The Collective Network Intelligence Platform

Community as a Strategy, COVID-19, Ecosystem Building, Relationship Management, The Clique Blog

What I’ve learned on Professional Community Building in 2020

.. and what it can teach the business world entering 2021

It has been a pretty crazy year. 

As the year has evolved, I have connected with over 200 community builders from around the world. With each meeting it became more and more clear that communities aren’t only here to stay, they are here to lead.

COVID has pushed us forward into this new generation. 

On the one hand, we had digitalization breakthroughs in many industries. On the other hand, while it may sound counter intuitive, we have had a strong call for humanization comebacks. 

After stopping for a moment to reflect on the past year, I’ve understood that the many insights I gained on community building, can boost me in my entrepreneurial journey (and vice versa). In fact, it can actually be relevant to most positions aiming to adapt to the 21st century.

1. Humanizing, is a winning business strategy

The most important thing I’ve realized, that is misleading many smart professionals, is that ״humanizing” has a “soft” connotation to it. This is specifically true for those with a “classic” business mindset with experience in hard-core sales and business generation methods.

While in the 21st century, the opposite is correct.

By humanization, in mean focusing on: 

  • Honest relationship nurturing
  • Obsessive value creation
  • Designing for mass personalization 
  • Cultivating a feeling of belongingness
  • Zooming in on engagement building 

Basically, if your 2021 strategy is focused on the metrics above (even if on only one of them to start with) — you are going to be very successful this coming year. 

2. “Engagement is queen”

Ask any community manager what are they working on day & night, and they will all say: driving community engagement. 

In a world that is filled with distractions and cluttered with brand messages and content every way we look — those who are actually able to draw us in — are winning.

But, it’s a hard job. Driving real engagement requires businesses to truly care about their community, be creative, innovate, quickly adapt to changes and trends, and ultimately generate real value.

*Here are a few ideas to drive member engagement, online.

3. Time to evolve our entrepreneurial skills

Until recently, entrepreneurship was only associated with “Zuckerberg-like” visionaries with a cool idea for technology that can change the world.

Today, more than ever before, the business world is understanding that the power of entrepreneurial skills is present and required in every profession. COVID, even accelerated us 10 years ahead to this realization.

Also here, as community building isn’t so far in it’s complexity from building a startup, mangers are required to have or gain the skills that will allow them to succeed. 

From the ability to grow something from scratch, push it forward through the initial barriers, motivate key partners and stakeholder to jump on-board and bypass many more challenges along the way. 

4. Aim high, build lean

Like in many other aspects in life we are encouraged and recognized for thinking big. This is true and important also here (with a quick disclaimer that big doesn’t have to mean only large numbers, rather in the level of impact or engagement you achieve).

As we also know, achieving any big dream, needs a starting point and a plan to reach the end goal. So, just like the lean startup methodology, community managers can leverage a lean community approach. 

Instead of just dreaming of this ideal thriving community, while standing at point zero, remove the mental barriers and start small. Do a quick test to learn what your potential members react to and grow with them from there on. 

5. Value, value & more value

The bottom line is people are joining communities (Facebook shared that there are over 400 million people in groups they find meaningful). 

Usually, people join them because they are looking for something specific, something they personally need. It can be practical as knowledge, connections, business collaborations, or even spiritual support and advice. It’s up to the community manager to not only make sure this value is derived, but to design a continuous journey of it.

I believe this is a simple concept to understand, yet delivering real consistent value, throughout the life time of the community and the evolving needs of its members along time — is an art of itself.

Not many community managers know how to do it. From mapping the community stakeholders and their different motivations, creating valuable activities and contact, and curating communication to a highly personalized level. These are some of the complex and evolving tasks a community manager will face and work on. 

6. From value to values

As Erik Torenberg said perfectly on the NFX recent podcast episode: “members come for the value, and keep coming for the values”.

This emphases the complexity of community building. For many professionals, it can be easy to create a winning initial value proposition. Yet, the hard part, is to build a long lasting culture of values and rituals that will make members feel at home and keep them engaged for the long run.

Values can be built by a “code of conduct” between members, small repeatable community rituals, positive behaviour recognitions etc. Choose what works for you and keep on iterating & evolving it as needed.

Once members feel at home, you become unstoppable!

7. It’s all about the experience 

I’ve recently read (or more accurately, heard on Audible) a book called “The Experience Economy” by Joe Pine & James Gilmore. Despite its seemingly outdated publishing, I was surprised by how many of its insights are more relevant today than ever before.

We are living in a world that has sharpened our sensitivity to external stimulation, made it harder for brands to engage with us and receive the emotion buy in that they so deeply desire.

In today’s world, we need to evolve every interaction from a basic service or transaction into a designed and meaningful experience. An experience that would rise above the noise, create a deeper interaction, and even trigger us to share the experience with others over dinner, or, ideally, on social media.

8. Hybrid generation

In order to create this experience, businesses are required to innovate their communication methods into a multi-sense, multi-channel, multi-dimension and highly personalized experience.

Or in other words, design a “hybrid experience”. 

This means combining personal-group interactions, online-offline encounters, read-listen-feel content types etc, in order to create a cohesive and exciting story for your audience.

9. Measuring outcomes is key to success

Although the community space is already big, with over 1 million payed professionals driving it forward, it’s an industry that is still in its early days.

In order to claim the budget, talent, and recognition of your community’s value through clear deliverables. To do so, we must measure the success in what is achieved as a result, rather than what is done.

The mission of the community landscape, and it’s leaders, is to manage and grow the ROI, while moving the organization forward.

10. How to grow? Connect. 

It sounds counter intuitive, even uncomfortable, for some at the beginning.

Most professionals tend to believe, that growing means increasing our network and holding these cards as close to us as possible. While it’s true that we need to be very intelligent on how we are activating our network, we need to realize, that in this new business generation, creating smart and valuable connections between our network — will only empower us.

I believe that the highest level of value you can provide someone is a connection. This can lead to their next learning experience, business opportunity, friendship, or even just an acquaintance for a specific journey. 

When this becomes clear, building a community becomes even obvious. Community is exactly the way to take us from the 1-to-many approach into the many-to-many. It will allow the managers to generate connections in scale and enjoy the exponential ROI. 

That’s it for today… 

2021, here we come.