How to build your community

By David Crandall
how to build a community

This guy is extinct, but we still need our communities. (source: hawkoffire)

This is the fourth installment in the multi-site series “5 Ways to Live the Life You Were Meant To”:

  1. Get Motivated by Joel Runyon
  2. Be Your Own Boss by Eric Pratum
  3. Living the Dream by Mark Lawrence
  4. How to Build Your Community by David Crandall (Oh ya…that’s me!)
  5. Find the Company That Lets You Be You by Srini Rao

Make sure to check out the other parts too!

Community is the key

Regardless of your goals or how you frame your world, there is one skill that will boost your success like none other. Lifestyle designer or corporate mogul. Young, old or anywhere in between. Regardless of your set of demographics, if you want to sell products or services, become celebrity famous, or just build a custom tailored group of friends, you need to know how to build community.

You won’t be able to live the life you were meant to if you isolate yourself!

As I began preparing to write my contribution to the 5 part series “5 Ways to Live the Life You Were Meant For”, I was reminded of something about community building. Yes, there are skills involved (all of which can be learned). Yes, those skills can be improved upon by process and standardization. However, above all else, community building is a mindset.

You build community because you look for opportunities to do so. You build it because you expect it. You build it because you constantly think about it and are intentional in your every action to create it!

If you’re not intentional about the process, who knows where you’ll end up.

In both my online and offline lives, I am intentional about creating community wherever I go. It’s part of my DNA. Put me in a room full of strangers and I will start to assemble them together into a community-like structure.

I want to share some of that DNA with you.

Why is community important

I firmly believe that we operate best when in community with other people. Whether you believe we got here through creation or evolution, all indication seems to point to the fact that we have something inherently in us that draws us towards others.

Why? The same reasons it’s always been important: Protection & Support

It’s might be obvious that our ancestors used community for protection; our predators were more likely to pick off stragglers than a pack of us walking around. However, community today serves a similar purpose.

We no longer live in fear of hungry saber-tooths or rampant woolly mammoths. Instead, our predators are human. Wander out alone and these modern day predators will make a lunch out of you, but it is much more difficult to devour us when we band with our community. Bullies pick on the individual, not the strong majority.

As many of us know, the worst predators are usually ourselves. We devour our own dreams and correct thinking more than any outside force. Community is the strongest tool we have to fight against our poor thinking and continue down the path to our dreams. While powerful when we are isolated, the lizard brain has a much more difficult fight when we surround ourselves with others.

And this isn’t just a bunch of “gather around the campfire and hold hands while we sing” crap! Business and marketing people have long known that communities can serve as protection from poverty. I’m not talking about a disconnected group of customers, but about a thriving group of people who are connected to you and each other who want to support you (and thus, keep your ass out of the poor house).

I’ll take that, thank you very much.

On to the “How To” part

Like I said, this is a “How to”. Even if you do not have a strong community mindset at this time, like any mindset, it can be cultivated and strengthened by intentional practices. Keep in mind that the following are tools and guidelines to help you form community, but that people are dynamic and messy at times…which means that you need to adapt these guidelines to YOUR community.

And now for the “How to”:

1. Develop a Vision

There is an ancient text that I read regularly which says:

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

If we have no vision or goal, how can we be intentional about anything (this applies to more than just community building, btw). If we are not intentional, we will not build a strong community. At best, we may assemble people around us but our community bond will be weak.

Before anything else, decide that you want to build a community. Always keep this vision in front of you and make sure that your actions fall in line with it. If they don’t, then you either need to not do that action OR modify your vision. Either way, be intentional and not reactionary!

2. Start small

Mass Twitter follows that spam huge numbers of people won’t work for building a community. Yes, they might get a lot of people’s names and information, but a glorified address book is not a community; people are not connected with someone because their name appears next to someone else’s on an email list.

In the offline world, we don’t expect to walk into a crowded room, tell people we are there, and have them fawn over us. The same holds true online. Why? Because we’re still dealing with actual human even though we are separated by a computer screen.

Again,  the focus of our vision is to build community, not a list. We want people to connect with us and others.

Your first few people are important since they will set the stage for who is to follow. For those first few, here are some suggestions for what to look for:

  • Teachable – People who are looking to learn from you and others
    • Benefit: Your community will grow and not stagnate
  • Engaging – People who already show a history of being strong connectors themselves
    • Benefit: Your community can grow outside of your own efforts
  • Optimistic – People who tend more towards the “glass half full”
    • Benefit: When (not “if”) trouble arises in your community, these people will be key in helping maintain positive attitudes and responses
  • Pro-active – People who intentionally look for opportunities to take action
    • Benefit: Towing the line is rough work; pro-active people make the work lighter since they are willing to share the burden

3. Respect your community

This can apply differently to all of us. If someone chooses to be brash and constantly swears online, their ideal community will probably do the same things. I would also venture to guess that the way that brash community shows each other respect will differ greatly from a community of conservative religious mothers of small children. I say that to point out that respect is not a formula. Study your people and see what they find respectful.

