What I know about building communities: David Spinks

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After years of working as a community manager for different companies, David Spinks noticed a trend. He realized that businesses didn’t see how their clients naturally formed communities, or how those communities are at the core of their business. When they did, they tended to not have the same business approach to community-building as they would to marketing or press relations.They did not allocate the proper budget, resources, and people.

For the last three years, he has been growing CMX Hub, a company training businesses, online and in person, in the art of community building. At the recent Leade.rs conference in Paris, he shared some ideas on how best to grow a community.

Community is at the heart of everything. It is something that is at the core of how we function as a society. It’s how we organize society, which itself was invented in order to create a system so that we manage larger groups.

A business is a community. When you’re a business, you're organizing a group of people around a common interest or a common need, and you try to give them a sense of belonging. Even the products you're building are there to serve people. Now, with the level of connectivity technology is giving us, businesses have a massive opportunity to connect people. They can leverage these networks to empower people to contribute to their business, to give them a sense of connection and belonging.

It comes with responsibility. When you're creating communities, you're shaping how people view themselves, their identities, and the way the decisions they're making are influenced. It's really important that when you're building a community to be thoughtful about its ethics, about the code of conduct and about the kind of culture you're creating.

Establish the business value of your community. You wouldn't invest in something without understanding what it will do for your business. It's really important to define what the goals of building a community are early on. Only 12 percent of the companies we interviewed for a study defined their metrics before they launched a community.

Knowing the business value of your community will guide the kind of community you build, and the kind of resources you need. With the metrics, you will be able to justify more investment. In our report, we saw that a third of the communities failed to do so because they lack internal support and resources.

A management strategy is essential. Who's on your community team, what other teams (developers, designers, data scientists, etcetera) need to be involved? How will you communicate with other teams? What will be your budget, how much will it cost? After that, you should have a thorough idea of what you want to build and be able to build a great, economically interesting community.

Plan before you launch. A lot of companies underestimate what will go into building a community, both in terms of resources and people. Six out of ten people plan on having a staff community manager before launching. Once they launch their community, none out of ten have someone full time in their staff. It's important that you plan ahead of time, that you allocate the right budget, and that you set the right expectations. One tool that we use to help companies plan their strategy is the community strategy canvas.

Align the business with your members, and your positioning. You need to understand the value that you're creating for the business the way it's aligned with your business goals. You need to understand who your members are, and how can you serve them. And finally, just like you position a product on a market, you want to position your community, understanding what its vision, its voice, and its value are.

Development needs definition. You need to define how you’ll develop your community. What kind of experience will your members be part of? What content and programming will you create to fuel engagement? What will you be measuring?

There are five types of communities. They can focus on support, product innovation, user acquisition, content creation, and user engagement. We use the Space model to help you remember it.

Feature image, David Spinks speaking at the Leade.rs conference, via Leade.rs.

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