Communities Need a Cause

Back in 2008, I joined Clearspring as the Developer Community Manager.   At that point, no one knew what a community manager was.  With the rise of social media, “community manager” quickly became the vogue job.   It’s the job that everyone’s hiring.

But somewhere the notion of building/managing/facilitating an actual community of people got lost in the translation of what a community manager does.   The role became more of a social media-based customer service rep.

Customer service is CRUCIAL but it’s not community building.  It’s deepening a relationship between you & your customer.

So… what is a community and how do we build one?

I thought for a few posts I might try to tackle/unpack what communities are all about.  For this post, I wanted to talk about what ties a community together.

A community is a group of people who come together around a common cause.    It’s a group of people who want to accomplish something.

Without this underlying idea, cause, or goal, there’s nothing that ties the group of people together.  There may be some initial excitement by a group but in the end it’ll all fall apart.

Here are some examples…

I remember, in the heyday of the television show LOST, there were fan sites galore.  People would come together an over analyze every aspect of every single episode.   It was all for a reason though.  We were all super invested in story and we wanted to know what was going to happen next.

We live in Washington, DC and we love DC.  We love getting the most of all the unique and interesting things that DC has to offer.  It happens that we’re not alone. My friends Tom & Tiffany Bridge both love DC as well so they created a blog called We Love DC.   But it’s so much more than a blog.  It’s a community of people who are trying to get the most out of their DC experience.

Over the summer, I met two early twenty something guys that worked in politics & government consulting.  They had to wear ties everyday but that put a real stretch on their budget, especially if they wanted to wear nicer ties.   So, the two of them started trading ties.   This idea quickly grew.   Before they knew it, all of their friends were over at their house on Sunday afternoons, watching football and trading ties.

Regardless of the topic or subject area, when you have a topic or need that’s commonly held among multiple people, you can form a  community.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series.  In the mean time, what kind of communities are you a part of or that you’ve seen pop up?

Fear of Feedback

Ilya Lichtenstein wrote a great post about how startups overly extend their product’s free beta periods and don’t charge out of a fear for actually having to find out whether your product can turn into a sustainable business.

Definitely recommend the post for every existing and budding entrepreneur but there’s an even deeper fear that plagues entrepreneurs from achieving greatness or from becoming entrepreneurs in the first place. It’s a fear of feedback.

I have lots of friends with great ideas for businesses but they’d never act on them. The notion of putting their ideas or something they created out into the public consciousness is paralyzing. There’s a fear that people won’t like what they do or that they’d fail so they never put themselves out there.

This disease strikes existing entrepreneurs as well. Once you have a business and a product, it’s easy to stick your head in the sand and not actually talk to your customers. You think that your initial product success with a core audience predicts bigger success but you don’t realize that you need to be talking to your users so you can continue to evolve & optimize to really create something great.

Or… maybe you need to go in a different direction with your product. The only way to know your new direction is if you talk to your users and find what they think, what they want, and what will really meet their need.

I get it. Putting yourself out there is scary. You don’t want to extend your hand because you’re afraid someone will take an axe and chop it off.

I’ve done customer service and taken countless amounts of feedback about how we were performing. And yes it’s hard and draining. We had customers that weren’t happy with us for whatever reason.

The key is getting beyond the anger or frustration and to hear what they’re really saying. That’s where the magic lies. You can hear and understand the heart of your customer. You can understand where the felt need is and learn how to meet and exceed it.

Isn’t that the best feeling? I love knowing that something that I did or worked on made the difference in the lives of others.

But none of that is possible if you don’t put yourself out there. You have to open yourself to feedback.

There’s something cool about the physical newspaper…

Lauren’s up in NYC this weekend for a work conference.   So, I’ve been chilling in DC.  This morning I wanted to get out of the condo.  So… I went to Eastern Market, got a Sunday NY Times and found a corner of Peregrine Espresso where I could relax, read, and sip on a latte.

As much as I love technology, there’s something cool about the physical newspaper, especially when you can read all of it.   When I read news online, I tend to just read things about my specific areas of interest.   If I read the newspaper, I read everything that the editors find important.

A physical newspaper also forces you to slow down and just read.  With a physical newspaper, I find myself more apt sit down and read a 1200 word article vs skimming over a few paragraphs on my iPhone in Flipboard on my way to the office.

Do you read a physical newspaper?  Why do you love it?