We’re all a member of some kind of community. It could be related to technology. It could be a hobby community. It could be any one of a number of people that just like to get together and talk about a common topic. The important thing to note is that this gathering is the nucleus for a community. If you want to build and grow that community beyond just a small occasional gathering you’re going to need to construct that community.
I’ve spent a lot of my professional career contributing to communities. I’ve also spent most of the last decade helping to build communities as well. I’ve done a lot to help grow the people and the content in these groups. I’ve also failed at a lot of other stuff that doesn’t work well. That’s the whole point of growth. You have to find the things that work and try them and make a note if they don’t.
During the recent Wireless LAN Professionals yearly conference in Phoenix, AZ I had a chance to talk about some of the things that I’ve learned about community building. There was a great video taken of my presentation, which you can watch here:
Putting In the Work
The biggest takeaway that I can share with my audience here is that building a community is no different from constructing a Lego set or a building. It’s a lot of work, both in planning and in details. You have to make sure you put in the effort to make something happen. Community doesn’t get built because you’re sitting around waiting for it to sprout up around you.
I spend a lot of my “free” time at conferences trying to start and maintain community engagement. Cisco Live requires me to be there the weekend before the event to meet with people and talk to them about all the great things that are going on. It’s an investment of time that requires me to just sit and talk to people about all the exciting things they have going on. It’s all about listening and learning and less about talking. Engagement happens when people talk about what they are passionate about. Let’s face it: almost everyone has heard my stories at this point. I want to learn theirs.
Tech Field Day is no different. I spend a lot of my time not directly engaged with the presenters learning about the delegates. I make them feel welcome. I try to help them understand how important they are to the event. Field Day can’t occur without the delegates. The event doesn’t happen if people don’t want to come. The delegates and their personalities make everything happen.
You can’t just punch a clock and call your involvement “good” for any community. If you think you can just leave when it’s time to call it a day you’ll quickly find that you are missing out on the best parts of the community. The best conversations don’t always take place during the day. The kinds of things that you want to learn often take place at the end of the day when people feel comfortable and let their guard down. When they really understand their friends and compatriots and open up. And you can’t get that if you’re running off because it’s quitting time.
That’s not to say that you need to dedicate yourself entirely to your community. You have to have boundaries. Remember that if you make yourself available 24/7 someone will take you up on that offer. You have to be reasonable and give what you can afford to give. It needs to be a little extra, but don’t give so much that you forget who you are. Your entire identity can’t be tied to a community. You have to be you at the end of the day. You can be proud of what you’ve helped build. But you have to have enough distance to understand that your identity is more than the things you create.
Bringing It All Together
Community isn’t just a game of numbers. How many or how long or who is the biggest. It’s something that extends to encompass so much more. Building a community takes immeasurable energy and bottomless patience. There’s no simple answer key to take care of it all. Instead, you take the pieces you know and you figure the rest out. You write your own script which defines who you are and what your community means to everyone. That’s a construction project you can be proud of.