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Let’s expand the community builder’s dictionary

October 7, 2021
Rosie Sherry
Community Lead
Let’s expand the community builder’s dictionary
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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We’re at an interesting intersection in the community industry where so much is opening up. New ideas are flowing in and there is energy to explore boundaries. I predict that the community world will be such a different place in a few years time. I would not have said this with confidence a year ago.

It reminds me of where the web design space was 15 years ago. It was in its infancy then but has since come a long way. Not only are there a number of different specialist routes you can go down, but also just the amount of content and businesses that thrive on the ‘design field’ is staggering. There are new job titles, new tools and platforms, and increasingly elevated expectations about the role of design. Sound familiar?

Before COVID the job roles people spoke about and offered were mostly ‘Community Manager’ or ‘Head of Community’. Now there is so much more. Community Designers. Community Architects. Community Operations. Chief Community Officer, and so many more. New titles, tools, and expectations.

It’s not that we should ignore the past — most definitely not! However, we should look to the future with rosie-tinted glasses. With practice and some focus we can be creative with how we talk and think about community.

Looking back at this recent growth, along with the future potential, I’d like to suggest some new additions to the community building vocabulary.

Community Discovery

Good community discovery equips you with insights, confidence, and foundational relationships to launch and maintain a meaningful community, and it’s the first step in exploring a new community endeavor.

I completely borrowed the concept of ‘community discovery’ from ‘product discovery’. Admittedly it was also an evolution of my research approach to community — I had previously called ‘study your people’. Community Discovery felt like a logical evolution. But the key is that we must be deliberate about the early stages of communication creation.

At the heart of this is my instinct to encourage people to do research, have conversations and build trust with people before starting a community. Too many people jump into building community without fully understanding their landscape.

I’d like to encourage people to think before they build community.

Monthly Recurring Relationships (MRR)

This was inspired by the popular business term: Monthly Recurring Revenue. This idea is very much in a ‘I need to explore it more’ phase, though I have some notes for reference, I spoke about it on The Community Experience podcast, and we’re hosting a Study Group to explore further.

I love the concept of thinking more deeply about relationships and applying the idea that it should happen monthly, just like business transactions do. It feels magical whilst also feeling logical.

What if we put the same amount of effort into understanding (monthly) relationships as we did with (monthly) transactions? I’m pretty sure it could help us understand how to build better communities.


We’ve probably all heard of a Go-To-Market Strategy, what about a Go-To-Community? Orbit CEO Patrick Woods wrote a great piece on this.

“Too often, companies view community as a nice-to-have, an add-on to the GTM efforts. In this approach, instead of elevating the community to a role of unique influence, the community program is often co-opted by the goals of other teams, and is expected to influence core business outcomes. But the lens of business metrics is NOT the best or only way to view a community’s success.” — Patrick Woods

At the heart of this community builders and businesses need to embrace the fact that community has different outputs than marketing. We need our own strategies. Our own ways of doing things — ultimately, we need to feel confident and comfortable in our own skin.

Community brings immense value. We can own it. Make it. Succeed in it in our own right.

Lifetime Commitment (LTC)

Instead of Lifetime Value (LTV), calculating how much a customer is worth in monetary value, we can think of community as Lifetime Commitment (LTC). When building community we should learn to build around what and how people are willing and able to commit, not by placing a transactional value on them.

My thinking behind this is this: if we can understand how members plan to commit to the community, then we can get better at designing a meaningful community journey for them.

This leads us on to…

Community Journeys

I touched on Community Journeys when I wrote about Community Discovery.

This concept is adapted from the idea Customer Journeys. My heart fluttered when I began thinking of what Community Journeys could mean. They most certainly didn’t look like the Customer Journeys I had started to learn about.

Community members need relevant paths designed with and for them. We need to understand what they want to achieve. Touch points are important. Their aspirations and goals are just as valuable too.

As community builders we often fall into the engagement traps which makes us lose sight of the community journeys that we should be building. It could be a hard pill to swallow for many businesses to realize that maybe we can help members achieve their goals with 50% less engagement.

What will that do to your pretty metrics graph?

I’m going to be exploring this more soon!


According to the Orbit Model, “A high gravity community is one that excels at attracting and retaining members by providing an outstanding member experience.” I think it’s great to start thinking first about the member experience first — including onboarding, LTC, the community journey, and more — rather than only on company-centric measures, like engagement (which can be a trap).

Lurkers are observers, or something else from this list

Many of us use the lurker word. In our heart, many of us don’t really like it that much.

I wrote and created a list on how to reframe what lurkers are.

They are:

  • readers
  • learners
  • watchers
  • explorers
  • followers
  • FOMOers
  • introverts
  • witnesses
  • observers
  • first-timers
  • consumers
  • connectors
  • participants
  • cheerleaders
  • neurodiverse
  • finding courage
  • healthy sceptics
  • well-intentioned
  • silent advocates
  • strong principled
  • curious members
  • private supporters
  • sober expectations
  • non-native speakers
  • have low self-esteem
  • loyal customers & fans
  • can't be publicly visible
  • time or tech constrained
  • behind the scenes activists
  • don't drink the kool aid-ers
  • checking out the landscape
  • searching for meaning and interest
  • FODOers - fear of disappointing others
  • future creators tanking up on inspiration
  • unable to add more value to the current conversation

It’s easy to shrug this off and continue to use the lurker word. I’d encourage you to refine your thinking and to describe the kind of person you are actually thinking about.

Recognizing and building upon our diversity is not only increasingly important, it is a necessity.

When you look, you find

I now have a habit of looking at all walks of life with a community perspective, it’s fun! Or at least I think it is.

There is plenty of opportunity to create and coin new terms, and here’s some ideas:

  • Community Campaign: instead of marketing campaigns, what do community campaigns look like?
  • Community Activities: I view this as ‘the things that people in your community do’. How do we seek to understand what these are? How could Community Campaigns support them? How can Community Marketing support this? As a community strategy, how do we decide what these community activities should be?
  • Community Marketing: how do you market and grow a community without traditional marketing? When the goal of marketing is not necessarily promoting or selling a product, how should communities approach their own marketing?
  • Community Identity: how do we nurture and create a community identity? What is a community brand? How can a community identity flourish and be unleashed?
  • Community Created Content (CCC!) or Communiy Generated Content (CGC): it’s not User Generated Content, it’s Community Created Content. It has purpose. It has meaning. It has value.
  • Community Collateral: in marketing and sales, marketing collateral is sometimes considered the collection of media used to support the sales of a product or service. If we created ‘Community Collateral’ — what would it support? And how can we create a good framework around this?
  • Relationships > Leads: the business world cares so much about leads, community cares more about relationships. Like I mentioned with Monthly Recurring Relationships, there is so much room to change the conversation around this.
  • Community Co-creation: this is at the heart of community building, yet so often the focus ends up being on influencers and engagement. We must and can do better than this. How can we create a playbook for Community Co-creation?
  • Community Health Indicators: instead of KPIs, why not measure the key health indicators of a community? What would these even be? This is so exciting and energizing to think about!

I encourage you all to look at ideas that already exist in the world and see how they could potentially be adapted to the community world.

My ideas naturally come from a tech, product, and business focused world. I am certain that there are ideas that can be adopted from other disciplines and industries.

And if you do create any, I’d love to hear about them! Just reply to this email, schedule a time to talk, or even better, let’s chat on Twitter.

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