Good things come to those who have conversations

Community
June 11, 2021
Rosie Sherry
Community Lead
Good things come to those who have conversations
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

I'm Rosie, and I'll be your guide for this mission. Each week I'll go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. I'm here to share tactics, trends and valuable resources I've observed in the world of community building.

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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?

Conversations are life changing


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:

  • to build relationships - great communities are built on a foundation of strong relationships.
  • to create belonging - people need to participate or see conversations happening to feel like they belong.
  • to listen - people want to be heard, not sold to. Who knows where conversations will lead, honestly they will surprise you.
  • to understand - humans are the most complex beings. The motivations behind each and every one of us is different. And just to make your life harder, people just won’t go out and and tell you. Nor will you get a real answer in a survey. The puzzle needs to be solved, with conversations.
  • to gain deep insight - the better of a relationship you build, the more insights you can develop over time. These are insights that cannot be gained from one off interviews and they are what builds that community moat.


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

What is classed as a good conversation?

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:

  • How are they doing?
  • Where are they conversing from?
  • What has their day been like?
  • Questions with numbers, e.g. how long have they been [doing a hobby]? Or how long have they been working at their job?
  • What is something that they’re proud of?
  • What inspires them?
  • Who do they look up to?

Then as things feel a bit more relaxed using more open questions can lead to interesting places:

  • What are you struggling with?
  • How can I help?
  • What are you working on?
  • What’s your view on this?
  • What excites you about that?
  • Why? (Five times!)
  • What would you change?
  • What would make your life easier?
  • What do you hope for?

When you start, I like to go with the flow, then look for patterns over time. What kind of patterns you ask?

  • What length is a good conversation?
  • What questions or themes keep recurring?
  • What are common challenges?
  • What opportunities do you see that align with the community you’d like to create?
  • What do people have in common?
  • Who may not have met yet?

What tools can we use to have conversations?


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:

  • Phone calls: WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Facetime
  • Video calls: Zoom and a million other video apps
  • Text messages: phone, WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram
  • Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram…
  • Video: Twitch, YouTube, Zooms, TikTok, Twitch
  • Podcasts: mobile apps, iTunes, Spotify, Racket
  • Forums: Facebook, Discourse, Fan forums, product forums, Reddit
  • Images: Instagram, Dropbox, iPhoto, memes.
  • Courses: Slack, Teachable/etc, Email, Maven
  • Emails: Google Groups, Email marketing, plain old emails
  • Comments: blogs, social media, videos
  • Blogs: all the blogs, everywhere!
  • Meetups: Zoom, audio rooms, in real life
  • Conferences & events: Zoom, audio rooms, virtual or in real life conferences, your conference, competitors conferences
  • Audio rooms: Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, Discord Stages
  • Communities: forums, DMs, Chat platforms (Geneva, Slack, Discord, Discourse, Circle)

How do you actually get the conversations going?

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:

  • Start small: literally one conversation at a time, with one person. Wash, rinse, repeat, until you feel like a pro. It needs to become a habit.
  • Look for opportunities: if you look, you will find. The more you look, the more you will find. Trust me!
  • Scale-up: next you can look for ways to scale it up. If you look you will find. Perhaps this is you connecting and recommending people to others. Perhaps you start hosting small events.
  • Keep scaling: with consistency. Keep doing what works, get rid of what doesn’t. Build your flywheels on goodness, bit by bit.

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!

  • Reach out via DM or emails: choose the friendliest language and platform that you can find that relates.
  • Use your email list: or the most common tool you use to communicate with your members. Ask a question within your communications. Invite them to something. Change up the content approach until you find something that works well.
  • Use a Calendly: (or equivalent) link to make it as easy as possible for people to book time in with you.
  • Comment on all the things: participate in the conversations. In forums, Discords, Slacks, Twitter, video comments, go for it!
  • Encourage others to connect without you: through Gatheround/Icebreakers, converse on a podcast or Racket, give personal introductions, or ask for their opinions.
  • Find excuses to talk to people: sometimes the hardest part is finding a reason to converse. I like to find excuses, which usually means I end up starting new projects. Examples of this within the Orbit perspective are Community Built, Community Camp, Communitree and just being freely available to talk to for community help.

How to make best use of the conversations you are having

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

  • Use tools to your advantage: It’s a fine balance of automation and human led, start with a human and manual approach, then seek to automate what you can, with the caveat that it keeps a human touch. With the no-code culture, there is probably a way to automate anything.
  • Take notes, always: I like Notion for note taking (and we can now feed them into Orbit!), however I often just take notes within Orbit itself. Relying on memory is definitely not a great strategy. I still have to remind myself of this.
  • Be open with your team: the more you can share what you are doing and learning, the more your whole team can help connect the dots.
  • Use Orbit for logging data as you go: Keep tabs on relationships overtime and I bet you’ll surprise yourself. Within Orbit you can actively explore how we can use activities, notes and tagging to help make better sense of our community and who we are speaking to.

End a conversation with an action

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?

Ask yourself:

  • What needs to be done next?
  • How can we help this person?
  • Is there a way that we can collaborate?
  • How can we create a win-win scenario?
  • What resources do I have access to to help this person?
  • Who might be someone they enjoy chatting with?

It sounds a bit cheesy to say — but conversations have changed my life


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!

💫  Orbit is Hiring Engineers in US/EMEA

Orbit helps grow and measure thousands of communities like Kubernetes and CircleCI. We're a remote-first company with a product-driven, empathetic engineering team that enjoys the occasional space pun! Check out our careers page for open opportunities.

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