Decoding Blockchain Community

What Drake can teach you about growing your community. Go from vanity metrics to a contributor community with this proven process.

I was invited to ETH Berlin to share ideas on how blockchain projects can build community to grow. Below is the talk and presentation I shared with that community.

To start, I want to share a story about Drake.

When I landed in Berlin, I got into a taxi into the city. The driver started a friendly conversation about my visit to Berlin. It was pleasant but pretty quickly we realized between my limited German and his limited English, we didn’t have many ways to connect. We hit the wall on basic topics to cover so he turned on the radio to fill the silence. At first, we nodded along to some German house music but didn’t pay much attention, that is, until Drake came on the radio.

The song was “In My feelings”. Now most of you, you’ve probably heard of this song. My taxi driver definitely did. He started singing, turning around and shaking his head. He even let go of the wheel to put his hands in a heart shape in front of his chest. He was really into it, and I was giving him props right back. We were connecting. See, this wasn’t just any Drake song. (Yes, I now you’re now humming the chorus of “Kiki do you love me..” in your head)

When this song came out, Shiggy shot a phone video of himself dancing in the street to this song. He uploaded it to social media and that was it. A simple video that soon had thousands of views. Then he had thousands of copy cats. People all over the world started making their own “In Their Feelings” videos based off of his original dance.

Drake did not ask people to do this. He wasn’t paying them. This wasn’t a contest. People decided to go out and make their own videos, to contribute their own time and talent to be part of this community. In fact, Will Smith even found a rooftop to do a drone filming. This went from a song to a movement.

Now this is great for Drake, but what does this team us about building a community in blockchain?

It can teach us about the path you need to follow to build your own community.

First, people have to hear about you. People heard the name Drake or learned about him for the first time. The person becomes aware.

Second, you need to investigate. Here it was listening to the song, maybe reading the lyrics on genius, and watching the original video. Learning more about what this community is all about.

Third, crossing into contributor. The people in the community who took time to make their own video.

This is the path of members of any community. Become aware of a community, learn more if it’s the right place for you, and if so, become an active contributor to it.

I’ve seen this in action. I’ve been an investor in some of the largest contributor networks. Most people in the room or reading this have contributed to one of these platforms in some way. Whether it was sending a tweet or answering a question on StackOverflow. Maybe you hosted a Meetup group or backed a Kickstarter project. You are one of 100s of millions of people who’ve contributed to one of these networks.

These networks have taught us that contributors are really powerful. These platforms are nothing without their contributors. The ideas could be replicated, in a blockchain project maybe you could fork the code, but what’s important in the contributors added to these particular networks and continue to do so.

Those examples are Web 2.0 companies, but the lessons about contributors there apply to Web 3.0 or blockchain networks now. There are no shortage of blockchain companies looking for contributors.

Blockchain projects need different types of contributors, peers, feedback, compute, code and content. These are all things you can source from your community.

If you’re building a blockchain protocol, dApp, or service, where do you start to build your community?

First, you have to have a clear message. That’s easier said the done.

This is a lesson I learned from my time at USV. When I worked there, it was essential to be able to communicate what we did especially to entrepreneurs, the market, and other investors. The challenge was that we did a lot. We had 40+ investments when I started, we invested across industries, we had well known partners blogging different ideas, and we were constantly discussing new topics. However, we needed 1 message to clearly communicate what USV was about quickly.

USV was able to put their entire thesis into one tweet. Now this was not an easy task, but it made sharing our message very easy. We repeated this everywhere. We expanded on it in longer blog posts and in conversations, but this was the simple message we started with.

A clear message is the first place people get to know you. I challenge you to consider reducing your project’s message to a single tweet — 140 characters or less (to be old school). Your company may do a lot of things, but sharing a clear, easy to grasp message first will help word spread.

This message can be presented across channels like these: Medium, Telegram, Discord, YouTube, and others. This is the top of your funnel. Many projects track their followers in these channels as a measure of their community. However, that’s not very accurate. That is more of a vanity metric at the top of funnel. This is not your community, those numbers just signal people who are aware of your project.

The next step in the process is to build a path forward. Once people are aware of your project, what actions should they take next?

I will share about my recent experience with Steem is an established project that has been around for a few years. A few friends and I decided to do a hack day focused on Steem as a means to learn. We spent a few hours reading documentation, FAQs, articles, and GitHub repos to understand about the Steem network. Each message kept sending us down the same path, if we wanted to take the next step, we needed to set up an account. We had learned enough to move forward. Of course, the path was clear but full of friction — but we persevered! We proceeded down the path.

