Nothing can replace in-person community

Perhaps one of the most detrimental consequences of digital technology is the illusion of connection. We think that if we can tweet, post, text, e-mail, or even call someone, we’re good. After all, digital relationships save us the time and coordination of meeting in person, which in turn allows us to be überproductive—or so we tell ourselves. But here’s the thing: nothing can replace in-person community, and our failed attempts to do so come at a grave cost.

It’s Okay to Be Good and Not Great (Outside)

I owe a lot to the web. It opened the door to opportunities I never would’ve had otherwise.

As a kid growing up in central Ontario, I was able to make new friends around the world and pour my time into hobbies that eventually led to a fulfilling life and career.

But none of that would’ve happened if I didn’t go from URL to IRL.

It’s the difference between RSVP’ing and showing up. Intent doesn’t equal action.

I’m an introvert by default. In my early 20’s I was notorious for flaking on parties. Even now, a decade after my first meetup, I still feel an urge to bail before an event.

Despite that, I’ll still show up, because I know the benefit is worth the discomfort.

In-person experiences are the catalyst for strong relationships. Everything we do otherwise is a watered-down alternative. Video puts a face to the name. In-person experiences put the whole being of a person to the name.

So, if you really want to connect with your community, bring them together offline.

Community is a series of small choices and everyday actions

This was community. And what I would come to learn, slowly, is that community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none. Knowing others and being known; investing in somewhere instead of trying to be everywhere. Communities are built, like Legos, one brick at a time. There’s no hack.

The only metric of success that really matters (Quartz)

I’d argue that communities aren’t built — they’re grown. Like a garden, a community requires care and attention and, over time, they’ll bear fruit. And as with a garden, there are things you can do to improve your chances of success.

You’ll have different plants in your garden, depending on what type of garden you want to grow. The better you understand the needs of your plants, the better a job you can do in caring for them. Some plants need more sunlight than others, or more water, or different soil.

And so it goes with a community. Knowing why you’re bringing people together in the first place will help you plan accordingly. Understanding the needs of your members means you’ll do a better job of solving those needs and giving them a good reason to stick around.

Where I absolutely align with this piece is in the takeaway, that it’s a series of small decisions and actions that make a community take off. The consistency, the routine, the showing up and contributing, participating, over and over again.

All of this compounds over time, as more people join, as more people discover and share and invite others to do the same. It’s a flywheel: Show up. Participate. Document. Share. Repeat.

Creating common knowledge

Creating common knowledge creates a network effect. All companies in Silicon Valley want to build network effects, but few have followed Barton’s path despite its effectiveness. The more people use and trust Glassdoor, the more companies must take it seriously. And as users see more people contributing to Glassdoor, they can be more confident they’ll stay anonymous when they add their review. There are virtuous loops in common knowledge.”

Making Uncommon Knowledge Common (kwokchain)

My hobby from high school through college was to work on gaming fansites and forums.

In those early days (mid 2000’s) it was up to us, the devoted webmaster crowd, to compile information into comprehensive guides and resources for other gamers.

Our guides — usually written by one or two people — drove a fair chunk of search traffic and links. But the vast, vast majority of our traffic came from the forums.

Our forums were a well of common knowledge, deep discussion threads probing all angles of the games we covered.

That arrangement was good for a while. Our sites offered the coherent walkthroughs and references; the forums offered everything else.

Then “Web 2.0” happened.

Keep reading…

Moderation creates communities

“I hope people can express themselves. I hope they can share their ideas, share their thoughts. But we’re not a platform for free speech. We are not upholding the First Amendment. That’s the government’s job. We’re a community. And communities have standards for how you have to behave inside that community. And so we think that it’s not anything goes.

Twitch CEO Emmett Shear on how moderation creates communities (The Verge)

Like Emmet Shear, the CEO of Twitch, I’m a firm supporter of community moderation. As community leaders, we’re responsible in setting expectations early on with clear guidelines. That includes a Code of Conduct for behaviour; a Governance policy for how decisions get made as a team; and defined escalation paths for dealing with problematic members.

I’ve gotten some heat in the past for having this position, accusations of censorship and impeding free speech (or freedom of expression, here in Canada). But those are enshrined in our rights as citizens; not in our rights as members of a community group.

