Hillary Clinton at the Code conference today

A few thoughts and tips on communities

Greetings from Palos Robles near L.A. as I just arrived at the Code conference. Very excited to hear Hillary Clinton speak in person and catch-up with so many friends. Code is a great event.

The owner of code, Vox Media, opened the event saying “Code is a great community”.

So I started thinking about what is a community and how events create communities. I participated in this event for more than ten years and there is a community that formed around it. I met new people and many became close friends.

Most events don’t manage to “keep a community” going all year long though.

I am trying to get a conversation going around this newsletter in our Facebook group but it isn’t very active enough yet.

That gets me wonder about what is a community?

Is a group of friends a community? It seems that most active online communities are around a topic or a cause. A mission creates communities too, as a political movement.

David Spinks is the best expert I know at online communities. I asked him to write a guest post for us on best tips to keep a community active.

Here it is:

Quick Tips for Fueling Engagement in Your Community

Today it seems every business is building some sort of community.

Some are hosting events or empowering ambassadors to host events. Some are launching online communities. Some actually look at their business itself as a community with their employees serving as its members.

Whatever community you’re building, whether it’s for a business, a hobby, a religion, politics… the most common challenge that organizers face is keeping people engaged.

I’ve been building communities online and offline since I was 13 years old, and have spent the last 10 years working with businesses to help them build thriving communities around their brands and products. Over time, I’ve picked up on some things that have helped me build highly engaged communities.

Here are 13 quick tips for engaging a community that you might be able to try in your own community…

Create daily, weekly or monthly rituals

Think about any big, long lasting community and you’ll find a number of rituals in play. Rituals are powerful because it helps your members create a habit of participating and they know what to expect. This will also make your life easier as a community builder because you’ll have content that you don’t have to think too much about each day/week/month. A few ritual ideas you can steal:

Weekly new member welcome — we do this in the CMX group and it’s 100x better than just having one ongoing thread that gets way too long
Promo day — give your members a chance to promote their work and accomplishments
Meetups — get everyone together in person on a regular basis

Call on people by tagging them and message members asking them to respond

Have you ever posted something, waited 15 minutes, then deleted it when no one responded? Yeah, me too. Fear of crickets is a legit problem for community builders. One thing I do to combat this is I tag specific people in posts so they’re notified. You don’t want to overdo this or it will feel spammy. In my new member welcomes, I tag each member individually. But in regular posts, I’ll tag 2–3 people I know, who might have a good response to the question I’m posting.

In the early days of a community, I’ll take it a step further and actually message or email a few people I know, asking them to respond to my post. Let them know that you want to set a good example for other members, and ask them for help in getting things going.

Host in-person events and empower your members to organize

If you’re hosting an online community and haven’t created opportunities for your members to get together in real life, you’re missing out. Connecting people in person will allow them to forge stronger relationships, which will bring more energy and engagement back into your online community. This one might seem obvious, but too many people forget about it.

Don’t have the time and resources to host an event? Ask your members to organize a small get together in their local city. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Can just be coffee, or a happy hour.

Play a game

It doesn’t have to be all business in your community. Make it fun! There are lots of games you can try in your community. Here are a few you can steal:

Last photo game — inspired by my friend Ivan Cash, this was a hit in our community. Just ask your members to share the last picture they took on their phone, and share the story behind it.
Acronym game — just type a word, and the next person has to come up with words for each letter, then add a new word. Eg. I would write MOONS and someone could comment Men Only Own Nine Socks… then they would come up with a new word for the next person
Pet Pictures — because everyone loves sharing pictures of their pets
Karate Girl — this is an in-person, full body version of rock, paper scissors, you can bring to your events

Welcome every. single. Member.

This only scales so far, but if you can make every single member who joins your community feel welcome, it will go a long way to making a good first impression and experience. We have 50+ members joining our community every week and I still tag every person individually and add their company name to our weekly welcome thread.

