Six Fundamentals of Building Community

Janna Crabb (@jcrabb) is director of online communications at CASE.

This is the second in a series of blog posts on community management, highlighting the keynotes at a conference on online communities and community management hosted by Higher Logic, the platform used for CASE Communities. While the conference focused on the association world, the keynotes’ ideas were relevant to anyone trying to grow communities online, including CASE member institutions. 

David Spinks, founder and CEO of CMX Media, shared six fundamentals for successful community building. His ideas are relevant to anyone who wants to build community in a virtual space regardless of its purpose or industry association—including CASE members!

  • Take a stance. Show your institution’s personality and values within your community—and share its culture regularly through the online space. For instance, do your constituents expect you to be supportive of diversity? Are you located in a town or city with a unique personality? Does your institution stand behind specific values? Students, alumni and other constituents want to see purpose and personality within your community.
  • Don’t convince. Organize the convinced. People don’t want to change their beliefs and allegiances. If you find the champions who see real value in your community—and organize and empower them—others will follow the leaders. Institutions with dedicated alumni and students have easy-to-find champions—engage them to engage others.
  • Begin with personalized approaches. Limited resources might encourage community managers to take a one-size-fits-all approach, but think carefully before taking this path. Creating unique and personalized approaches to engage your community members is much more effective, especially in the early stages of your community. Test out personalized approaches. Once you figure out what works, then optimize and scale up—especially as your communities grow.
  • Be real. People want the faces of their online communities to be human—real people who make mistakes, try new things and are vulnerable. Make a mistake? Own up to it. Don’t know the answer to a question? Respond and let the person know you are looking into it. Being real—and not just sharing marketing messages or one-way pushes—will help you gain the trust of your community members.
  • Solve a real problem. A community should help your members solve problems or put them on the road to a solution. If you know what members value and what their challenges are, you are better positioned to help them find solutions and, in the process, show them the value of your online community.
  • Be comfortable with giving up control. If you work in the online world, you already know that control is an illusion. Have you tried controlling what others say on social media or a community platform? How did that work out? So, rather than trying to do the impossible, give your community the power to take idea and run with it. Autonomy is a powerful community building mechanism.

What are your experiences with these fundamentals? Do you have advice or stories to share? Add them in the comments.

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