That said, I also believe that community guidelines should be ever-evolving. New incidents may pop up that you hadn’t expected. It’s happened to me more than a few times. So, if they’re not covered in your guidelines, update the guidelines to address those issues in the future.

The microcosmic subcultures of online communities

There’s a thread that makes its way through these communities. They often start with a simple idea and a domain name. But as that idea begins to resonate out with a larger and larger group of users, the sands shift, and the community transforms the site from the inside in a sort of symbiotic relationship with the site’s owners.”

A Sense of Community: From Newgrounds to MLKSHK (History Of The Web)

Niche online communities are how I found my way around the web. The same goes for a lot of us older Millennial types.

Whether it was NeoPets or MySpace or Newgrounds — as in the case of this piece from The History Of The Web — these sites were places where we could find other kids who shared our interests.

It’s not so different for the next generation. My friends and I played Warcraft. Now my nephew plays Fortnite. We used AIM and MSN Messenger. Now the kids use Instagram, Discord, and TikTok.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That’s what makes Facebook Groups and Instagram hashtags and Reddit subreddits so potent. They’re a central place — a point of discovery — for people to find others like themselves.

If you intend to put Community Marketing to work for your business, it starts here, by identifying these existing places where the people you want to reach are already coming together.

They’re not places for you to promote or distribute your content. They’re places for you to show up, lurk, listen, and participate.

The more embedded you are within a community, as a contributing member and not as a business with something to sell, the more likely you are to find success.

Thought leadership content

You know movement-first content when you see it. It’s sometimes called thought leadership content. Some people call the posts ‘essays’ instead of articles. It looks and feels very different from content optimized for search since it isn’t beholden to any SEO tactics like word count and keyword density.”

How to Scale Content Without Sacrificing Quality (Animalz)

As Google culls traffic referrals in favour of keeping users in the SERPs, I expect more marketers and publishers to pivot towards content worth subscribing to.

Thought leadership content — or, as Animalz describes it, “movement-first content” — fits squarely into that category.

It’s the sort of content that picks up steam through social shares and newsletter citations. It’s the pontificatorials that busines folks drop as LinkedIn Pulse articles.

Predictions about the future. Opinionated essays. Rants. Reviews.

You know the type.

Now, as someone who’s spent the better part of the last five years chasing SEO-friendly content, I’m really excited for this pivot. Because it means, hopefully, a return of original voice and style and stream-of-consciousness blogging that made the early web such a delight.

These writeups are also great fodder for prompting conversations. And as the pendulum swings back from a radically open web to a connected mesh of niche communities, those conversations are going to matter more and more.

On switching from “audience” to “community”

From hosting 15-25 Executive Members at our monthly roundtables to building out 2PM’s Polymathic, the shift from audience to community has provided serendipity in ways that were previously unimaginable. Subscription revenue becomes the key variable here. Paid memberships provide a level of opportunity that advertising-driven platforms cannot. For a practical example, consider the difference between fast food restaurants and four star establishments.”

From Audiences to Communities (2PML)

This feels so perfectly in tune with a tweet thread I dropped over the weekend. (And, go figure, as I write this, I find my thread cited in the 2PML post…!)

Aside, I submitted a pitch to talk about this very topic at PodCamp Toronto 2020: A Renaissance for Online Communities.

America’s urban transformation

“Many communities grew more racially and ethnically diverse this decade, mirroring the rising diversity of the country as a whole. Such demographic shifts generally aren’t apparent from a satellite’s view. But we found some telltale signs.”

A Decade of Urban Transformation, Seen From Above (New York Times)

An interactive visual essay from Upshot (New York Times) documenting the dramatic transformation of American communities over the past decade.

Presenting? Make your slides obvious

Make it legible. – Make it simple. – Make it obvious.

If you just do these three things, you’ll have a presentation that anyone can probably understand. And since understanding is the foundation for getting someone excited enough to want to talk to you afterwards, it’s a good place to start.”

How to Design a Better Pitch Deck (Y Combinator)

Kevin Hale at Y Combinator wrote this blog post with tech startups in mind, but the takeaways are applicable to any sort of presentation, whether it be to a local meetup group or big ol’ conference audience.

See also: The YC Seed Deck Template