Hello! Every Monday I post musings and learnings about community building on my LinkedIN, and at the end of every month I synthesise my posts here. Enjoy!
One of the foundational concepts in community building is the Commitment Curve:
The concept is simple: members’ level of commitment grows in line with the intensity of their actions. To increase commitment, provide clear paths for members to ramp up their actions, and offer simple actions to get people started.
Some thoughts on how to steer members through each phase 👇🏼
🌱 The initiation phase is when a prospective member learns about the community and decides to get involved. To initiate successfully, have compelling stories and artefacts for people to engage with - origin stories, articulations of your shared mission and values, or conversations where core members unpack the community’s purpose and ambition. Make these artefacts accessible and up to date.
👀 After initiation, most members become passive participants. They spend time lurking: gauging the community’s norms, and observing how others interact. The experiences people have in this phase will determine whether they decide to actively engage, remain lurkers, or drop off. It’s worth intentionally designing your community to allow passive participants to enjoy their experience. For Slack / Discord communities, this could include #recommendations and #nodumbquestions channels, which enable passive learning from other people’s conversations, or ‘ICYMI’ masterposts that summarise the most interesting conversations every week.
🏊🏻♀️ The activation phase is the hardest to nail! Don’t be demoralised if the majority of your members never activate - that’s normal in most communities - particularly those open to all. There’s a few things you can do to encourage activation, like having an #introductions forum with standard questions and encouraging everyone to post an intro within a week of joining. When someone starts to dip their toe in, make sure they’re met with a positive reaction - i.e. other members engaging with them. The core team should lead the charge, or assemble an informal ‘welcome squad’ of power users to help make new members feel seen and included.
🧚🏻 Witnessing the transition of a member from active participant to power user is a beautiful thing! In this phase, you’ll see members start to do aspects of your job - organising events, leading conversations, and suggesting projects and initiatives. In this phase, the community builder’s job is to create opportunities for members to lead, and provide plenty of recognition and validation. You can also incorporate extrinsic rewards for power users (#DAO tools are a promising mechanism), but be careful that extrinsic motivators don’t replace intrinsic motivators.
🛣️ In sum - increase commitment to your community and buy-in from your members by creating a phased and legible on-ramp to higher-commitment actions. We are what we do; not the other way round.
What is the most crucial component of a healthy, happening community?
No matter how salient the common interest, shared mission, or linked-mindedness of members, a community that’s stagnant is a community in trouble.
A vibrant community needs movement: a regular and legible cadence of activities and events to participate in, actively or passively. These don’t have to be calendarised events; they don’t even have to be events! Some examples include:
🏊🏻 For sporting communities - weekly training + seasonal draw, culminating in finals
🕌 For religious communities - daily / weekly religious services + annual observance of significant holidays
📚 For book clubs - a new book every month + regular discussion groups
🚀 For communities coalesced around startup accelerators - program kick-off, weekly squad meetings, bi-annual demo days
✍🏻 For online communities of writers - daily writing prompts, seasonal competitions, annual events such as NaNoWriMo
Communities could equally coalesce around doing the daily Wordle, the weekly Good Weekend quiz, or keeping each other accountable to annual fitness goals.
It’s harder to create movement for communities that aren’t centred around an activity - but all the more important! Some ways communities can create movement are:
🙋🏻♀️ Regular discussion prompts
🧍🏻♀️Opt-in daily ‘stand-up’ (for communities of builders, creatives, or freelancers)
☕ Weekly or monthly coffee roulettes; regular meetups
🌙 Traditions or rituals - e.g. monthly ‘welcome’ for new members, annual awards
👷🏻 Projects that community members work on together
As an aside, I believe the reason we’ll see a lot of hyped NFT projects fail is because no one has bothered to think about creating movement within the community. Without other forms of movement, the only movement that people can track is price action...
There are a lot of communities out there - competing for your time, attention, and commitment.
Whether they sell moisturiser or pet food or productivity software, companies want you in their community. VC funds talk about community as their moat (guilty as charged), and every ape and his dog is forming a NFT community or DAO.
In a crowded space, how can communities cut through the noise and be compelling to prospective members?
I believe we should take lessons from storytellers, who masterfully construct characters that capture our hearts. We resonate with these characters - we would like to be their friend and want to see them succeed.
When we deconstruct these characters, we can plot their characteristics onto a character diamond 💠 with four poles:
⬆️ North: What do others see?
⬇️ South: What is deeper, and contradicts what’s on the surface?
➡️ West: What makes them human?
⬅️ East: What do they deeply care about?
