The biggest, most common mistake made at the beginning of many community-building journeys is to waste time asking “which community platform should I choose?”

Why? For this simple reason: The success of your community depends on things that have nothing to do with technology.

What motivates a community to act, and to stay together when things get tough, is a common purpose, not personalised interfaces or advanced analytics. What attracts people to a community and keeps them there is a stream of authentic information shared by the brand – not the rest API or the integration with Salesforce. What encourages people to post in a community and join discussions is a welcoming atmosphere, not the range of emojis or media sharing options available.

So, if you find yourself getting bogged down with technology choices, try to remember that a community is, by definition, simply a group of people. And we are the same people now as we were at the dawn of our species. As popular science writer Adam Rutherford says:

“Our bodies have not significantly changed in 100,000 years. A woman or man from a thousand centuries ago would fit in perfectly well in any city in the world today if we tidied them up and gave them a haircut.”

What is true of our bodies is true of our minds. Our hopes and desires, our drives, our deep need for a sense of meaning and belonging. These core aspects of being human are the same today as they were even before we had language. This is why we all still crave community. And why so many attempts to create communities, online and offline, fail. Meeting such deep psychological needs is not a straightforward task.

Technology has facilitated the forming, growth and maintenance of communities – enabled them to exist in new ways. But no amount of technology can hide a vacuum where the human heart of a community should be.

Before you even start defining technology requirements, you must define your human requirements:

  • Why does my company need an online community?
  • What will we ask community members to do?
  • What information will my company share with our community?
  • How will we create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for our community?

The success of your community will depend 100% on how you answer these questions.

It’s not easy to do this well – because people are complex and companies are not used to meeting these types of requirements. It takes effort, insight, courage, co-operation and belief. But it will pay dividends for years to come. And that’s why I know you should devote much more time and energy to this than to your platform choice.

A community that has a million dollar platform, but does not have a purpose, does not share authentic information and is not welcoming and inclusive, will fail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robbie Hearn

Robbie Hearn

Founder

After 20 years in various consumer-facing roles, I’ve learned that what motivates me is unlocking human potential for the benefit of individuals, organisations and society. That’s what thriving communities offer and that’s why I love coming to work. At giffgaff, our guiding values included humility, respect, and collaboration. These same values flavour everything we do at Standing on Giants.

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