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The Community Discovery Framework

November 1, 2021
Rosie Sherry
Community Lead
The Community Discovery Framework
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 recently hosted a week long Community Sprint where we dived into what community builders should do before they start a community. I currently refer to this as Community Discovery.

As part of the learning sprint we created the Community Discovery Framework, which is what we’re going to dive into in this issue. The Framework will provide you with a few key questions to explore and discuss as you prepare to build community, and help you weigh the trade-offs of various approaches. 

There are three phases to community discovery: charting the course, mapping the terrain, and preparing for launch. In this post we’ll walk through each step. 

You can download the full-color version, grayscale image, or the printable PDF

Are you as excited as I am? 

What is Community Discovery?

“Good community discovery equips you with insights, confidence, and foundational relationships to launch and maintain a meaningful community.”

At the heart of this process is good community research to enable you to make better decisions about your community. 

How can you know what good conversations look like if you have nothing to compare them to?

Or, how do you know what people care about, unless you are observing and participating in the conversations that are happening?

This whole process is not about building community. It’s about preparing us for the potential journey of building a community and helping us validate whether we should proceed, or not.

Let’s look at the seven parts of the Community Discovery Framework.

The Community Discovery Framework

1. Define our Community Compass — where is your community heading?

This is often referred to as a community vision or perhaps the community goals. Call it what you like — in the Community Discovery phase, it’s important to know the direction you are intending to go. Clarity is not needed at this stage, an open mind and a sense of direction is.

At this stage there shouldn’t be any stress to refine this into too much. Should there be excitement? Yes! Should there be pressure to know the specific details? No.

Clarity of vision comes over time. To start, it can be as simple as ‘you want to create a space where to connect over a specific theme.’ Or maybe it’s ‘you want to create a supportive and transforming place for your customers to thrive.’

The truth is, at this stage, none of us really know where we’ll end up — the key is putting something on the page and committing, even if just temporarily. Creating a direction for your community is a much more helpful perspective, than trying to pinpoint a specific vision.

2. Align Community Activities

Communities are built through the ongoing day-to-day activities of how we show up — where we have conversations, what we talk about, how we present ourselves, and more. The trouble is that it often comes as an afterthought.

When we understand where we are heading, clarity and productivity follows in our daily actions — it helps us understand how we should show up, the things we should say, and the decisions we make.  Without alignment a community can lose its focus and direction — essentially losing its ‘why.’

A scattergun approach to building community does not work. Often when we build community we end up trying to share, meet, and discuss things in all the wrong places. It’s not that the places are particularly bad. It’s just that the approach and locations often don’t align with the community compass.

Every activity we do needs to align with how we show up in addition to where we’d like the community to head.

If you want a community of deep thinkers, then you best show up in places that have deep thinkers AND do community activities that align with deep thinking.

If you want to be known for good and new ideas then you better make sure every bit of content, event or activity you host communicates that in some kind of way.

If you believe and plan to uplift people in your community, how can you act on that even before you have a community of your own?

When we plan for how we want to exist in our community, really this means we are planning the creation of community energy — the vibe, how we treat people, the way we respond, the things we care about, and so much more. These are our behaviors, actions and community activities that define our community.

Community growth can come later. When starting out it is super important to be laser focused on aligning every action in the right direction.

What we do and don’t do

I think explicitly defining what we do and don’t do is a powerful way to describe our principles. 

What we do

These are the behaviors and community activities that we show intention in doing. Perhaps it’s being witty. Or serious. Or fun. Or deep. Maybe we want to be helpful. Or intentionally discuss new ideas. The options here are really endless.

Key questions:

  • How can the things we do align our community compass  with our actions?
  • How do you want your community to be remembered?
  • How is this helping us move towards our community compass?
What we don’t do

These are behaviors and community activities we intentionally opt out of. Maybe we don’t like long debates or discussions. Or perhaps we choose to opt out of discussing old ideas (and as a consequence what we do is spend time talking about new ideas).

Key questions:

  • What conflicts with your community compass or activities you want to align around??
  • What language will you avoid?
  • What goes against your community brand?

In either scenario, there is mostly no right or wrong — the point is to build confidence in who the community plans to be. We must be aware that how we show up defines the future of our community. Even if we are not building community yet, our intentions on how we show up can be rooted in our early conversations with potential community members.

3. Discover your people

Finding your people is a continuous process. People are transient — in their community journey with us and also in their journey with their own life. People come and go, the more we can understand and adapt with that, the better the community we can build.

There are a few key things to think about in the people discovery process.

How will we define and refine our people?

  • Who is important to us?
  • How do we think we can help them?
  • Why are these people important?
  • Are there boundaries we place on the kinds of people we seek to discover?
  • What is the energy we are looking to create?
  • How can we ensure we are being mindful and diverse in our activities?
  • What are the different stages of their community journey?
  • What do we want to talk about or do together?

How will we seek diversity?

  • What will we be constantly looking for?
  • Where will we keep an eye out?
  • How do these people align with what our community wants to be?
  • How will you stay on top of content and connections?
  • How will we ensure we reach a variety of people?
  • How can we focus on what matters?

Where will we find them?

  • Where do you need to show up on a regular basis?
  • What conversations or community activities can you hold on a regular basis?
  • What habits align with how you want to show up?
  • Who are people connected to?