The tension between North and South animates a character and gives them depth. Those who know the character’s South feel like they have an intimate connection to the character, because they’ve seen a side of them which subverts first impressions. The East pole is a flaw or insecurity which makes the character relatable. The West pole gives us reason to cheer the character on.
I've created Character Diamonds for four captivating characters: Alexander Hamilton, Gi-hun (Squid Game), Beth Harmon (Queen’s Gambit), and Elon Musk. Elon is not fictional, but the narrative he’s constructed for public consumption is a masterwork!
How does this framework apply to communities? In a similar vein, communities can define the poles of their communal identity. Here is AfterWork Ventures’ character diamond:
⬆️ North: Young, fun, scrappy, irreverent. New kids on the block; shaking things up.
⬇️ South: We take the work of making investments super seriously. We’re considered, diligent, and rigorous. We leverage the deep subject matter and functional expertise of our community. We are relentlessly hungry and ambitious to scale.
➡️ West: We’re the underdog–we’re flying by the seat of our pants. Our product is undone and we are always iterating; we don’t have all the answers. We regularly bite off more than we can chew, but chew hard.
⬅️ East: We are inspired by the courage and clarity it takes to turn ‘afterwork’ into ‘work’. We went through this ourselves. We want to unlock the potential of these brave entrepreneurs by being the first to believe in them. We love propping up people working on something they care about. Along the way, we also hope to democratise access to VC investing.
Since defining this framework, we’ve consciously incorporated the poles of our character diamond into our identity building. Hopefully, you can see some strands incorporated into our origin stories, our investment notes, and comms with founders and investors.
The result? It’s too early to tell, but we feel like our story has started to resonate, helping us coalesce a vibrant community of kindred spirits who identify with our story.
On average, consumer apps churn 75% of their users on Day 1. If an app can get every other user to come back on Day 2, they’re already ahead. The same is true for online communities.
The vast majority of people who dip their toe into an online community will leave or permanently mute notifications after Day 1. Once someone permamutes, re-engaging them is a feat akin to raising the dead ⚰️
Some tactical tips to improve Day 1 retention:
🙉 Protect users from noise. Perhaps I’m an extreme case, but I mute all Slacks and Discords that permit liberal uses of @everyone and @channel. Avoid disrupting your members’ days with notifications that aren’t both relevant and time sensitive - particularly before you’ve earned their trust.
🤩 Make new joiners feel seen. When someone joins your community, acknowledge their arrival. The core team should say hello personally, and promote a norm of community members actively greeting and welcoming new members. It’s easy to anonymously slide in and out of servers; harder to vanish once someone has said hello!
🍭Create on-ramps to engagement. As soon as a user engages - whether by introducing themselves, sharing content, or chiming into a conversation - they have a reason to come back. A decade of social media usage has wired our brains to crave the dopamine hit of someone replying to we’ve shared. You can kick start this process by guiding new members towards specific conversations they might be interested in.
🧧Showcase value. Help new members to imagine what kind of value they could gain from sticking around. Pin interesting conversations, curate masterlists of recommendations and resources, and if appropriate – sprinkle in some perks or unique opportunities.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear writes, “The key to building lasting habits is to create a new identity”. If your goal is to run 10km, first build an identity as a 10km runner. Achieve small wins to prove to yourself that this identity is genuine - start by walking 10km, or running 1km and increasing the distance by 10% every day.
This insight can be applied to activating community members. If you make your community part of someone’s identity, they are much more likely to invest, contribute, and spread the word. This has two drivers:
🎭 Once someone has adopted an identity, they’re naturally inclined to perform acts that flow from this identity. If someone is part of a church community, attending church every Sunday and helping out at barbecues and fundraisers becomes part and parcel of who they are. For members of surf lifesaving communities, ungodly acts such as patrolling the beach at 6am is an unquestioned, ritualistic practice.
📛 Once someone has publicly identified with a community (for example, included it in their LinkedIN or Twitter bio, or changed their profile picture to the community’s NFT) they’ve tied their personal brand to the community’s brand. This makes them personally invested, both in strengthening the community and in spreading the good word. The more good things other people hear about the community, the better being a member reflects on them.
As community builders, what can we do to incept our community into someone’s identity?
🧱Foundationally, being a member of the community has to mean something. You can read more about defining your community’s character in my earlier post (link)
✅ Define a format. Make it clear how community members should signal their membership. If appropriate, create titles for people to use, or create graphics for people to share socially. NFTs are a fantastic enabler of this!
🎖️Recognise contributions. If you have an open community, introduce mechanisms to reward early adopters and super contributors. Reddit Gold is a great example, or OG roles on Discord.