This is what you need to build an online community (Part 1)
To build and scale a platform, a project must not only have a sound concept, but a community backing it. Without this, your chances of success are increasingly difficult. As Simon Sinek puts it, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This is a step by step guide in showcasing your why to lead a devoted following.
Step 1. Phone a friend
Rome wasn’t built overnight, and neither was your startup. Julius Caesar didn’t do it alone, nor will you. Ideas take time to foster from concept to reality. There is no shortage of ways you can build, promote, and showcase your ideas in this day and age. Online communities are designed by nature to be inviting and organic. Membership is as simple as clicking a thumbs up button or tapping your screen two times. Before you get anywhere, you must use your first lifeline and phone a friend.
This is more than a cliche tv game show line, it’s the truth if you want to be successful. No person you envy has done it alone. They always have someone helping guide them along the way. Just like in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” phoning a friend gives you the opportunity to ask questions that will help grow your chances of success.
Going through my phone, there are 1,200 contacts I could choose from to start a community. The blind thought of this gives me decision paralysis. My first thought to overcome this would be to ask the question, who would be the most passionate person to go into this with?
If my goal were to create a community of people passionate about UX development, I would call up a friend who is a UX developer down the road. If I were to build a successful crypto community around WaltonChain, my best bet would be to phone a friend in Southern China. Theoretically, your optimal founding partner would be a function of three factors. Agreeableness, shared passion, and proximity.
These three parameters are rarely calculated beyond soulful intuition. It happens almost naturally. Breaking them down, you can see why:
- Agreeableness — This boils down to the question, how well do I get along with them? Typically, the hope is for you two to already have a great relationship, where you can be humble in your shortcomings while holding each other accountable.
- Shared passion — It is essentially a combination of knowledge and willingness to learn. The common misconception is that someone needs to know it all. This fallacy is a result of someone’s passion around a subject, and willingness to learn. When co-founders share a belief and are willing to risk it all, they are in it to win it together.
- Proximity — The question to ask here is, how close are you to this person both physically and emotionally. It is much more difficult to start a project with someone on the other side of the world, than someone you know in your building. However, it would be a lot easier if you and your co-founder grew up neighbors than meeting once in an online forum.
Step 2. Create a Plan
Without a plan, you might as well be dead on arrival. It doesn’t need to be thorough, but there needs to be something. What will that outline include? To begin it requires some research.
First off, think of the pains and gains for each potential member joining your community. What makes their lives difficult? What are they like? Who are they? Some of them might be bankers, others janitors. Your community is about a shared passion, which is one of the gains of joining your community. People to share ideas with, people to conversate with, and people to do business with. Understanding who your future evangelists might be is a critical step in planning out a successful community.
Next, understand your landscape. We use the word community in many different contexts. If you are working on a blockchain project and don’t want to dilute your first mover’s advantage, then it probably would be wise to stay on Step 2 for a while. If your goal is to build awareness of a cause, then your goal should be to grow as fast as possible.
Finally, figure out what it will take to execute on what you want to accomplish with your new community. Understand that it will take nothing but persistence and hard work. Buying followers have become a trend of the Instagram Era. These superficial constructs will never allow your community to grow into a thriving meritocracy.
Step 3. Start an Online Community
Take that friend(s) and start an online community. Your choices of where to start it are plenty — from facebook groups, subreddits, and all the way to telegram. You need to choose what fits you. In the world of Crypto, due to the fast-paced nature of it, most projects choose an instant messenger — telegram, discord, or slack, backed by a subreddit.
Make sure you and that core group know what are the rules and when issues arise (they will) be decisive to whether you want to allow it or not, if you don’t allow something make sure to communicate why to the community because once grown it’s the members that will enforce the rules for you. Strong foundations will help build and support a large community.
Almost by accident, Eylon created Crypto China, one of the largest crypto communities on WeChat. It started from a small group of mostly friends talking about Crypto in Beijing, and as things started taking off in late 2016, the group got filled and the chat became busy, very busy. As expected from crypto communities where the fanaticism can reach religious levels, fighting and arguing between members was frequent. Eylon had a basic rule which he followed and in times had to warn specific members, in the group and in private — respect each other, have a civil discussion, and don’t act like children. That last was the how he expressed his discontent inside the chat many times when discussions got derailed, by what can only be described as acting like children.
Groups are capped at 500 members on WeChat, so new subgroups must be created in order to scale. Since different people create these subgroups, it leads to a decentralized community with many groups and many admins.
As the community grew, The main Crypto China group remained the core, with thousands of related sub-groups controlled by other people. From moon watch, technical analysis, buy & sell, ETH chat, ICO pooling, Blockchain tech, to cities, and even coin/project specific chats. The beauty of it is that every group is managed by a different person, different admin, and even different rules, for example, a dedicated group for shitposting.
With so many groups in the ether of WeChat, organization had to happen. After a few attempts and suggestions, an idea came up for for a group index that will contain a listing of all existing groups. There, anyone could request his/her group to be listed and anyone could ask for invites which simplified discoverability between the groups and enabled the community to flourish further.
An important aspect and something that was consistently promoted by Eylon is meetups. Migrating from online to offline interactions are how small groups turn into thriving communities (alcohol is recommended, as it is the ultimate social lubricant).
How do you know your “group” has advanced and graduated to become a community? We can talk about that in the next post.