I was really dissatisfied with the lack of literature on fundamentals of community building that can be measured, so I decided to learn about the subject myself through conversations with founders, using various community platforms, and finding any patterns.
I have tried to explain the concept of community through the fundamentals as I understand, and have attempted to provide a template on - how, when and if a business should aim to build a community. Some of them might be obvious, however, I have tried to put them all together in one place for everyone’s reference.
Feel free to share your opinion in the comments or DM me here
Here goes part 1 of this blog series, fundamentals of a community.
At its core, a community is formed when members “Communicate” with each other.
Therefore, in order to understand Community, we need to first understand more about “Communication”.
What is meant by “Communication”?
In simple terms, communication happens when a user “produces” a unit of value (UoV) for other users to “consume”
For example - We can say John and Alan are communicating only if John produces something of value to Alan to consume. If it is not of value, Alan will not consume it and communication would never happen.
There are 3 types of communication architecture possible:
One to one (1->1): John is sharing his opinion about bitcoin to Alan
One to Many (1->N): John is sharing his opinion about bitcoin in a town hall meeting with all employees.
Many to Many (N->N): All members of a slack channel sharing their opinion about bitcoin with each other.
Many to One (N->1): Many members of a fund (like investor relations) sharing their opinion about bitcoin with an investor.
Note: In each of these examples, the unit of value is the same (i.e. opinion about bitcoin), however, the architecture dynamics are different.
What can be a Unit of Value (UoV)?
A unit of value or UoV, as the name suggests can be anything that the members of the community can:
And attach a value to it (with their attention or emotions or money, etc)
Some examples of UoV are:
Wattpad: Stories in text format
TikTok: Short videos
Quora: Questions and Answers about any topic
Stackoverflow: Questions and Answers about software
Strava: GPS tracked running maps
Facebook group about Food: Photos, videos, text about food
Digital platforms typically allow UoV to be content (text, audio, video, image), however, it can able be non-content entities as well.
Example - Say there is a community of bakers and in their meetups, they all bring cakes that they have baked for everyone to eat. This is community behavior and UoV here is cake.
Why do people want to communicate with each other?
In my opinion, the answer to this question lies in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.
Psychologically, all humans require the social reinforcement and validation of feeling like we belong among our peers and are appreciated by them. This need can only be met when our actions are recognized by people that we identify with (i.e. common interest graph)
When other members acknowledge our efforts as part of a community, this motivates us to maintain our efforts and provides us with an intrinsic sense of pride and satisfaction which is indispensable to our psychological development.
This is very critical to understand as this guides a lot of decisions on building a community.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs
3 Key Characteristics of a Community:
Community exhibits “Many to Many (N->N)” communication architecture (Where N is the number of members) As we defined earlier, a Community is formed when members (users of a product/service) communicate with each other, i.e. everyone is motivated to produce and consume value to each other. As everyone needs to be motivated to produce and consumer value to each other, we can confidently say that Community exhibits “Many to Many (N->N)” communication architecture (Where N is the number of members).
Members belong to a Common Interest Graph Now if everyone is motivated to consume value produced by other members, we can say that everyone must be “interested” in the value produced by other members, which For example: In a group of Football fans discussing football matches, someone who is NOT a Football fan will not be motivated to consume the content produced by other members. Therefore, in a Community, members belong to a “Common interest graph”. This motivates them to connect with each other by producing & consuming value, thereby creating a sense of belonging to each other.
Friction for a “Consumer” to become a “Producer” is minimal. Referring to the definition of community, if everyone is motivated to produce & share value with each other, the friction (or steps required) to produce value and share it with everyone must be minimal.
What is NOT a community?
Sometimes Community is confused with other concepts:
Audience: They exhibit One to Many (1->N) communication architecture as members passively consume what 1 producer produces. Example: Users following a singer on their Instagram profile. The singer produces audio/video content about their song and her followers consume it. They acknowledge their consumption by “views”, “likes” and “comments”, however as they are NOT interacting/communicating among themselves rather just with the content produced by the singer, this behavior is of an audience. Side note: If the singer’s audience starts creating cover song videos of themselves and starts sharing with each other, then we can say that the audience has graduated to being a community.
Marketplace: They differ from Communities as the friction for a consumer to become a producer is high in a marketplace. Example: To become a seller on Amazon from a buyer requires a lot of effort, whereas on Whatnot.com, the friction is much lower.
Social Networks: They differ as members of a social network do not belong to a common interest graph (rather they belong to multiple interest graphs).
Example of Communities:
Stackoverflow: Community of software developers
Instagram: Community of photos and short video creators
Youtube: Community of Video content creators
Wattpad: Community of Storytellers
YCombinator: Community of Founders
Strava: Community of runners & cyclists
Whatsapp groups, Facebook groups, Slack and Discord channels, etc.
In Part 2 of this blog series, we'll learn about how you can grow and measure the health of your community.
If you enjoyed this series of blogs, please do DM me here