How To Build (And Grow) Long Lasting Communities

At Spoon University, we are a fundamentally new kind of media company, where all of the content is created by a network of contributors all over the world. Spoon creators have produced tens of thousands of pieces of content (thousands of which are videos) garnering over half a billion impressions every month.

People often ask us how we motivate a massive network of people to create content on Spoon. The answer is simple and less of a silver bullet than many would hope: we consider our contributors to be our top priority and primary customers. We come to work every day to provide as much value as possible to our contributors and members in an attempt to foster intrinsic motivation and social connections through our 250+ global communities.

Communities Are Strongest If They’re Intrinsically Motivated

The most engaged, productive and longest-lasting communities are powered by intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivators (like money) are fleeting, relative, and generally ineffective at driving long-term community engagement.

Think about any of the best communities that you’ve been a part of: paying people to be there would be like paying someone to be your friend. Paying someone to do something makes it a job. It changes the incentive structure. Once you’re paid to do something, you’ll do the bare minimum necessary to get paid the amount you’re promised — and doing more or working harder is undervaluing your labor. But if you actually care about someone or something? That’s what will make you give up a Saturday to help your friend move or take the train for an hour to get to campaign headquarters.

Intrinsic motivation is the key ingredient that establishes our relationship with our contributors as our customers. First and foremost, we come to work every day to add value to them in order to help them maximize that value for themselves.

Mastery, Autonomy & Purpose

In order to foster intrinsic motivation, there are three key areas in which we need to focus: mastery, autonomy and purpose. Daniel Pink discusses this thoroughly in his book, Drive, which dives into the psychology behind these three forces. When building the tools and support for Spoon, all of our decisions trace back to at least one of these three motivators.

Mastery is the tireless pursuit of improvement in a certain skill area — the person has to feel the improvement over time to be properly intrinsically rewarded. Many of our members use our platform because they want to develop professionally or get a creative outlet. In order to master their skills in digital media and marketing, they need access to information and resources, the opportunity to practice their craft, and ultimately the opportunity to help others develop skills, too. Our most engaged and experienced members moderate conversations in our member Slack channel, where they can share the lessons that helped them succeed.

Autonomy is maintaining power and control over how you get a job done. We don’t set minimums or dole out consequences — we offer freedom to experiment and share in successes. We offer structures that have worked across all of our communities, and then allow each community to use what works for them and ditch what doesn’t. This allows for creativity and inspires ownership, when ownership is critical to long-lasting satisfaction.

And ultimately everything leads back to the purpose of Spoon: being a part of something larger than yourself, and helping others in the world in whatever small ways you can. When Spoon contributors work together to create content they’re proud of, they do this to help their friends know where to eat, or help their peers avoid the same mistakes they made, or make sure that someone far away knows that they’re not alone. This purpose not only fosters deeper, stronger, and more engaged communities, but it also bleeds into all the content that they produce: content created under these circumstances will consistently be more authentic and more purposeful than content created to make a buck.

5 Key Community Attributes

In order for community members to experience mastery, autonomy, and purpose, all communities must have these 5 attributes:

Shared Interest

Communities organize around a common interest or passion point. This connects people to each other and fosters trust. At Spoon, our communities have come together over a love of food. Our users often tell us that their chief motivation for joining Spoon is to find other people who are like them. This idea of “finding your people” and feeling like you’re a part of something larger than yourself is really powerful — it gives you meaning and connects you with other humans.

Structure

Communities thrive under leadership and processes. Without these things, a community may not do anything at all — worst case, it’s just an unorganized mob.

We’ve written the playbook to launch and grow communities that works in countries and cities all over the world. Over the course of launching chapters, we’ve increased the number of chapters that we can launch at once by 12x — while growing our team size 4x. We’ve found the magic moments that lead to the most successful community founders (resourcefulness as opposed to experience), and the magic moments that lead to more engaged contributors (creating at least 15 pieces of content). We provide enough structure to remove questions and streamline processes, but are flexible enough to allow for autonomy.

Leadership

Leaders for each community are critically important. These leaders regularly engage their teams with meetings and events, drive connections between members, manage their teams’ deadlines and processes, and congratulate team members that are excelling.

We’ve found that leaders aren’t necessarily motivated by content creation — they’re organized, resourceful, and passionate, but their purpose may be different from that of someone who joins Spoon to build a massive portfolio. These leaders have access to us for support, but more importantly, they have access to each other. Our community of leaders across the world ask each other questions and provide their own answers, so they can collectively improve.

Education

Community members can improve over time with education, resources and feedback. We built all of our educational and analytics tools in-house, and we’re constantly working to improve them.

We built out a Codecademy-like training program that offers up-to-the-moment training in everything from SEO-optimization to making videos on your iPhone. Once our contributors complete the training, they get access to our simple and intuitive content creation tools, which have optimization education and editorial process built into the publishing process. Once they publish content, contributors can get feedback instantly through analytics to track their progress over time, and learn what works and what doesn’t.

Pride

Finally, it’s when a community fosters a sense of pride in its members that it becomes a part of an individual’s identity.

This pride is critical for improving retention, decreasing churn, and marketing the group to others. The members of these communities aren’t just passive consumers — they’re passionate marketers and brand ambassadors, trying to help other people find the same joy and satisfaction that they’ve found. This pride is the final and most important attribute of a long-lasting community.

So why does it matter?

We believe that communities are the key to reaching humanity at scale. There is no better way to relate to someone than to be them, and there’s no better way to understand a place than to be there. At a time when our country is losing trust in media, and our media is struggling to diversify and relate, we need to decentralize our systems to connect ourselves again.

Spoon started as a college magazine, and using our community model we’ve scaled it across the globe. We’re built on passion and purpose, and we seek to provide value for our members, because we know that they are the ones who can provide the most value to the world.

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