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The future of community

June 21, 2021
Rosie Sherry
Community Lead
The future of community
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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The past year of community has seen interest and growth like never before. For those of you who don’t speak British, this is my way of saying the world of community building has exploded. 💥

In a bid to explore what the future of community holds, Erin and I hosted a Twitter Space discussion.

Here are some ideas and questions that emerged from our conversation.

There will be an awkward post-pandemic transition

The pandemic has been tough on many fronts. From a community perspective the pressure has been constant. When everything went virtual, expectations skyrocketed. It’s like we jumped (or maybe we were pushed and shoved) into ‘the everything must be virtual mode’ without really thinking about how to properly deal with it all.

On one hand it’s great that anyone can attend anything. It has certainly opened up many doors for me. On the other hand, we’re all just spread a bit too thin. When can we log off? When are we available? What does sustainable growth look like?

Honestly, it’s been exhausting from both a community builder and member's perspective.

At the same time, it’s felt like everyone is starting a community. There are options everywhere to join a community, contribute to something, or attend an event. I feel we usually register for things out of obligation, but rarely show up. We are going wide, and not going deep. But to build strong communities we need to seek to go deep and focus on the relationships that we’re gaining.

Tech can be wonderful at connecting people and facilitating relationships, but that does not mean we need to design all community activities to accommodate virtual events. The pandemic has shown that we can do things virtually, but that doesn’t mean we should.

Call this a bit drastic — but as the world feels like it’s at a crux, let’s put things on pause.

I think we’re in for an awkward transition period between offline, online, and hybrid, so maybe we should take a moment to go back to basics, and realign our goals with our larger north stars. Now that community is taken a bit more seriously — let’s think about where we want to go together and how we want to do this, build something with intention that can have a helluva lot more impact than if we were to just continue on as normal.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to start with a blank community canvas that now hopefully includes a realistic budget to help you build a community that matters? Grant yourself (and your community team) permission to do just that.

Hybrid will become a focus

As part of this post-pandemic transition hybrid will become a focus. I’m expecting to see lots of people talking about this over the next year.

What does hybrid even mean? In our Twitter Space conversation Erin referred to it as offering different formats of connecting within our own communities, truly leaning into the sense of being platform-agnostic. When I think of it, and from conversations I’ve seen happening, people seem to talk about it in reference to hybrid events.

Events are a natural part of community, and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to avoid hybrid events, but I also worry that not enough design and user experience will go into them. Much like many things in community, one does not simply press an ‘on’ button to make these virtual events happen. (And nor do I really think getting to a place where we had this on button would even be a good thing).

Pre-pandemic I was often asked to livestream events we hosted. I refused on the basis that we lacked resources and that it was a distraction from giving people the best possible experience at the live event. To hold a hybrid event meant that you were giving all attendees a slightly lesser-off experience.

I’m excited to have more conversations around this, particularly with a focus that all events, live or virtual, are part of community. Therefore, event organizers need to see themselves, at least partly, as community builders.

Incentives will evolve

This is a very exciting topic and I believe a big part of communities going forward. Traditionally, not enough incentives have been available for people to participate in communities.

I’ve long tried my best to build-in incentives when building community. We must lift each other up, it makes us all stronger — a rising tide lifts all boats. In the past, I’ve insisted on paying people who help me build community. I find them opportunities. And I absolutely love co-creating with community — it’s the best thing ever. From crowdsourcing a topic, creating content together or even working alongside one another to figure something out — these shared experiences are a delightful way to build bonds.

Crypto brings in so many new ways of co-creating. I’m not quite on that bandwagon, yet, but my curiosity is piqued — Jackson Dame came on our Twitter Space, and described it in a way that really got my brain churning about it — even the industry itself is still figuring out what it looks like in the long run. The culture and philosophy behind it is exciting and definitely one to learn from going forward, and runs in a bit of a parallel to things we have seen in the open-source community.

Community Economics will emerge

Perhaps we coined the term ‘community economist’ in our conversation — the idea that communities in the future will have their own micro-economies with native digital currencies/tokens. I think perhaps it goes deeper than this.

If an economist is someone who “studies the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services by collecting and analyzing data, researching trends, and evaluating economic issues,” then community economics will explore all these things with a very specific focus on communities.

In my eyes, this could be a way of making sure that community members are taken care of, are rewarded appropriately for their efforts, and even contributors can see the value they’re creating. An economy does not have to run on money alone. Crypto and love is something that needs to be explored more as a way to find sustainability. 💜

No idea where this will lead, but I have a hunch it could go somewhere!

Distributed communities are here to stay

When conversations happen on a variety of platforms, people are increasingly unwilling to be tied to one specific digital location. As community builders we need to find our ways through this. This means embracing the fact that your community members are going to naturally be part of a vast variety of community, content, and social platforms.

The 'old school' way was often to keep things, and conversations in one place — this is simply no longer realistic anymore, nor even mindful of your community members.  Embrace the idea that your community is everywhere — unfortunately for our own sanity at times, this means that those building communities are going to have to be a bit more versatile. (Ahem, I mentioned above that compensating your community builders and having a team is important — this is why).

Community builders naturally will want to be part of the conversation no matter where it is happening. At Orbit, community is something we all have in mind, our entire team is in Discord,  active on Twitter, and learning as we go — now that’s not required of everyone or everything, but being mindful of it is important. Our community team is scaling to grow with our needs and presence. We can all contribute to community, in small and big ways.

The challenges will come on how to practically manage it all in a sustainable manner. Staying on top of conversations everywhere is not an easy task.

  • How can we adapt to this as community builders?
  • Where should the line be drawn?
  • What systems and processes do we need to adopt?
  • What kind of conversations do we have the capacity to be a part of?
  • When everything is scattered, what does this mean for the community user experience?
  • How do we measure things when we’re working in a more platform-agnostic manner?

Community will take a central role in education

I’m bullish on the idea of community as education. From the perspective that education does not specifically mean a qualification or a course, or even something that happens only for a set period of time. It is more about learning in a more natural way. Or in a way that is customizable to our own individual preferences and needs.

Self-paced courses have been around a while, with mixed reviews and success. Cohort course are all the rave at the moment. I believe that there is room for so much more, and for community practices to be at the heart of them.

I’m even more excited as I’ve just come off a great Community Built session with Marie Poulin where we spoke about this. We’ll have a blog post and recording up soon, but in the meantime, you can see notes on the session in Discord.

Just imagine what can be achieved with community at the heart of learning. 💜

What do you think is the future of community?

Join us on Discord to chat about it!

Upcoming events at Orbit:

🏕  Community Camp: A series of community events and conservations June 28 - July 2nd

👩🏽‍🏫  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!

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