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What’s a community for?

Saul Alinsky addressing a crowd, photographer unknownSaul Alinsky addressing a crowd, photographer unknown

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 asset

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.

Sub assets: information and traffic

The sub assets of a community are:

  • information
  • traffic

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.

What’s a community asset for?

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:

  • exert influence
  • develop public relations
  • collect information
  • collect user generated content
  • build brand awareness
  • generate leads
  • generate deal flow and investment opportunities (for a venture capital funds)
  • leverage on your the expertise of your community to help your organisation, your portfolio grow (for VCs)
  • identify new hires
  • do customer support
  • leverage on the sub assets of your community (i.e. traffic and content) to strike partnerships with global conferences, or other communities.

Your pick.

Possibilities are endless.

A community is a product

Your product growth strategy

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.

  • Think of your community a product
  • Implement a AARRR growth strategy (acquisition, activation, retention, referral, revenue). Maybe not all if your community closed but at least, engagement and retention.
  • Automate repetitive tasks (e.g. onboarding)

Below a suggestive list of product features”:

  • Curated newsletter
  • Invite-only events (e.g. private dinners) for community members to connect personally
  • Side events at global conferences so your community can meet their peers when attending larger events
  • Blog — where you can have guests writers
  • Asynchronous group chat for the community to share thoughts and ideas for instance. Here is why asynschronous communication is important.
  • Speaking engagements. Find speaking engagement for members of your community at conferences.
  • Crowdsourced resources (e.g. crowdsourced information on a shared spreadsheet)
  • Create handbook or guidebook with resources e.g. GitLab’s Handbook

Using online tools — centralised vs decentralised tools

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

  • CRM
  • messaging and communication platform (e.g. Riot)
  • email marketing software (e.g. Mautic)
  • analytics software (e.g. Mautic)
  • knowledge base/FAQ (e.g. Slite)
  • help desk software (e.g. Zendesk)
  • social media automation (e.g. Buffer)
  • databases of resources (e.g. Airtable)

Organisers, not leaders

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.

More reading:

  • Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky
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