Building a community is more complex than targeting an audience. We’re not trying to convince someone to take an action or buy into an idea.
Community building is about helping a group of people understand each other more deeply. That’s what leads to acceptance. It requires good intentions, consistency and commitment. And you need to get personal because otherwise it’s impossible to relate to each other.
Start with the basic goal of connecting and finding relevant ways to inform, entertain, educate and help. When we do that, we can begin talking about the things that drive us apart and bring us together. Whether your community is online or offline, here’s what we recommend:
☑️ Listen first. Talk Second. Often, people just want to be heard. And when they think you are not listening, they get angry. At Inkhouse, we host a series of listening sessions with our executive team. We ask open questions like, “What delights you about your experience at Inkhouse” and “What frustrates you?”
☑️ Find common ground. Start conversations instead of asserting positions. No one in the history of the world has changed their mind by force. They may change their actions, but that’s a fear-driven response. Community is about connection. Ask more questions.
☑️ Make it about them, not you. Lose the ego and show them how you understand through empathy.
☑️ Be vulnerable. Drop your work armor and allow others to see the real you. It takes courage to look inward to see what we have yet to learn.
☑️ Contribute insights. If you add thoughtful ideas to the discussion, an audience will follow. Offer information that will make their lives better.
☑️ Know your guiding principles. What are your values? They need to be communicated in a way that sounds human, not corporate. And community building must keep them front and center.
☑️ Be responsive. Respond when people talk to you (unless it’s an Internet troll). Engagement is a critical part of growing your community and putting yourself in front of new audiences. Join the movement in an authentic way—don’t take it over.
☑️ Convene differing points of view. Invite the opposing point of view into the discussion. Solutions are impossible without a willingness to talk.
☑️ Come together in crises. Moments of crisis can bring people together if we stay away from blame and vilification.
☑️ Hold yourself accountable. Brands that do this well are transparent in their actions and clear in their words. When something doesn't work, they speak up. Trust is the glue that holds communities—online and offline—together.
Laura is the vice president of marketing at Inkhouse.