Community Building: Why It’s the Perfect Time to Get Engaged

When I first moved to Washington DC four years ago, I only knew a handful of people, 2-3 at best. After a series of Friday nights staying in and doing my laundry, I decided I needed to make some friends. So, I hopped on it. Since running is a long-time passion, and something you can do with others, I Googled “Running Groups in DC.” I found a cursory, “Meetup.com” running group in DC. I began to meet DC runners, and discovered the absolute joy of bringing people together for runs, at races, and all the while help build what would become the DC Capital Striders online community (turned virtual community).

While I didn’t quite realize it at the time, this “Meet-up” thing (as a means to serve an online community) was still very new, and like Facebook, a glimpse into how populations and the world would begin to take shape.

So, fast forward ahead to today, 10/22/2010.

We’re all innately curious, passionate, and in constant search of connecting. We’ve been this way since the beginnings of our evolution as a species. So, interestingly, nothing about the infiltration of what we ubiquitously describe as “social media” has made us more curious, passionate, and in search of connecting. The only difference is, we now have technology tools serving these instincts better, making us more of what we’ve always been.

So, here’s the interesting thing about online communities. If you want to build one, chances are, the people passionate about your mission already exist. You just have to find them, engage them, and bring the like-minded together.

Here’s an example. Let’s say, 8 years ago, 3000 women were all aspiring writers. They all probably faced the same roadblocks, frustrations, highs, lows, etc. In short, they were all passionate, curious, etc about the same topic, but weren’t connected. Hence, they weren’t a community.

Then someone came along, realized these aspiring women writers could benefit from each other, and boom, online community: She Writes is born. Now these women can find each other, and benefit from each other.

Same goes for any community. 5 years ago, I was lucky an online community had already started to organize around running, or I would have had many more nights in my apartment doing laundry, and certainly not as many running dates.

So here’s the moral of the story. People out there share your interests. Online communities are the perfect way to engage, and they are popping up in all sorts of places, and communities within communities are growing. Take GovLoop as an example. It’s larger mission is to help the government community connect and share information, yet within GovLoop there are nearly 850 self-organized groups, with leaders of their own, serving an even more refined mission.

So take it from Seth Godin in his book Tribes: “We Need You to Lead Us.” And online communities are the perfect forum to do this.

Next post coming up: How Do You Engage Your Community, and Maintain it as a Community Manager?

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Kitty Wooley

This is neat, Lauren. I’ve seen lots of theory on virtual community building in the past few months, but reading the experience and insight of an actual community builder seems more useful.