Knowing the difference between a community & group makes all the difference.

If you were to illustrate or describe your business community’s membership identity what would it look like?

What language does your community use to tell your members what they are?

What do you tell your members they should do, and what do they think they need to do; is there a difference?

And at any level, what do they understand and believe?

If you can answer these questions, you’re not really creating in the mindset of a community, but in fact building a group. Groups are all about respect, sharing interests and values, but a community is something that multiples and grows as members connect in stronger and stronger ways. As a rule of thumb, you need to really investigate why someone would seek your community out, and understand what they hope to gain as a member. What do people hope to get from members and leadership, both formal and informal? Their ability to express and convey their expectations needs to be transparent.

For example, if you have a weekend writers community, are there ideals that your members hold about writing? Perhaps they delight in and enjoy writing because it makes them a lot of money, or because it helps them edit and craft better stories, or because they’re lonely and interested in science fiction enthusiasts. These questions provide guidelines for your community’s identity. All the more, does your community have ideas about how writers should act? Do you have ideas about your identity as science fiction writers? Do you open your doors to any type of person that likes writing science fiction? Any age any skill level? Will someone that has written numerous books, and outshines everyone fit in? Or will it make the other members scared to express their ideas, and form other groups with writers that don’t make them feel amateur?

The point of these questions is to help you spot that their might be differing identities inherent in your community that are unrecognized, and unstated. It’s imperative to understand them carefully, because there is a double-edge sword to not picking up and recognizing them.

Building Blocks of Networking and community-building

Because of technology it’s a given that we can easily discover more people than in times past. However, what’s just as important as finding people to connect with online is your ability to mold face-to-face relationships offline. That said, it’s good practice to get in the habit of organizing and strategizing online contacts. And more importantly, it’s good to make it a goal to solidify those relationships face-to-face. In today’s world trust is one of the biggest guarantees that your word-of-mouth will spread and/or someone will consider doing business with you. Having the ability to research and connect with people on Linkedin is one thing, but it’s quite another to put yourself in each new contact’s agenda.

The benefits outweigh the work that goes into meeting new people online and off. Having advanced community-building skills will open the door to a whole host of opportunities. Your expertise and talents will be utilized, and your voice will be heard. You’ll take part on big issues your organization’s wrestling with. You’ll have more energy and satisfaction. You’ll be more engaged and advance faster in your career.

As your community-building skills grow larger you’ll have the ability to influence your organization’s evolution, accomplishing initiatives, and propelling your career upward. This is a win-win for everyone around you. As you learn to line up your community-building into goals for your company, your skills be essential to the success of your organization.

Taken together, there are certain building blocks that will get you towards building a strong network and community for your organization. Here are 7 skills:

Building block #1: Commit to Having a Social Personality

As a strategic networker you’ll open yourself up to having a stronger intuition. In fact, you’ll also get the satisfaction of learning more about society and how people are. With these skills your company will do more more effective marketing and sales, as well as knowing how to handle customer service. However, in order to commit to this new identity it’s important that you learn to acknowledge — as well as get rid of — outdated misconceptions about community-building. All the more, you must recognize your unwillingness to engage socially. In other words, you might come to find out you have a hard time with asserting your boundaries. Or you might realize in yourself that you value some people over others. You don’t have to apply equal measure of your best self with everybody always. However, you do need to learn methods for making networking and community-building less stressful.

To foster an intimate community, it’s essential to clearly express the community’s core values. The most important values that glue the community together need to be recognized to all members in the community. These values need to be diffused by a facilitator and shared among every functioning community member. In other words can you be a functioning member of a science fiction writers group if you have never written science fiction? And can you measure how to value what quality means, in terms of science fiction writing?

When we can articulate the core values , then we have preps and guidelines that can be utilized to evaluate options for your community. Next you can seek out your core values by asking if your decisions are building on each other. Aspects of a group will grow without values being named, but then it becomes challenging to to determine and know with certainty if new ideas and options will increasingly cultivate in a way that strengthens and serves all the members.

As a community grows it branches off into sub-communities that take on different values. It’s important to see how you can fully understand and convey the core values you intend to strengthen before jumping head first. Trying to control what you want to see can turn into a wasted investment. Wise tip: don’t ever try to control what you can’t control.

All the more, understanding core values is key. For example, Reddit.com is one of the largest and possibly most engaging and active communities in the world; boasting hundreds of millions of unique visitors. With over 600 subreddits being built every day, and hundreds of reddit meetups hosted every year all around the world, the community as a whole continues to grow. Astonishingly, it’s taken on a life of its own. Even more shocking, they’ve only had 1 community manager at a time for the entire platform.

So this begs the question: how did they build such a immense community? And, what did Reddit.com do to scale up their community strategy with such a small team?

Reddit’s approach to community is surprisingly simply, and fascinating — simply because many companies today are investing a lot of time and money trying to figure out how to build communities and ecosystems for driving in business. In fact, Reddit.com does “community management” almost by not managing their community; and instead, allowing everything to happen organically.

