Saul Alinsky addressing a crowd, photographer unknown
As part of my work for a global startup community, I got to think about what a community is for and how to organise it.
Below is some food for thoughts. This is by no mean exhaustive. Please reach out to me if you have any feedback or would like to discuss that topic. I’d love to get the conversation going.
Interest for search term “community manager” has grown fourfold over the last 15 years. Yet, few people seem to understand how to define what a community is.
I picked snippets from the definition of community that pertains the most to the world of VCs and startups.
“a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”
“a group of people living together and practising common ownership”
“the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”
Community is a lot more than this though.
Community is an asset.
Again, quick copy/paste from Oxford dictionary:
“[A]n asset is an economic resource. Anything tangible or intangible that can be owned or controlled to produce value and that is held by a company to produce positive economic value is an asset. Simply stated, assets represent value of ownership that can be converted into cash.”
That’s it, you can generate value from your community.
What’s a community asset made of?
Its people. But not only.
The sub assets of a community are:
Information generated by a community can be used to feed decision-making process of your business. It can also be translated into content: blog, podcast, newsletter, speaking engagement.
Traffic, that is directing your community wherever you need to generate value. for instance, traffic can be directed from a blog to a merchant website to feed a growth funnel, or to a meet-up or a conference.
An organisation can leverage on its community to extend its reach and grow beyond its own environment.
Below are a few examples of how to leverage on a community asset:
Possibilities are endless.
How to grow your community?
Back in the days, there weren’t many online tools to help you organise and grow your community. Most network of people were built around meetups, conferences and email introductions.
Very few had built operation that could scale, models that could repeat, or automate some of the tasks.
Technology enable us to build organisation with repeatable and scalable business model.
Below a suggestive list of product “features”:
Pick your tools. Organize your community on a decentralised standard (e.g. email — SMTP protocol), not on a centralised product (e.g. a Facebook group, an Instagram account). You have no power over that centralised product. Your data is stuck , you don’t own it, you can’t import or export it and you are bound to the rules of the centralised platform. For instance you can’t monetise a Facebook group — and yes Medium is centralised.
With email (SMTP protocol), you own the mailing list and can export, import it to/from various products.
This is why I would set up an email database as the core asset of a community — not a Twitter account, not a Facebook page nor an Instagram account.
You don’t own those.
You should own your asset, your data.
That said, you might use centralised products as peripheral acquisition channels to redirect traffic to your core asset.
Below is a shortlist of tools I’ve used to manage community product
So far, organisation have strove to position themselves as leaders.
From now on, leading organisations will position themselves as organisers.
“The leader goes on to build power to fulfill his desires, to hold and wield the power for purposes both social and personal. He wants power himself. The organizer finds his goal in creation of power for others to use.” — Saul Alinsky
Organisations with the best curated community assets will be leaders in their environment.
An organisation without a community is an organisation without eyes and ears in its own environment. One needs to learn how to curate, organize and grow a community.