Creating Abundant Communities

And what happens if we don't [Read time: 3 mins]

Have you ever seen an online group or chat room filled with thousands of members and yet hardly any real activity? Let’s talk about that.

I was reading Proposals for the Feminine Economy and had one of those moments where you stop for a full minute, burning a set of words into your brain.

Accumulation is not the same as Abundance.
-Jennifer Armbrust

I happened to be under a pomegranate tree and was staring at the tree’s ripening fruit. I imagined each pomegranate growing hundreds of seeds, slowly ripening. There is such beauty in waiting patiently for nature to unfold abundance.

pomegranate fruit tree free photo

Patience! Abundance! Here’s what we can take away and use when thinking about community building…

Accumulation and Audience Building

Many of us are familiar with a typical marketing funnel–a way to accumulate leads and turn them into customers. I see many well-meaning community creators apply a similar strategy to community. Laura Nestler from Duolingo explains the marketing vs community funnel so well in this talk.

You simply cannot accumulate a large number of members and turn them into a community. You must do the reverse. You must let the fruit ripen on the tree before picking it!

Communities form when bonds between members are created. Think about two types of gatherings 1) a small dinner party with a group of people that share an interest or 2) a large concert. In which situation would you most likely create true bonds?

When building a community it’s important to start with a core founding group (the size of a dinner party) and add members slowly. Grow slower and deeper bonds will form. Deeper bonds = regular engagement and community member stickiness.

Related: Hidden Networks Effects by D'Arcy Coolican

Over Seeding Communities

When a community is growing in a healthy way it can feel painfully slow. We’re so used to marketing funnels! At this point, I see two things happen 1) we abandon the community or 2) use our marketing chops to flood new members in. We abandon our trees or over seed our gardens!

Over seeding in nature creates competition for light, water, and nutrients, and seedlings struggle as a result.

Here’s what happens when we over seed our communities:

  1. Community roles don’t take shape - Community leaders won’t have the time or space to influence new members with norms and rituals.

  2. Ideal community members will bounce - Because their roles have become obsolete, influential members that support your vision and values will become less and less engaged.

  3. New members won’t know how to engage - With community leaders churning, the norms and rituals hat help guide new members will disappear.

  4. Engagement becomes less and less valuable - Members might occasionally engage, but they won’t understand how to really add value or connect with others. What’s second best when you’re not creating meaningful connections? ‘Likes’ or reactions trigger that sweet sweet dopamine, so members start engaging for attention, not connection.

  5. Trolls and fake accounts - Bloated memberships also attract trolls and fake accounts. They can see there aren’t enough community leaders or moderators paying attention to activity, and this is a place they can thrive without getting caught.

Silicon Valley (and corporations) are starting to obsess over community, hoping it will give them superpowers. It feels like community is becoming the new “let’s go viral!”.

Communities built too quickly or with the wrong motivation put us all in danger of community-washing. Here’s my additional worry: we’ll hear some say, “community is just a buzzword, it’s not as valuable as everyone says it is.” I fear some will say community building is expensive (because you’ll need a lot of people to try to fix the problems created by growing too fast). Or we’ll hear communities are a liability to a brand (again! because these communities weren’t thoughtfully built, they become toxic and can do damage to a brand).

But if done well, and if slow networks can grow slowly and thoughtfully, we’ll find abundance. What does this look like? Webs of like-minded people caring for each all over the place. And when a web of people envision and work toward a better future together, that’s where the magic starts to happen. That’s when the trees bear the sweetest fruit.