Erik Martin started as a community manager for Reddit.com in the Fall of 2008, and honestly admits that he had no idea what it was at the time. Back then, he claims to not know what was going to become of the website. In the beginning, his biggest challenges had to do with swatting down spammers, listening and responding to people on the site, and seeking out interesting content to share on the blog, press, etc..

Along with the daily grind of managing a community, here are some major lessons Reddit has learned on how to build a dynamic and thriving community, that one can apply to their company’s social strategy:

1. It’s better to avoid “Growth hacking” a community; and instead letting it grow steadily and naturally. To a start-up or a client demanding numbers and predictions, this can pose as quite a challenge. Battling against the expectations for “hockey stick” growth, and not trying to control people’s behaviors is the very thing that will give you growth. Because user bases can increase rapidly, doesn’t mean the community can too. Consequently, forcing a community to grow fast is often devastating to a company’s image and user base. Erik Martin posits that Reddit has never had exponential growth. In fact, it’s doubled every 12 months. It was very linear. Steady and significant, but never explosive. The steady growth and subreddits help maintain a sense of belonging, so you never feel like it gets too big or mainstream for your tastes.

Takeaway message: if you grow too fast you and your members lose that feeling of being apart of something intimate and special. And in consequence, it becomes difficult to get members to feel like they belong.

Moreover, if you happen to face the good fortune and problem of growing too fast, it’s imperative to strategic plan out for your sub-communities.

2. So how in the heck can you create subgroups that matter, because your community has hit critical mass? Is there a magic number? Magic bullet, easy button answer?

According to Erik Martin, one of the things we attention to, you don’t have a real community until it starts to make fun of itself. That’s when you have critical mass. Any subreddit of any size has what they call a “circle jerk” version, satirizing common popular topics. For example, “Murrica” is a subreddit for over-the-top American patriotism. Pretty soon other countries started doing the same thing like Canada and Straya. The creation of a “circle-jerk” subreddit is a sign that we have an active community in that country. Once a subreddit grows too large, it naturally breaks off into smaller groups.

3. Begin adding value to an existing community (in one vertical). Most companies have the audacity to create their own community from the ground up. They put their brand as the main topic of conversation and expect people to want or desire to be active users, just because they’re the greatest business in the world. when this happens, conversations feel strained, sterile, and benefit of authenticity. According to Erik Martin it’s not about creating a community — that’s hard and almost impossible. Instead viewing other communities already out there, is a great first step in the right direction. Once you have some communities in mind, ask yourself “how can I serve this community?” and “how can I help make them grow?”

When Reddit began, they were merely a new community platform, and useful tool. However, the people that made up the first original community on that platform already existed as programmers elsewhere. More specifically, it started with Paul Graham’s blog.

Paul Graham shared the very first link to Reddit, creating the first initial audience. the people comprising this audience, provided value for programmers, engineers, etc.. From here, it naturally spun off via word of mouth. this is the similar story we recognize time and time again from all the massive community platforms that exist today. They started out with a very specific focus, choosing their vertical channel and then started to grow horizontal from there.

It’s fun and interesting to explore people’s lands. And it’s especially exciting to explore and be apart of a business’ land. That said, when your business community is a place of belonging, life is fulfilling and matters. This is why a business must give its audience a place to have conversations that they can’t have anywhere else. Reddit offers exactly this: a home for people to about about anything, no matter how weird or niche it is. And the best part is anyone can create their own community.

If fact many of the things we recognize as mainstream and popular today began as small subreddits because of inspired early adopters.In other words, it’s addicting to discover what emerging trends are going to pop up — as reddit is usually the first place.(e.g. people interested in cryptocurrencies could connect before everyone knew about it. Now everyone understands about what you can do with bitcoin).

4. The success of a community is largely the direct result of your community manager or facilitator’s people skills. In other words, they need to have emotional and social smarts or intelligence.

The difference between success and failure is dependent on the interest and activity levels that the moderators put forth. The moderator has to care, because people can smell a rat, and be disengaged if they feel that the leader’s interest levels are very low and uninspiring. According to Erik Martin “the key for users is if they post something, are they going to a response that really hooks people?” Taken together, the great news for community professionals is that without someone driving the conversation and engagement, most communities will struggle to get off the ground.

Determine who is seeking you out. Consider members. Consider visitors.

It’s easy to think you know who you might be seeking out for your community; however on the surface, things are often never what they seem. You must dig into the intentions and motivations as to why someone is truly opening their wallet to buy into what you’re selling. For example, some mixed martial arts studios might think that the reason people sign up for classes has to do with wanting to get tougher, be more manly, and learn self-defense. However, instead, there might be a huge majority of people that sign-up because they simply want a fun way to get in shape — and really into athletics more than fighting.

What are you asking of your members?

Are you asking or expecting things from your members that neglect their values? Your energy to formalize a community can destroy it, if you haven’t put thought into ‘why’ your members regard your community as valuable. If members recognize that your efforts mesh with their values and identities, they will naturally be motivated to incorporate new structures into their life. However, if this is not the case you will run the risk of estranging your core members.

