You might have a business, event company or association and are tasked with building a community. Easy right? You already have a couple thousand followers and newsletter subscribers, you just need to turn them into a community so they can all meet each other, creating an interwoven sweater with your organization nicely nestled in the middle.
But how do you do it?
In this Blog we’ll go over the basic building blocks of any community, how to get started and what you need to know. Many of these are inspired by Radha Agrawal who built one of my personal favorite communities - Daybreaker - and has an upcoming book.
First, know that your community is already out there. They already exist. You don’t create members of your community, you just give them a place to congregate. A space to thrive.
Second, have an avatar in mind. Not a long lanky blue Avatar...an ideal member of your community. Understand them like a childhood friend, and keep them in mind as you create your community for them.
So how do you create this inviting environment, physical or digital, that attracts the RIGHT people. Build your community with CRAWL
C - Container
This is the space that everyone shows up in. It could be a coffee shop, conference hall, club or VR environment. In person, virtual, or both. What design of the space will be conducive for what you’re trying to accomplish with your community?
For instance, bowl shapes feel more intimate as everyone can see eachother vs a flat floor.
Curate - who do you want to show up in this space? This is attendees, sponsors, performers, speakers, service providers. Be intentional about this. A community for everybody is for nobody. The people there create it’s identity, so form your communities identity by the people you invite.
R - Rituals
Every morning I meditate for 10 minutes, make tea and plan my day. The Buffalo Bills fans ritually destroy hundreds of folding tables each tailgate. There are rituals at church, weddings, funerals, sporting events, graduation.
Rituals make you feel like you belong. By doing a ritual, you’re showing your knowledge of the community and that you’re a part of it. This also makes for hilarious moments when people don’t know the customary rituals.
Another thing that rituals do, is that they give a clear path for participation. Attendees need to participate in the experience to feel part of the experience. I can’t sing, but belting out Christmas Hymns as a kid, adding my voice to the hundreds so I could sing and be sung to, creates an instant feeling that you’re the congregation.
Another community I love - November Project - starts by getting everyone bouncing in a tight circle, as the leader yells “ARE YOU GOOD?” and everyone screams “FUCK YEAH!!”
One of the most epic bounces can be seen in this video.
Your community will feel like they belong when they can participate, get a little task to do, and feel part of the experience in a more meaningful way.
A - Aesthetics
The look and feel - fonts, design, colors, images, lighting, welcome music, smells. We have 5 senses to take in the world around us. Be thoughtful and intentional for how you activate the senses of your community members.
If you’re building an online community, your website, newsletter, emails, graphics all add to the aesthetic you build and serve to distinguish your community. Send participants virtual Zoom backgrounds to use during your virtual event.
Something else to try - whenever you hold an event, it should always be themed. Sustainability, under the sea, all white, all black, 80’s, rainbow explosions, space...it doesn’t matter WHAT the theme is as long as your community will get excited about it.
W - Who, what, when and why?
Start with the Why - why are you bringing people together? Why is this important for them? Why does it matter?
Then What - what values does this community have? What hole are we filling in their lives? What should the community be called?
When - this is about the cadence of your community. For instance, Friday at 10 AM EST every 2 weeks I meet online with an awesome group of creatives for the Design Thinking Zeal.
November Project meets every Wednesday morning at 6:29 AM in a different location around the city.
Many communities converge annually for one big conference, with more regular chapter meetings throughout the year.
The cadence is critical because it creates loyalty, regularity and safety. The Daybreaker community knows they can count on a 7:00 AM dance party in their city every month. To be a part of peoples lives, they need to know when to expect to interact with you.
And finally Who - You should have had an idea of your WHO before answering any of these other questions. You are in service to your community, these people who would delight in finding out there are others out there who share their beliefs, desires and goals.
When speaking to your community, always keep this person in mind. Which brings us to the last element of the CRAWL framework...
L - Language
The final element in the CRAWL method of building community is Language. How do you speak to your community?
Not just the tone you take and the voice you use. Visuals, gifs, emojis and videos are also included here.
It’s helpful here to imagine someone from your community, that ideal member, that you’re speaking to whenever creating your communications.
You might not strike the right chord the first time. Experiment. See what resonates with people. What spurs action and what creates crickets.
But starting an intention - how you want to make your community FEEL - helps guide your language as you experiment to find what works.
As a final checklist to get your community off the ground:
- Give your community a name
- give it a cadence
- invite people to join who have many friends in the community you’re looking to create
- Launch a website + newsletter
And remember as you’re starting out, you set the example for how the community interacts. If you’re weird, you give permission to be weird. You wear a suit and tie and you set that standard for professional attire (and all the constrained puffery that comes along with it).
Radha said that Community was formed at the intersection of mystery and safety. Make your community feel cared for, supported, loved and seen. But also excited, interested at what’s next, curious to come along on this adventure wherever you’re leading this community.
These days community isn’t a nice to have, it’s a must have.
We hope these tips will help you get started. And if you still don’t know what to do, send Julia an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll be happy to help.