grow conversations for your community
Let us remember that community can exist anywhere, if we take that concept, then conversations can and should be happening wherever it feels natural.
We should also think about what a conversation is: a conversation is interactive communication between two or more people. The medium of the conversation is less important.
The internet is amazing, how people are communicating these days is equally as wonderful. Never would I have thought that memes and emojis would become such a big part of how so many folks communicate.
The amount of options can be overwhelming, here’s how to get started:
◻️ think about what makes a good conversation
◻️ choose the right tools for the job
◻️ get started and experiment
◻️ whatever you do, start small
A good conversation is not about how influential a person is, nor is it about the number of people you reach. As a community builder my number one goal is to be helpful, so here’s my measure of a good conversation: did it help someone? If I’m not helpful then I personally want nothing to do with it.
So, how can you help people? It can be overwhelming to think about, but here are some words to help you help people.
You can help by: asking, assisting, aiding, advising, caregiving, catalyzing, coaching, consulting, counseling, doing for, enabling, explaining, facilitating, giving, guiding, handing, improving, listening, mentoring, offering, prescribing, recommending, showing, steering, supplying, supporting, teaching, telling....and many more!
I’d also argue that this doesn’t have to look overly complex — sometimes all someone needs to hear in a conversation is that you believe in them.
The more you help people, the more permission it gives you to ask questions. I like to start with easy questions:
Then as things feel a bit more relaxed using more open questions can lead to interesting places:
When you start, I like to go with the flow, then look for patterns over time. What kind of patterns you ask?
Sure, the tools are important, however just as important is the likelihood of people using said tools.
I like the Goldilocks mental model, don’t choose tools that are too old, or too new. Something that is too old may gain adoption, but quickly die out with new tools. Using really new tools runs the risk of them not gaining traction within the market or with your members. Really you want to use something that you feel will be around for the foreseeable future.
In addition to this you really want to think about where your members are at. There’s no point creating a Facebook group if all your people are on Twitter.
There is no shortage of ways to facilitate conversations:
Ok, I know it seems intimidating at first — but I promise you that starting conversations gets easier in time. It’s a muscle that you need flex.
This is how I approach thinking about it:
It’s important to understand the language and culture of your community. I speak with the lens of the communities I’ve served, use your lens and tools that your community is familiar with.
A playbook could be useful for the future, here are some good ideas until then!
All of these conversations can go into the void if they are not done with purpose. Have a goal and be proactive in getting there. A process or some kind of system is crucial.
To create a system
It’s easy to have conversations and not take action. The best growth comes by being proactive in taking the next step.
What can you do at the end of a conversation? Rather than just ending it and leaving it be, is there something that you can do to help the person you’ve just spoken to?
In fact — I’m at Orbit because of a conversation with Patrick. What may seem as something that’s fairly nascent at the time, we can’t ever predict where it’s headed. Now that doesn’t mean that we should have conversations that feel self serving — the intention should truly be to connect with those around us. But that being said — it takes all forms.
Real authentic conversations changes lives. It changed mine. I have seen them change lives within the communities I’ve led and those that I have studied.
And of course I’ll leave you with some ways to help you converse with us over at Orbit.
These are events that are coming up, but they are also opportunities to converse with our community:
🏕 Community Camp: A series of community events and conservations June 28 - July 2nd
🚀 Community Built: A series of stories and actionable insight from community builders, up next is Marie Poulin for Notion Mastery.
👩🏽🏫 Who is building community? A one hour workshop to explore who is actually building your community.
✨ Creating Community Conversations: A one hour workshop to explore this very topic of community conversations!