We can only lead where we have been given permission to do so. Building and leading a community is a privilege we earn through respecting that community.

4. Be with your community

If our desired community hangs out on Twitter, we need to show up where they are at. If they are the types that participate heavily in forums, we need to also. If they’re not online but congregate somewhere offline, if that is our desired community, we need to do so too!

Be respectful of where your desired community exists. Be willing to go where they are at.

Even if it is part of your plan to lead people to do something or be somewhere, we can’t stand far off on our own little hill and bark instructions. We have to first go where they are to lead them.

5. Highlight your community

We all love the sound of our name. In a crowded room with everyone talking, we always hear when someone says our name.

Don’t be afraid to use that principle to build your community!

Are people in your community doing awesome things? Highlight them! Make sure to sing their praises in front of others. We are more loyal to people who acknowledge and help us achieve our own goals and the goals of our community.

6. Connect your community

While we never admit it out loud (or even to ourselves), we operate in such a way that conveys our TRUE thoughts about ourselves…and our true thoughts are much like the narrator of Fight Club than we would care to admit:

I was the warm little center that the world revolved around.

I’m not going to try and change that thought pattern; I’m not into futile efforts. Ha! However, if we only allow our community to revolve around us, it will never grow to its full potential. The community’s strength lies in inter-connectivity.

Do your people know each other? If not, start the introductions. Don’t be afraid to let them build relationships that don’t involve you. While the fear may occur that they will leave us never to return, in truth, our community becomes MORE loyal since we have poured into their lives and done something for them personally!

The life you were meant for

The life you were meant for can only be found in community. I have no room in my beliefs to think that any of us are destined for isolation (hell, if you REALLY thought that would you be here in the first place?)

The difference between living “A” life and living “THE” life is heavily dependent upon WHO you surround yourself with. Your community has more emotional and motivational impact on you and the outcome of your dreams than any other single factor!

Now my question for YOU is this:

Will the community you surround yourself with lead to the life you were meant for? Or is it time for a change?

  • David,

    You are speaking my language here. What’s unfortunate is that very few of blogging courses out there spend any time on this. In fact, I think we need to have you come and do a members only podcast for the blogcastfm premium on this :). Then you can say “technically I have been on BlogcastFM.” In all seriousness this is the goldmine and I don’t think enough people realize this. It’s the slower route in the short term, but the more profitable and significantly more awesome one in the long term.

    I’ve literally started over from scratch with Flightster in terms of finding a community and I’m focused on the “digital baby” travel bloggers because that’s where you have a great opportunity to form connections who will be with you for your entire journey.

    • Ooh! I’m all about being a premium interview! And thank you so much for the kind words.

      I love connecting with people; it makes all the difference to me in any endeavor I take on. If a community doesn’t exist (and I can’t create one for whatever reason), I lose interest quickly. That’s why I was so happy to share this and see others take up my mantel.

      Can’t wait for part 5 from you tomorrow!!

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  • Really really like this David. So many people think it’s all about themselves when it’s really about so many other people they don’t even notice.

    • Focusing on community has been one of the primary things that fuels me to keep going. Not that the ambiguous nebula of community does anything, but the individuals (like you, my evil blogging twin) provide that encouragement and support when you’re ready to sit down for too long. 🙂

      Thank you! 😀

    • Seconded.

      Actually, David’s 3rd point about respecting your community reminded me of the book Good to Great, where Jim Collins talks about how the leader’s personality infects the organization (or community in this case). Gary V’s community acts in a similar way to him. Chris Brogans in a similar way to him. Ours will respond to our personalities, but if we’d like nice people and we’re kind of acting like jerks, we’ll have everything all twisted up & have a tough time getting anywhere 😉

    • So true! The whole point about infecting the community with your personality is an amazing point about leading your community. You really do set the stage as the leader and people look to you for their cues. My hope is that I infect people with the desire to be heroic in their own lives while playing that role out with their unique gifts and talents.

      Now THAT would be GREAT!!!

    • Definitely, I’d say you do.

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  • Gather a like minded group of individuals to prowl in a pack and defeat the lizard brain! Besides the concept, I love the language here! The community aspect is incredible. Besides the support, it’s just plain fun! Been able to meet so many people in our heroic community that just kind of happened. What a “heroic destiny”.

    • Lizard hunting! I agree that it is fun in addition to be supportive.

