The 10 Golden Rules of Building Communities That Matter

What does it take to bring people together?

Earlier this year when I started co-matter I was thinking about the principles that guide my understanding of what makes a great community.

I sat down and wrote these 10 Golden Rules. Just like any rule they don’t always have to be true. But they sum up what I’ve learned in 10+ years of bringing people together across the internet.

Communities are about the (manifold) relationships people have between each other.

1. Relationships > followers

Building a community is about building relationships. People who just follow you won’t give you any indication of how relevant you are.

The best communities are based on strong relationships. They grow both quantity and quality of relationships that people have between each other.

2. Communities need leaders, not managers

To start a community you need authority in your field. You can’t hire someone to take this over for you.

Your community will thrive on leadership. Have a clear vision of where you want to go and inspire people to join you on your journey.

3. Participation is key

It’s not a community if people can’t participate. Participation means: creating something together, sharing knowledge, contributing to a common goal.

Your job is to design the framework for people to get involved. Once that’s clear, your community is ready to roll.

4. Your vision defines whether people are willing to follow you (or not)

You need to define why your community exists. It sounds easy but it’s the hardest part of it all.

What, why, who, how, when and where. Answer each of those in one sentence. Share it and find out if there are more people who feel the same way.

5. Provide value first

The people out there won’t magically find you and become engaged members of your community. You need to show first what it’s all about.

This can be simple. A meetup that brings people together. A regular movie night. An exhibition. Always ask yourself: What can I do to provide value for the people I care about? Do it and people will show up.

6. Trust is the most valuable good you can achieve

If people trust you, you can go anywhere. Start a new community. Change direction. Close down and throw a huge party.

Do what you promise. Provide the guidelines for others to do the same. You’re set to establish a community of trust: the most precious good you can achieve.

7. Start small (1000 fans)

Kevin Kelly came up with the theory of 1000 fans. You don’t need more than 1000 die-hard fans to have a thriving business.

The same counts for your community. Focus on the people to whom your vision really matters. Invest in every single person. The foundation you build in the beginning will carry you a long way into the future.

8. Community = culture

The scariest thing about communities is that you have to learn how to let go. Once people are aligned to your vision, it’s out of your control what they do with it.

Treat your community like a culture: a system of beliefs, norms and rituals that’s far bigger than yourself, any individual, media or platform. It will save you a lot of headaches.

9. Celebrate success

When you’re focused on getting somewhere you easily forget to honor those who make it all happen. Stop and look around once in a while: what have you achieved so far?

Be generous in what you give and thankful in what you receive. Give shout outs, throw parties and celebrate every little thing along the way. Your achievements as a community is what keeps people going.

10. Don’t mess it up

By leading a community you have to embrace that things won’t work out the way you want it. Humans are complicated. You’ve got to deal with it. If you don’t like that, don’t do it.

Your community creates meaning in people’s lives. You have a responsibility towards them. Don’t mess it up.

Remark: These rules were inspired by The 10 Golden Rules of Lomography. Lomography was the first community I’ve worked with and these rules have inspired my thinking along the way. Thanks to Lomography for having created a movement in 1991 that still thrives today.

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