Saul Alinsky addressing a crowd, photographer unknown

What’s a community — and what is it really for?

As part of my work for a global startup community, I got to think about what a community is for and how to organise it.

Below is some food for thoughts. This is by no mean exhaustive. Please reach out to me if you have any feedback or would like to discuss that topic. I’d love to get the conversation going.

Email me.

Definition

Here is the Oxford dictionary definition:

“a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”
“Ecology — a group of interdependent plants or animals growing or living together in natural conditions or occupying a specified habitat.”

Note that the definition of community says nothing about managing social media. A director of community is not a glorified social media manager — just in case you thought so.

Community is a lot more than this.

Community is an asset.

Your community is your asset.

Again, quick copy/paste from Oxford dictionary

“[A]n asset is an economic resource. Anything tangible or intangible that can be owned or controlled to produce value and that is held by a company to produce positive economic value is an asset. Simply stated, assets represent value of ownership that can be converted into cash.”

That’s it, an asset you own you can generate revenue from.

Anyway, what’s a community asset made of?

Sub assets: content and traffic

The two sub assets of a community are information/content and traffic.

Information/content can be online (e.g. user generated content, blog, podcast, etc) or offline (e.g. speaking engagement, panels, etc).

Traffic is generated by your community online, you can redirect it to a website, an event page, announcements — online, or to a meetup, a conference — offline. Both can feed growth funnels, yours or those of your partners.

Community asset in the market-based economy

What’s a community asset for?

A community is an asset an organisation can leverage to extend its reach and grow beyond its own environment.

Benefits from a community can be financial: a lead, a deal; or non-financial: awareness, brand equity.

Below are a few examples of how to leverage on a community asset:

  • exert influence
  • do public relations
  • crowdsource information (e.g. user generated content)
  • build brand awareness
  • generate leads
  • generate deal flow and investment opportunities (for a venture capital funds)
  • leverage on your the expertise of your community to help your organisation, your portfolio grow (for VCs)
  • hire people
  • do customer service
  • leverage on the sub assets of your community (i.e. traffic and content) to strike partnerships with global conferences, or other communities.

Your pick.

Possibilities are endless.

Defining your asset — centralised vs decentralised assets

Define your asset. Build your community asset on a decentralised standard (e.g. email — SMTP protocol), not on a centralised product (e.g. a Facebook group, an Instagram account). You have no power over that centralised product. Your data is stuck , you don’t own it, you can’t import or export it and you are bound to the rules of the centralised platform. For instance you can’t monetise a Facebook group — and yes Medium is centralised.

With email (SMTP protocol), you own the mailing list and can export, import it to/from various products.

This is why I would set up an email database as the core asset of a community — not a Twitter account, not a Facebook page nor an Instagram account.

You don’t own those.

You should own your asset, your data.

That said, you can use centralised products as peripheral acquisition channels to redirect traffic to your core asset.

A community asset is a product

Your product growth strategy

How to build and organise a community, a network of people, as an asset?

Back in the days, in the industrial economy, there was few online tools to help you build community. Most network of people were build thru meetups, conferences and email introduction. Some of those organisations sometime had an acquisition, activation, retention, referral, revenue model.

Very few had built operation that could scale, models that could repeat, or automate some of the tasks.

Technology enable us to build organisation with repeatable and scalable business model.

  • Think of your community a product
  • Implement a AARRR growth strategy (acquisition, activation, retention, referral, revenue)
  • Automate repetitive tasks

Below a suggestive list of product “features”:

  • Curated newsletter
  • Invite-only events (i.e. private dinners)
  • Side events at global conferences (e.g. Web Summit, Tech Crunch)
  • Blog (or crowdsourced content). It could be a publication on Medium so we can leverage on Medium existing audience.
  • Group chat (e.g. Riot)
  • Toolbox
  • Speaking engagements for your community people
  • Crowdsourced resources (i.e. crowdsourced information on a Google spreadsheet)

Tools to grow your community product

Below is a shortlist of tools I’ve used to manage community product

  • CRM
  • messaging and communication platform (e.g. Riot)
  • email marketing software (e.g. Mautic)
  • analytics software (e.g. Mautic)
  • knowledge base/FAQ (e.g. Slite)
  • help desk software (e.g. Zendesk)
  • social media automation (e.g. Buffer)
  • databases of resources (e.g. Airtable)

Organisers, not leaders

So far, organisation have strove to position themselves as leaders.

From now on, leading organisations will position themselves as organisers.

“The organiser finds his goal in the creation of power for others to use.” — Saul Alinsky

Organisations with the best curated community assets will be leaders in their environment.

An organisation without a community is an organisation without eyes and ears in its own environment. One needs to learn how to curate, organize and grow a community.


Please get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss that topic. We can jump on a call or grab coffee.

If that was helpful please “clap”👏 🙏

More reading:

Rules for Radicals,” Saul Alinsky