What makes a great community builder?

Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

I ran into these tweets by Emily Freeman on the other day and I wanted to add my commentary to them because it resonated a lot with my thinking. Building communities and doing developer relations is definitely a role where you put your ego aside and focus on your community members.

  1. YES! The best outcome of community builder’s job is to make others shine and succeed. Couple of years ago I made parallels to gardening as you are nurturing and growing amazing people. Making people shine also means you have to give them room: if you’re too strict about what people in your community can do, you’ll lose them.
  2. This is a great life advice for everyone.
  3. Developer advocates, community leaders, event organizers: you all have a lot of power to make the world a better place. You have the power to work on making your community welcoming to everyone but that requires being proactive and open about it. Slightly related to that, Scott Lavigne’s post Alcohol and Developer Culture was a good reminder to me to think about that aspect.

4. Admitting you’ve made a mistake is super scary. But like many scary things, it only gets easier the more you do it. Somewhat intuitively we might avoid admitting that to protect our own ass but that’s backwards thinking. Being open and honest will gain you the trust of your community. I used to be really bad at it when I was younger but I’ve found a lot of peace of mind in being open and honest.

5. People in your community should always be your #1 priority. Make sure you understand them, know what’s the pain in their butt, who can help each other and how to best help individuals and groups out. If your KPIs are wrong or too marketing/sales oriented, you end up doing a lot of harm to your community. Empathy-driven communities over data-driven!

6. Trying to convert everything to sales can be lucrative vision, especially from sales’ and leadership’s point of view. But that’s not the best way to build communities because people don’t join communities so that you can sell them something. Often a good community works as a proxy for sales by building interest, gaining reputation, and making your product, documentation and ecosystem better. And helping people to become better at their craft increases the odds that it will turn into sales.

7. I see this as a tangent of the previous point. Feedback and encouraging people almost always boosts your KPIs indirectly anyway. And sometimes it’s just the right thing to help people even if it’s not in line with helping your business. Developer Relations teams should also drive to have good KPIs of their own and not be subject to marketing or sales KPIs because they are very different.

8. Taking sides is very dangerous. It doesn’t mean you can’t be opinionated about things but remember that your responsibility is to the community at large. Be proactive when you notice things are gonna happen. Talk privately with people when they are causing harm and take action to protect your community.

9. As long as you don’t burn yourself out. From the very get-go, build a support network in your company and amongst fellow community people. As in every people facing position, you’ll occasionally get personally verbally attacked or it can feel that the problems are all coming down on you. Having an understanding team lead and colleagues who can help you out and act as a shield is super valuable.

10. Listening is the only way to know what people think. You’re responsibility is helping and serving people in the community and you cannot do it if you put your ego first and make everything about yourself. Just don’t.

11. And especially tell stories of the heroic actions people in your community do in their daily lives. Be the J.R.R. Tolkien with hobbits as your community. The J.K. Rowling with magic community. Tell their story.

12. ❤️