To be part of a strong community is to be part of a group of people who want to help each other, whether that is socially or professionally. With a community of people working together for a common goal, there’s no shortage of opportunities for growth and experience.
The Importance of A Community
Human beings are social creatures, we like to connect with others and discuss, we like to share our feelings, worries, happy moments, sad moments, etc.. This need to connect & share leads to us creating communities, or groups, where we can be with like-minded people and talk about things that interest us. As human beings, we need a sense of belonging and this is what connects us to the many relationships we develop. We are all members of many communities, such as family, work, school, neighborhood, etc … and we constantly move in and out of them throughout our lives.
Even in Tech?
The same applies to the world of Technology! As this field is growing, more and more people are working in technology-related jobs and the need to connect remains present. Furthermore, the Internet has made it very easy for people living far away from each other, to connect and socialize based on a common interest. This can happen online through platforms such as Reddit, Facebook groups or other community-related websites.
And it doesn’t have to be online only, sites such as Meetup.com offer a great way to plug into the local nearby community and assemble a group of like-minded individuals with the same interests, thus opening up opportunities for collaboration, learning and growth.
Okay I get it, communities are great! Now what?!
If you’re looking to start a new community, or already running one and want to make sure it succeeds, this blog post is for you! I want to share my own experience in building and running Beirut AI, the applied AI community in Lebanon. Although this is titled “How to build an AI community”, the ideas mentioned in this post can be applicable to any community, AI is just the topic of this community. Keep in mind that this reflects my personal experience & lessons learned, not everything might apply to you or your community.
I’ve summarized my ideas into 10 simple points for how to build an AI community (or any community in general).
1. Find your essence
Start by asking what’s missing in your current ecosystem? Is there a need for a new community? Don’t try to copy or imitate another local community, no matter how successful it might be. Instead, see how you can complement it by taking what’s missing and building a community around it.
Once you identify the need, you can move on to figuring out how to fulfill this need? What’s the best format for your community’s events? Who’s the target audience and how do you plan on reaching them?
2. Build your team
There’s a great African proverb that I really like, it says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This is very important, in my opinion, because if you’re building a community, you need to build something that lasts (goes far). Find partners that you like to work with, those you can motivate and who can motivate you in return. Find people who share the same vision and drive as you, people who can represent the community and act in its best interest, people who don’t need to be micromanaged in order to get things done.
That’s not that easy though! It can get very frustrating to find these people but it’s okay, because this is an on-going process. It will take many years and different team members joining and leaving before you know who’s a good fit and who’s not, so don’t be discouraged or afraid to experiment and give people a chance!
3. Take action
It’s great that you figured out what’s missing in your ecosystem, and found a partner (or more) who shares your excitement about this. But this is not enough! You need to act on this and take the first step. From my experience setting up communities, this step is crucial as a lot of founders sink into paralysis. They don’t know how to organize THE FIRST MEETUP, where to begin? what to do? etc… Just like any other project, the first step is always the hardest so JUST DO IT! Start small and grow as you go! You don’t need to organize the best meetup ever on the first try (most probably you won’t!) but you need to get the ball rolling.
4. Reach out & connect
After you decide on your first meetup, now it’s time to let everyone know about it! It’s not a community without people right? Find a medium to reach out to the people in your area, or anyone who might be interested in your community. Get the word out! It can be through Facebook, or maybe for a more professional audience you might try LinkedIn.
Remember your audience and always keep in touch with your community. Share your updates via newsletters, or by writing monthly recap posts like we do at Beirut AI. Try to reach out to your community for help by recruiting volunteers for specific tasks, MAKE IT A COMMUNITY!
5. Be inclusive
Throughout your journey building the community, you will meet a lot of people coming from different backgrounds. Each has a story and something to add. Don’t assume your members are all the same, be open to everyone and make sure your community is open as well.
Diversity ensures your community’s longevity and helps it grow in members and strength. Even though this is your thing and it will feel like your baby, remember that you’re building this not for yourself but for everyone! A community should be open to everyone who shares the same interest.
6. Be a YES person!
This sounds counter-productive and some might not agree with me on this, but if you’re building something you’re passionate about, that doesn’t mean everyone else is. Saying yes opens doors to new opportunities and you never know where that might lead your community to. I believe in the early stage, you should say YES to almost every opportunity you get, and this will help your community reach new people and grow your audience.
7. Listen to your people
Always make sure you’re listening to your audience. The community is not you and your team, it’s the people that show up at your activities. Ask for their feedback and pay attention to their ideas and suggestions and be prepared to deliver on that! Sending a feedback form after every event is a great way to start. Another way is to engage and talk to the attendees at the end of a certain event, try to get their feedback on the event, what worked and what didn’t and ask them for suggestions for how to make it better next time.
8. Make mistakes
I can’t stress this enough! Every mistake is a chance to learn so don’t be afraid of making mistakes, because that’s how you will learn. If you’re reading this post, most likely you’re still new to community building and you have a lot to learn. If you’re not stepping outside of your comfort zone, you’re not growing. Same thing applies to your community! Make sure you’re always innovating and finding new ways to deliver your message and engage with your people.
9. Work hard & be passionate
Work hard, typical right? A lot of people take this statement for granted and don’t give much attention to the actions required to actually be a “hard worker”. It’s not easy to create something from nothing, it requires A LOT of work and sacrifices.
Be passionate: it might sound cliche to be passionate about the mission of your community but this is obviously VERYimportant! If you lack the passion, you won’t be able to do any of the previous points. You won’t be able to find the need in your ecosystem, you won’t be able to convince your team to join you, you won’t remember to connect with your audience, you won’t be willing to sacrifice weekends to work hard, you won’t have the energy to collaborate with anyone that comes your way and you definitely won’t be willing to say YES to new opportunities!
I believe having hard-working passionate members is the key that every new community need, to reach critical mass and become successful, healthy and growing.
10. Have FUN!
This is the most important part, because that’s mainly the reason why we’re doing it in the first place. We’re not building a community for money, or because someone is forcing us to, we do it because we ENJOY being around like-minded individuals and having discussions with people who are working on similar things.
If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong!! A community should be a place to share, learn, laugh, meet new people, and above all else, create an environment where everyone can have fun!