Building Community Character: 3 Principles to Make it Last
“It’s all about the community.” If you are into coworking spaces, I bet you heard that said at least ten times before (unless you’re living in a hole, which Bilbo Baggins would find respectable).
In a world where connectivity and mobility have granted us the freedom to belong anywhere, building a community is relevant to any brand targeting customers in a competitive market. Not only coworking. Some brands have excelled in doing so, becoming their client’s 1st option besides of pricing or location and sparking a crowd of “me-toos,” relentlessly trying to win their spot. Yet, most company CEOs roll their eyes when their Marketing officer mentions any strategy with a rather “long-term” goal.
Brand-wise, the classic (almost cheesy) example is Apple, still getting us to buy iPhones, even though we complain about its rotten cables. That community started in the 70s and built its core around “pushing humanity forward,” targeting all the weirdos, nerds, people who “think different.” Even though that message has faded over time, it left a backlash of raving fans who still prefer their products. I want to bring to light the long-lasting effect of building such a powerful brand, backed by deep-rooted beliefs. Apple is just an example that everybody knows.
Character: Start From People Who Matter.
When it comes to coworking spaces, the community turns out to be part of its value proposition. People will stay with you if they see the benefit of belonging to your community. From another angle, while some business can make it without a community with a bigger advertising budget, coworking spaces earn from people’s commitment, as from going to work there every day to renting an office space for a 1-year contract.
Earning their trust and preference is fundamental. Community building is about engineering a long-lasting relationship with people who matter to you. Again: people who matter to you. That’s the first important aspect we’re talking about here since many people want to build a funnel with “the more, the merrier” and end up targeting nobody and everyone. First on the list of “don’ts” in building communities, take note.
Building character requires definition, differentiation, decision. I’ll call it the 3Ds.
Who truly belongs to your community? One simple exercise I can suggest, right now, is to ask yourself:
Who would you invite to your dining table if you had to dine with the very same ten people for the rest of your life? Who are they? Where do they come from? What are their traits, backgrounds, motivations? You may have included a few kinships, some famous characters, fictional, historical or living ones.
You can go wild in your selection, as long as you truly believe you’d hold nice conversations with them and grow together.
This question speaks about your dreams, values, and beliefs. When choosing people who share dreams, values, and beliefs, you choose loyal customers (as long as you deliver the promise and value proposition, otherwise you’re just an intellectual hype club). By attracting customers who intrinsically trust and like you, it is more likely they will refer to other people who are also aligned with your community. That’s we call the great ripple effect everybody dreams of.
Note: does not apply to people who fancy transactional relationships. We’ll talk about that later.
It takes a long time to build such an organic, self-selected, sustainable crowd, and, if you decide to do so, breath through and persist. It may be easier to put some ads on and get anyone to join in. However, it takes you further to attract the right people.
What are the existing communities that care about the same things you do? What groups do your audience already belong to? Who are their leaders? Why are they doing this?
Differentiation might be a different name for collaboration.
Your competitors might not be enemies, but people who care about the very same things you do. If there are other people solving a problem you want to solve, why do you even need to exist? Or did they miss the point? What do they lack? Why did you decide to start your business? How can you make it better, in a different way?
Starting any business, especially a coworking space in the era where these are popping up like chicken rice shops, require you to understand what value you bring to the table. Maybe you are serving an underestimated community? Or reinventing hospitality services to a bored crowd? I don’t know, you should. Try to look at your competitors as people who are in the same boat with you, just that you want to level the game up by finding better, superior ways to solve the same problem.
That mindset brings you from scarcity to abundance, a place where good ideas can happen. That also helps you make a difference.
Let go of people that do not belong to your community, Choose the ones who align with your dreams, values, and beliefs.
You might feel that is irrelevant. You may think: “good customers are the ones who pay good money!”. Good money pays short-term bills, keeps your business busy and constantly depending on advertising to bring new customers. Good luck and all the best! Better save for ad money.
If that’s your case, stop reading this post because I would not invite you to my dinner table. Exactly. If you believe that aligning people with values is irrelevant, get out of here. I’d be trying to convince you of something you do not believe in, while you try to bargain my price.
At the same time, there’s a crowd of people who already share my core beliefs. I need to find them. Maybe they aren’t even aware they have a problem I can solve. However, marketing to them is worth the ROI.
Decide who is your customer and who isn’t. When we disagree at a deep level, you might be my customer as long as there isn’t a better option. That won’t last, and you may fall in that rat race of always exchanging “ad-money” for “good-money customer,” while you could get both from worthwhile, aligned customers. Defining whom to invite is as important as defining whom to leave out.
Note: sometimes, customers aren’t exactly whom we thought they’d be, at first. Take this advice while continuously empathizing with your target audience. It is crucial to get to know them better over time.
I can’t get tired of saying this: community building has not much of building, but a lot of connecting the dots. You are not piling people up like bricks, but bringing them together to identify they already belonged to one community connected by their ideas, principles, beliefs, values, dreams, you name it. What you may do is put up reasons for them to get together and, from there, get to know each other and start building trust. From connecting, they trust, from trusting, they collaborate, and the rest is history.
While writing this article, I came up with these 5-steps to build a Community with a Strong Character. Check out the teaser below:
5 Steps to Building a Community with Character
1. Define Yourself: core values, beliefs, and dreams. Target people who share the same views;
2. Empathizing: trial and error, identify who your customer is, use design thinking tools to get to know them better. Keeping in mind the idea of making it self-selected: they choose you, you let them in;
3. Make it a Conversation: make sure the community take part in building the community (including space), adding their insights, colors, and suggestions. It can’t be a one-way road where you’re the only one talking.
4. Control What You Can, Let Go of All the Rest: you can bring people together to recurring dinners or build diverse strategies to get them talking, but you can’t make them talk. Build the space, let people make it their own;
5. Leave the room: real communities only work if there’s no one telling people what to do. There’s no bossing around to it – that’s like your mom trying to choose your friends for you. Let it be organic, so it’s long-lasting.
Worry not, these 5 topics will be broken down in the next article. So stay tuned!
Laís de Oliveira
Founder of moregirls.co, Community Builder, Entrepreneur and Moderator