      Hell, if you’re really good at building an online community, some of those crazy people might even come and stay at your house a few days. Oh wait…nevermind. 😉

  • I like the association that is made between survival and building a community. That concept probably strikes a deeper chord with people who are more introverted than others and therefor might think that community building isn’t for them. The opposite is true, however, because when one introvert finds a few people with that in common then a community can be built around that. This could probably go off on numerous tangents from here, but I thought this would be relevant for people with that disposition :-).

    • I definitely think that the introverted members of our society can benefit greatly from community. In fact, I think that the online world might be a more comfortable place for that to happen since it is much easier to engage on your own terms.

      I also think that society has deemed introverts as anti-social people. Not true. It just means that their social engagement is much different than the extroverts of the world (who will always be louder, I think, and therefore appear as more normal).

      Your thought is great! I’m glad you chimed in. 😀

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  • There is so much good in this post, David, and I could ramble on about it for eons I think. But I’ll limit myself to the question you ended with:

    “Will the community you surround yourself with lead to the life you were meant for?”

    At least twice in my life, my answer would have been no. And I did step away from those communities. They were starting to drain me, horribly.

    A third time, I tried to help a community form, but it wasn’t quite right. That’s why I started a new blog. And now? This time? With the Circus? Yes! Yes, these are the right people, and they are My Right People (which makes it so very, very much better) It’s filled to the brim with the people I need around me, and I really really want to believe they need me, too. Or.. well… something like that. Something mutually beneficial. Something.. community-like. 😉

    • TORI!!! I love your circus and always feel happy when I click through to your site. I think you’ve done a fantastic job of setting the stage for your community and attracting awesome people.

      You always do a great job of engaging people on Twitter too (at least you appear to in my stream). I’m so glad that you are attracting the community that is good for you and yes, it IS “very, very much better” when you attract the right people.

      And we’ve all had those times where we were in the wrong community. 😉 Glad you stepped away from them.

    • Tori, I think you found what I found. One you’ve tried a couple of communities, you can actually start to formulate what type of community you want to join or be a part of. The vision and goal are perfectly placed at #1…but I feel like experience is sometimes necessary in other communities before you can begin to understand how to define your own.

      Excellent post.

    • I agree with your point that sometimes having experience with other communities helps you define exactly what you want when you find your right one. Great point!

  • Caroline

    Such a great post David, i really love your writing style and everything you have written so far. I hope i can meet you in real one day 🙂 Im just starting building my community and you guys are definitely living the life i want, so i believe im on the right track!I have a community in the offline too, but i would say they are different, only few want to do what i want,i feel i find more like-minded people on the internet…Thanks again!

    • I’m definitely keeping you around in my community; you’re good for my ego! LOL 😉

      From our interactions, I think you are on a good start at building your community. You appear to not be afraid to reach out and connect with people, which is very important. Keep doing that with the same intentionality that you have already and I think you will find that a community will manifest itself around you of like-minded people!!!

    • Caroline

      haha- im glad that you are keeping me in your community,
      because i have no intention to leave 🙂

      Thanks so much for your kind words, im trying to reach
      some more people, those whom i read the blogs every day.
      I want to keep it real and i prefer building
      a small community with people i truly feel i can relate
      to what they are saying rather than trying to contact
      everybody but without building any relationship.:)

    • “i have no intention to leave” <– Now THAT is what I like to hear! MWA HA HA HA….ahem. I'll stop the evil laughter now. 😉

    • Caroline

      haha- love it! 🙂

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  • So much to think about in this post. What it really comes down to is if you are always only looking out for yourself and your own interests you most likely will fail at anything you do. None of us live in a void. Our lives affect the lives of others on a regular basis whether we realize it or not. Great ideas while created by an individual mind only come to full fruition through meaningful interactions with other like minded people. Great advice here.

    • “…whether we realize it or not” <– Great point about our lives affecting others. It's true that when we act (wisely or poorly) we are likely affecting someone else.

      I also love the point that ideas only come to fruition through interacting. I've often used the example when talking to people about ideas that it doesn't matter if you come up with the cure for cancer…if no one knows about it, even something that amazing is pointless. Without relationships, not only does our quality of life go down, but so does the quality of our business and everything else.

      Love that people responded well to this.

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  • Thank You! What a wonderful post (and actually I should add, series of posts,….as I am making my way through the 5 part series and on all of your blogs for the first time and am enjoying seeing how much you all are participating in each others contributions). Community makes everything so much more rewarding. More and more I feel that human interaction is really one of the (only?) most important aspects of being alive. I also whole heartedly love and agree with the final sentence/question: “Will the community you surround yourself with lead to the life you were meant for?” I also enjoy asking,….”How am I contributing to the community I am surrounding myself with?”. Thanks!

  • Thanks David! This was very helpful. I am trying to build a community offline, and I really appreciated your second “how-to” point of starting small. That is extremely helpful in thinking through who to pick to be at the ground level, and to focus on how I can help the people I already have to grow in some of those areas.

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