People discovery can be a slow process, especially before starting a community. It often feels pointless and the growth is hard to see. I encourage you to stick with it as much as possible. It won’t seem like it at the time, however, with a long term view these kind of actions are scalable, in a very human driven way.

4. Map their activity

When we think about who we’d like to build relationships with it’s easy to fall into a trap of connecting out to the most connected people. Those that are most visible. These are the ‘influencers’ — the very, very busy people.

I would ask you to take a step back and look at your potential community with a wider lens.

I currently look at this in terms of the Orbit Levels — Explorers, Participants, Contributors and Builders. When we go out looking for people to build relationships, we want to map people who would fit into these levels within our community.

You might think that connecting with ‘influencers’ (who have the potential to become Builders almost immediately) is a great strategy to get a community going quickly. However, the reality is that influencers, more often than not, won’t have time for you. Really you need to create influencers from within the community you hope to build.

We should think about where to connect with people at all four levels, which are:

  • Explorers: the people out there that are hard to see. 
  • Participants: the people who are contributing to your niche in lightweight ways
  • Contributors: who are the people that are actively contributing to your community niche?
  • Builders: who are the most active people out there making a big difference to your niche?

For all of these people — where will you find them? And how can you create meaning and value for them?

As a reminder, we are not building community yet. We are thinking about how to find, understand and connect to people who may be interested in the community we plan to build.

Key questions:

  • What are people talking about? 
  • What do they care for? 
  • Who are your explorers? 
  • Who are your participants? 
  • Who are your contributors? 
  • Who are your builders?

5. Explore conversations

Conversations in Community Discovery are all about learning and building trust with a diverse group of people. 

One way to think about exploring conversations is to reframe them. Almost any piece of communication can be considered as a conversation. You can take any medium and use it to converse. Some require more creativity than others, but the principles remain.

  • Phone calls: phone, 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
  • Photos: Instagram, Dropbox, iPhoto,
  • 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: virtual or in real life conferences, your conference, competitors conferences

Another way to look at conversations is to see them as learning opportunities. Entering a situation with an open mind and with curiosity is a game changer. Go out there to learn about people. The more you do this, the more people will open up to you and share valuable insights to help you build your community.

The magic about this, is that all the previous steps that we’ve covered so far in Community Discovery will help you explore conversations that matter. Conversations that add value and create meaning. 

This means no more talking into the void, yay!

You will have conversations with confidence:

  • that are aligned with your vision
  • with the people that we nee
  • that respect your boundaries — what you will and won’t do
  • with a balanced and diverse set of people

Key questions:

  • How are people having conversations?
  • What will you do when you find these people?
  • How will you keep in touch?
  • How will you get past the small talk?
  • What conversations will you hold?
  • How will you take action?

6. Create value

In community our role is different — we are value creators. We are on the constant search for ideas on how to create value and connection for our people. 

Patrick Woods says it well and makes value capture look easy in comparison to value creation!

“Value creation exercises include many of the activities carried out by community teams, developer advocates, content creators, and event organizers. This includes creating content and tutorials, developing training materials, hosting events, and creating spaces where people can share ideas and connect with one another.

Value capture
is about generating pipeline and qualifying and closing prospects. These are your demand generation experts, SDRs, SEs, and AEs who are generally aligned and compensated on, capturing value.”

The good news is that creating value becomes easier to identify with the more Community Discovery you do. Partly this is down to the research and conversations. The other reason is the simple act of knowing — we have a much higher chance of finding ways to create value if we know what we should be looking out for.

What can you create:

  • together?
  • that is helpful?
  • that is of value?
  • that supports people?
  • that helps your company?
  • that creates change?
  • that pulls more people in?
  • that supports community journeys?

7. Ready, set, go!

Does this mean we are ready to go build community?

Let’s answer that question by going back to our definition of community discovery:

The purpose of community discovery is to equip you with insights, confidence, and foundational relationships to launch and maintain a meaningful community.

So how are you feeling about starting a community now?

  • Do you have enough insights?
  • What relationships have you built?
  • How confident are you feeling?
  • Will people listen to you?
  • Do you know what your people care about?
  • Have you identified any gaps you could address?
  • What community activities do you think you could start creating?
  • What is the smallest thing you can do to start creating value for your people?
  • How will you start forming the habit of showing up?
  • After doing all this community discovery, how would you feel about doing this work for the next 5-10 years?
  • Is there a need for your community?
  • How can you prove or justify the need for community?

Hopefully by the time you get to this stage you’ll know whether to build community or not. We have to remember that sometimes community is not the right answer — just because we go through this process doesn’t mean we have to push our way through building community.

Community Discovery — a research driven approach to validating the need for a community

When seen in action, community feels so special, magical, and out of this world. People watch in disbelief at what some communities can do together. The impact, the change, and the innovation.

Looking from the outside in, it can feel like stuff just happens. I would argue this is rarely the case. In almost every community, there is someone, or some people, doing the leg work behind the scenes to make things happen.

Taking an active research driven approach, like Community Discovery feels logical, it makes sense, and the processes tap into our human needs to connect and build trust with those around us.

I would also argue that it’s fun too! The more you dive in, the more opportunities naturally arise, should you be willing to open your mind to discover.

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