Be brutally transparent

Another critical element of community is emotional safety. There’s a popular theory in community psychology called the “sense of community theory” which lists emotional safety as one of the 5 key ingredients of membership. They define it as the “willingness to reveal how one really feels”.

The best way to create emotional safety in your community is to be the example of openness and transparency. When you make a mistake, admit it publicly. When you don’t know what to do about a situation, tell your community.

I often share things that are bringing me stress with our community. Or if we’re facing a hard decision, like whether we should change a rule in our guidelines, I’ll just tell the community that I have no clue what to do and I need their help.

This lets them know that when they make a mistake, or when they have a problem they’re embarrassed about, they’ll be safe sharing it in your community.

Host live events online using a webinar or Zoom

People love live events, even if they aren’t personally contributing. Something about knowing the other person is actually sitting there, talking in that moment, makes it much more engaging than a recorded video, or a post in a forum. We use GoToWebinar for our “official” live broadcast events. Facebook Live is becoming a really great channel for live video events.

It’s even better if you can give members the chance to participate in the discussion. Use houseparty for informal gatherings. We’re big fans of Zoom for group discussions.

Just pick a topic and go!

2x your energy and excitement before posting and inject humor into your content

Mark this one as another obvious, but an often forgotten tip. To be community builders is to be an entertainer. You are the curator and facilitator. Your community will respond to, and mirror, your energy. If you come in with low energy and bland writing, your members will either ignore it or also respond with low energy.

I once heard great advice for anyone who’s on video to 2x their energy right before they go on. Whatever you say, just double the energy and excitement level to make your video more engaging. The same goes for writing! BRING THE ENERGY! USE CAPS IF YOU HAVE TO! Use emojis, gifs and images to make it more fun. Even if you’re running a “professional community”, it turns out professionals like to have fun too.

Not a funny person? No problem. David Nihill is my go to for all humor advice. Here’s a great ebook he made for speakers, that applies to all content.

Make 1–1 introductions between members

A great way to make new members feel welcome is to connect them to another member that has something in common with them.

Eventually, you can have official “community mentors”, volunteers who are willing to connect with any new member and help them get started.

If you can manage a good enough CRM for your members, then you can constantly be making introductions between members who are in similar industries, or who live in the same city.

A community is just a network of relationships and the stronger the bonds between individual members, the stronger the community will become as a whole.

Bring in an expert/influencer for an interview or AMA

A great way to inject your community with energy, and new perspectives, is to bring in guests. Loic is brilliant at doing this with Facebook Live. Product Hunt actually made AMA’s a part of their product because it was so successful.

Ask for feedback on how to make the community better

Yes, asking for feedback is a way to get new ideas, but it’s also a great engagement tactic. Members love to be involved in brainstorms. This will make them feel heard, important and make them more invested in the success of the community since now they’ve been part of the planning process.

Try to be specific when asking for feedback. Don’t just ask how to make your community better. You might say “what can we do to increase the level of activity in this community?” or “what kind of event would you love to see us host for the community?”

Acknowledge when something didn’t work

Comedians know that when a joke falls flat, the best thing to do is make a joke about it falling flat. After a joke fails, David Nihill likes to say “weird… that one worked a lot better on my mom!”

You can do the same thing in your community. When you post something and no one responds, comment on the post and acknowledge the silence. I like to use gifs here… something that conveys awkwardly waiting for something. Or just comment and say “Bueller…?

Be persistent and constantly experiment.

Each of these tips might give you a short burst of engagement but to build a long lasting, highly engaged community, you just have to keep at it. You’ll have some posts that work well and some that fall flat. Some things will work for a while and then go stale.

The key to building community is simple: give a shit and put in the work every day. If people see how much you care about the community, and see you showing up every day, then they will show up too. If you want to just set the community up and let it ride, you’re not going to do so well.

I promise, if you just keep at it, regularly try new things, and genuinely care about your members, over time a thriving community will form.

Want more ideas? David shares 21 engagement tips here.


David Spinks organizes a great conference on community management in L.A. on Sept 19–20. Here is a 10% discount code for my readers: “sunshinecmx”.

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