In my previous blog I discussed the flywheel and initiating community momentum. But what happens when the community gains some momentum? How do you sustain it?
From the very beginning of Door64, I was passionate about solving this problem: hosting a community calendar for Austin-area technology events because I was often aggravated after learning about local tech events after the fact. So when some momentum began to build in the Door64 community, I led by example and posted every local tech and networking event that I could find on the Door64 calendar. When contact information was available, I emailed the leaders of local groups to entice them to post their events. After all, with some forethought I knew that the calendar would not be sustainable if maintained by myself; it needed to be community-driven, and thus community-maintained.
Engagement takes more than saying pretty please. For anyone to be truly enticed to engage, there has to be value exchanged for their participation. In my case, why would an event organizer be enticed (motivated) to post their event on the Door64 calendar? Surely it is the desire to see more relevant and interested people attend the event, and perhaps even join their organization. So the community provides value by solving the event organizer’s problem: mass communication in exchange for their community engagement (posting the event).
Early on in the Door64 community, I began emailing a weekly newsletter that reached our entire membership – a few hundred people at the time. In part, our newsletter reminded readers about upcoming local tech-related events posted on our calendar. Because of the technology focus of our membership, our newsletter recipients were the very people the event organizer wanted to reach, and may have experienced difficulty reaching otherwise. Thus, posting their events on the Door64 calendar was valuable. Fast-forward: Today, the Door64 newsletter reaches 6000 local technologists, and the value of posting on the calendar has increased greatly through our reach, so more event organizers post on our calendar, which in turn increases its value to the community. And moreover, every newsletter results in sharing and growth in our membership. We have created a snowball effect. Sure, early on it required some special attention to foster, but now the value it provides is a huge momentum driver for the community.
A formula for momentum
As your community gains momentum, how can you realize your community goals while providing value to members? An unrealized goal is a problem waiting to be solved, so consider this generalized process:
- Define the problem to address through the community.
- Who are the constituents of the problem? (By the way, this works much better if you are one of the constituents, since your personal experience can guide you.)
- Can their pain be lessened/removed by leveraging the community and/or your leadership position? In other words, can you and/or other people potentially help with the solution?
- Are the constituents already a part of your community, or will they be sufficiently attracted because of the community-based solution? The answer determines where you have to focus your marketing effort for the solution.
- Implement the infrastructure to create and support the appropriate interaction that will best solve the problem, and market it to the constituents.
In my case, (1) our local area lacked a single place to learn about local tech events, (2) the constituents were the event organizers and potential attendees, (3) the pain was spreading the word, (4) the potential attendees were other community members, and (5) the online event calendar supported the interaction while the weekly newsletter created it. In addition, the community newsletter also helped market the solution because the solution was communication-based in nature – an asset communities already have going for them!