A lot of online communities sprouted during the pandemic. I believe it was a consequence of people’s desire to find peer groups and interact with them and the availability of free, user-friendly products like Slack and Discord. After some research and discussions with community leaders, I realized that everyone is trying to build communities to keep prospects and customers close to eventually benefit from the strong connection.
Everyone, from creators to brands, small businesses to large corporations is trying to build a community in some fashion. Frameworks like the ABCD growth model ( Acquire, Boost, Convert, Delight, Enhance ) that are heavily focused on community have replaced the traditional AARRR ( Acquire, Activate, Retention, Referral, Revenue ) pirate model for products. There is a growth in community management jobs, companies have come up which provide community management expertise and tools like Orbito and Threado have emerged to track and maintain important community metrics. Even Twitter and LinkedIn started providing features like Twitter Communities and LinkedIn Groups to manage communities. Along with the theoretical knowledge, I had the good fortune of experiencing the inner working of communities up close by building a few from scratch.
I conceptualised a Slack community, Codess.Cafe, to help provide quality mentorship to women in tech, in the middle of the pandemic. Also started a LinkedIn page to share the community success stories. Later moved the Slack community to Discord to tackle scale issues and set up various other outreach channels like Twitter, YouTube, Medium, etc to grow community presence. Even got the opportunity to manage the Slack and Discourse communities at Scaler as a PM and learn more about communities from my Scaler Discord counterparts.
While I understood the relevance and importance of communities, I wanted to understand what attracts people to a community and why they stay there? What is that flavour they are seeking? With a bit of experience running and experimenting with different communities, I’m sharing my understanding of the subject below with personal experiences.
I see communities as being one of the below three types -
- Vision-based communities
These communities form around a grand vision that is difficult to achieve. An individual or a group of people embark on a seemingly impossible journey to fix some problems in their domain of interest. They set a grand narrative around how their struggle will forever change lives and that they are rallying towards a better future.
This vision seems compelling to individuals since it will either solve a problem they have or help solve a problem for others and they get to be a part of this monumental change. So they’re probably in it for themselves or for the cult ( checkout Influence by Robert B. Cialdini to understand cult behaviour and why people associate themselves with movements, sports teams, etc. ).
Example: I started a competitive programming community at Scaler to help learners improve their programming skills and ace upcoming interviews. We set an ambitious goal to achieve a 1600 CodeForces rating within a month. With a challenging goal ahead everyone put their mettle to the test and worked very hard to hit the mark. While no one was able to reach 1600, all the members reported substantial improvement in programming skills and confidence levels and strong camaraderie developed between community members who were strangers and still just know each other virtually.
2. Utility-based communities
These communities help members find a solution for their problems. They can be centered around a wide variety of subjects like boredom, motivation, health & wellness, spirituality, religion, politics, sports, product support, company communication channels, etc. This is a very broad umbrella for a lot of different communities.
People join these communities to get support regarding products from members, brand employees, or existing discussions, connect with like-minded people and discuss ideas, or just because they compulsorily have to be part of the community.
Getting support regarding products, health, motivation might seem like an obvious problem getting solved, but politics, sports, company communication might not. While I may agree with your arguments on this, the way I look at communities for politics, sports, etc. is that they solve the problem of people looking to connect with like-minded individuals and validating their beliefs. Sports events and political discourse can be enjoyed individually but people seek company to discuss the developments. And company communication channels solve for efficient communication and team building.
Example: Built Codess.Cafe to solve for quality guidance and mentorship for women in tech. There was a gap in the education system where on-demand, tailored guidance from experienced individuals was missing. There was also a need for a safe space for women to come and discuss their struggles openly, get motivation and guidance from experienced women mentors and connect with influential women with note-worthy achievements who would serve as ideal role models for young women who found it difficult to visualise their success in a male-dominated space.
3. Habit-forming communities
These communities are based on habituating behaviours in people. They are very involving and tricky to understand and build. But they have the best retention once people get “Hooked”. The underlying principle can be understood via the hook model as explained by Nir Eyal in his book “Hooked”.
You start with a simple activity, a session that anyone can join and understand with little effort and get instant dopamine hit. You make it extremely simple for someone to partake in and make them go through the TARI loop enough times, they start doing it mindlessly just like you do with your social media or email apps. Such sub-conscious, mindless habits become hard to break and people won’t try to change them unless they really have to.
Example: Twitter Spaces was my go-to platform for this study. I saw a lot of influencers running sessions on day-to-day topics like Yoga, Focus, Hard-Work, Spirituality, etc. All you need to do is join space and listen. The trigger to join Spaces is on the Twitter home screen where you spend a lot of time scrolling already, takes a simple click to join, does not require you to think or perform any action and you leave with a sense of contentment that you’ve learnt a lot. You won’t implement the learnings or remember them later but you’ll share whatever bit you can recall with friends and family feeling holier-than-thou. It was an overall positive experience, so you join a similar space again. Slowly it becomes a part of your identity and you can’t leave or miss any session, hooked!
Understanding the different flavours of communities has helped me identify the kind of communities around me and provided me a go-to framework to solve problems using communities. Hope you got a flavour of the communities that exist around us. These are omnipresent in our life. Can you now guess which and which type of communities you are a part of but did not realise earlier :P?