(This slide shows a process but not Steem’s process. Borrowing the graphic though — thank you!)

Build a path for your community. Many projects have whitepapers, GitHub repos, and articles, but many fail to direct people to the next action step they want to take. Make it painfully clear how you want them to get involved beyond joining a telegram channel. If you want to be especially smart about community, find ways to connect with the people investigating your content. Find ways to track this. Ask for email to follow up, direct people to a landing page or a survey, or simply have them click a yes or no button that the end. You can use those metrics to understand the type of people, not just the number of people landing on these pages. Simple data collection will help provide metrics better than vanity followers.

Last stage, this is where the real magic happens! Start an open dialogue with your community. This is where people go from listening to action.

For this example, I need the audiences help. It’s a 30 second exercise. First, I want you to turn to your neighbor and introduce your name. That’s it. Now that you’ve done that. Now I want you to ask your neighbor to sum up in 5 words Why they came to ETHBerlin. We’ve created dialogue! This is the magic!

Dialogue is important to measure. It consists of exchanging information between two or more parties in a designated place. This is the basic unit of community. It’s the magic key so I want to dig in with a few examples here.

Here is an example of a Telegram channel that has contribution but no dialog. There are hundreds of people in the channel, but the only content is saying “hi” back and forth. Not dialogue, just a one direction conversation.

Awhile later, here is that same channel. Someone has decided to Dad jokes. No, this is not blockchain content, but it has started a dialogue. People are responding. And of course, there are even Drake memes!

This may look irrelevant, but this is a big deal. If you can convince a group of strangers to contribute that’s what matters. That’s what starts a community, adds to the connection. Just think about it, how much time have you spent reading things on the internet and you never cross the chasm to contribute. Never comment, upvote, like, or share. You just read and leave. Getting any type of engagement out of people is a big deal.

Let’s look at other channels. Github is a great conversation channel. Here the conversation happens in back and forth commits, comments, and follows — but it’s a way to engage with the code that projects need.

Github can also be used as a medium to larger conversations. Ethereum Core Devs do a great job of inviting the community to their calls, documenting conversations, and asking for input in their GitHub channel.

Medium has been used by some communities for dialogue. It’s longer form, but it works too. Early days of Cryptokitties there were a few back and forth posts that debated the question of “who owns the kitties”. The responses were between two parties but the dialogue happened all on Medium. The back and forth is so important. These are just a few examples of many.

The process of a person to move from hearing about your project to taking action to contribute is really powerful. Ethereum has done a great job with this so far. Another project which does a good job is Decred. (not an investor fyi).

On the Decred homepage they speak to the reader. They share what the project is.

They paint a clear picture forward.

And they lead you directly to a place to join the dialogue.

This formula is powerful but few execute it well. If you establish this process it will help your project grow the contributors, building a powerful community.

There is only one key component left. Understanding WHY people move through this process with your community.

A lot of crypto economics papers tend to imply that the only reason people take actions in a network is for their own economic gain. They want the money. power. respect. that in theory, individuals optimize for. However, I don’t think that’s the whole story.

In my conversations with contributors to different projects, their reasons vary. Why people decide to build something is varied and may change over time, but it’s the gas that keeps contributors coming back. If you can understand this about your community members, you’ll be able to find better ways to help them achieve their goals. So how do you find out? Just ask.

Here Lane shares his reason for being part of the Ethereum community. For him, it’s about ownership. I’m grateful for his contributions, he’s been a huge help in creating ETHBerlin which allows everyone here to also get involved.

A good community is not about number of followers, it’s about contributors. If you create a clear message, a path forward, and open dialogue you will increase the contributors to your community. Tapping into contributors why will help unlock even more ways to make sure the process serves the community you want.

The good news is this process is not just a linear flow, it’s actually a flywheel powered by why. Contributors continue to find more reasons to support the community and continue to investigate and take action.

I hope you take away that Community is about contribution and connection. It is something you can build over time.

Community is really powerful, which is good news! Because we’ve got a lot of work to deliver on the vision of a denaturalized future. So whatever community you’re building, there is a lot of opportunity.

This tweet sums it up. Whether you’re building a community or contributing to an existing one, there are lots of tribes looking to grow a new future. Build one or join one to help us get there.

Thank you! If you want to learn more about building community, examples of projects leading the way, or contribute to a project in the space, please say hello on twitter @br_ttany! Danke ETHBerlin!

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