A person’s manner of conduct precedes accepting new common values. This is why it’s crucial that your members understand your core values over common values — in relationship to behavior. Before you accept new people into your community, it’s imperative that you discern and communicate your core and common values.

If you are looking to grow a community fast, it’s vital that you’re open to having visitors participate in community behaviors, before realizing that you might have to police them to act according to your common values. It’s just common sense, and less stress for both of you — and helps you avoid hiccups in your community. Don’t be so desperate for more people that you water-down your values. It’s better to have only a couple members in your group that really love and value the mission, than to have 100s that are selfishly looking to ignore your principles and exploit your members for things that have nothing to do with strengthening the group.

We usually want to try out and experience something before jumping both feet into the boat. Many religious and spiritual communities don’t understand that most people do not want to have to be regimented to practice copious amounts of transformative values before participating. Moreover can you picture being forced to take an on-going series of tests before truly getting to join in on something fun? It’s better to have your members self-motivated to “walk the walk” than “talk the talk.” Put another way, although people express an interest and motivation, and understanding of your core and common values, behavior precedes long-term value adoption. That comes with experience. Importantly, new members need to be given time to understand and practice common and core values.

About a decade ago, a friend and I started a spiritual group at a local coffee shop. As circumstance would have it, people peered in and seemed excited to join in conversation. However as things turned out, these people were more interested in debating philosophy than they were in discussing our spiritual journeys. Their abrasive views where perverse; handicapping the core members from simply discussing the irrationalities of faith in a higher power. This dissonance, although very thought-provoking and stimulating, ran contrary to the core and common values shared: enriching and fostering our spiritual journeys. If my friend and I were more up-front to these visitors, they would have never entered in to participate, and experience that reasoning whether or not God exists is not the point. The point is the heuristic of how our live’s arrived at opening up to learning how to navigate a spiritual journey, and not about over-thinking the science of God. In other words, the core members were curious about the paint being thrown at the canvas (spiritual journey) and not about what the paint on the canvas is per se (science for God’s existence).

The takeaway lesson learned here about fostering a community: clarity on what was vital for for the group; and distinguishing circles- one for outsiders to visit and the other for keeping the group mission intact and safe for core members to be open, raw, and transparent without feeling judged when discussing their spiritual journeys.

Most importantly, the lesson is that new inquiring visitors crucially need to feel comfortable way to conduct themselves that’s parallel to the current community members, before you require to believe in and value core and common principles. Often times, a person’s programming and inherent bias holds them back from discovering other ideas — and why people share particular values.

Moral Programming

A community naturally generates the moral norms on how members should behave and treat others. often a community doesn’t cover all areas of morality, but for the areas that relate to its’ core values. these morals sometimes are seldom talked about out-loud, identified, or acknowledged. However they will emerge when these questions are asked:

Who and what are we keeping secure?

What do we openly discuss and share and with whom?

What behaviors do we find bothersome and unbearable?

Whom do we look up to, honor, and respect?

How do we express this respect?

Just think — communities that have been devastated are ones in which values and moral prescriptions slowly weaken, or become corrupted by bad apples that ruin things for the group and community as a whole. For example, when police officers are exposed on camera for racism or abuse of powers it weaken their trust to the public and cause people to take on negative fearful views — when in fact this is the exact opposite of their values: to serve the public and protect.

If a group supports its members en masse for abiding by the standards of honoring and respecting where the leader's direction.

Members who disobey or violate the leaders commands and nudges are looked down on and push out of the group. Communities provide moral philosophy that parallels with their mission and values.

Insights and Understandings Inherent in a Community

One of the best things about a community is not having to spend too much energy on things that drain us and cause us to overthink. In other words, people join clubs, groups, associations, etcetera, because explaining oneself can be a drain.

We crave the comfortably of not having others continuously try to change us, or speak in terms of us. This becomes a roadblock to the dreams and goals that we set out for ourselves. Being seen and understood without having to explain details to people “that don’t get it.” For example, how annoying do you think it is for a mis-understood math nerd that can’t explain concepts to people that haven’t advanced to the level in which he can justify and convey his/her mental stimulation — for a topic or it’s important application to solving problems in this world?

Or pick any subject you love that you can get easily tired of explaining to the wrong audience that doesn’t get it — and therefore doesn’t get you?

Bringing outsiders with no understanding or levels of refinement and sophistication for your subject repels both parties: the outsider and the group think as a whole. Sharing in an emotional reality that others don’t understand is intoxicating; and yes — drinking the “Kool-aid” together is both good and bad; positive and negative, when taking a bird’s-eye view outside your group and community. In an instant, when you find someone that gets you (fears, challenges, discomforts, euphorias, etc..), how amazing does that feel? Together, you feel free to cry and share a dark sense of humor. If you have a big family or go in public with a group of friends, do outsiders look at you weird?

In conclusion, In order to reach what you’ve learned I’ve set out some questions that you can practice — that is take your knowledge and turn it into wisdom. Whatever community you choose to start it will stem from this core of identity.