You already know how to build community.
It’s not a skill you learn, it’s a skill you uncover within yourself and then practice.
There are community experiences that are tried and true and repeated across many different communities. But the magic of community comes from the special sauce that each community creates when it comes together.
Drawing on your past experiences, and how you uniquely approach connection, is a great way to spark ideas for new community experiences for your members that will feel special and unique.
Here’s how to do it:
- Think of a time when you felt a sense of connection. Don’t limit this to official community experiences, think of sports teams you played on, a work project that was really collaborative, when you snuck out of school with your friends to get ice cream… any experience that made you feel part of a group or connected to others count.
- Reflect on what that experience says about how you uniquely approach connection? It could be that for you, fun and connection usually come hand-in-hand, or that you felt it most when you were united against a common enemy or when others recognized your contribution.
- Use that experience and how it felt to you as inspiration or as a metaphor for something you can do in an online community. This can be a new type of event, a prompt, a vibe that you infuse existing experiences with.
I’ll share examples from my life here with ideas on how they may be able to translate for online communities I lead.
You'll see these do not have to be formal community experiences to spark ideas for your community.
Lifeguard prank wars
When I was in high school, I worked as a lifeguard at a very big public pool. The first holiday I worked, there were 16 “saves” on one day including a serious seizure we had to call the paramedics for. So it wasn’t exactly the chill summer job I thought I was getting myself into, but I loved it.
I think because the job was demanding, we got close as a team. We started a (very silly) prank war with the lifeguards at another pool. First, we broke into their guard room at night and spilled very sugary fruit juice on the floor so that their flip flops would stick to the floor. Then they broke into our guard room and hid all of our tubes so by the time we found them in the woods, we were late to opening the pool. Then, we took all of their umbrellas on a hot day.
There was something about breaking the rules together that made us closer friends, both with the lifeguards in our pool and the ones we were pranking.
How can we use that experience of pranks wars as inspiration?
I think the main thing that brought us together around the pranks was breaking the rules together. We had such mature responsibilities when we were at work, I think it felt good to disconnect from those and just break some rules. We were giving ourselves permission to not have to do the right thing at all times and just be silly together.
Online I think I could do a better job bringing silliness into our community on Circle. We have very clear prompts on where and how to post, which is good so that everyone knows the rules, but there isn’t a place where members would even think to break the rules in a fun way.
Halloween in an old house
The first apartment I moved into after college was in a big rundown house. I had 3 roommates and one year we hosted a huge halloween party with a DJ and a big bowl of very strong punch. I remember reconnecting with friends, meeting people for the first time and dancing a lot. Everyone felt comfortable and welcome and it was really fun.
Part of the magic of that night was that there was a good mix of people I knew and others who were guests of my roommates. There were familiar faces to hang out with and new people to meet. And everyone was in costume which made for natural conversation starters. Also the house was old and we didn’t have anything fancy or fragile that could get ruined. So everyone felt comfortable and at home.
How can we use the experience of a big halloween party in an old house as inspiration?
What that story tells me is that there’s an opportunity to host something with multiple hosts so that there’s that mix of people who know each other and others who are just meeting. Also, whenever silly costumes can be incorporated, it’s probably a good idea to break the ice!
My first full-time job ever was selling TV shows to international broadcasters all over the world. I got to travel a lot and meet lots of interesting people. It was a super cool job and I was super unqualified for it, which made it really stressful at least at first.
Then, I met a group of people who I could go to for help and support and we started to host dinners at industry conferences specifically for the salespeople. The people I’d connect with at these dinners were technically competitors. But that never seemed to get in a way of them helping me better understand the business and introduce me to new clients. Eventually, I’d be able to return the favor.
We became good friends outside of the markets and would visit each others’ cities, send birthday cards and even go on trips together.
I think what was great about those dinners is that we were specific that on the last night of the conferences, we’d host a dinner just for salespeople. After many client dinners, this was our opportunity to not have to be on and playing host, instead just connect with each other as friends. There was an informality to it, which was a contrast to our other (lovely, but more formal) meals at the conference.
How can we use that experience of salespeople dinners as inspiration?
I usually gather community builders, who similar to the salespeople example have to be “on” for their communities. I think being intentional with informality can be a powerful concept for this group too. Building an event specifically designed for them to relax and be real with each other.
On Zoom, there’s usually a clear protocol, everyone is on mute, a facilitator guides the conversation, meetings start and end on time. What if there was a way to reverse some of those rules and make the informality the point once in a while?
Your takeaways and ideas from these stories I shared might have been different from mine. And your own stories will definitely spark different ideas.
We are at our best when we can tap into and incorporate our unique experiences, personalities and weird ideas into our communities.
There is no one way to build a community because there is no one way to feel connected to others.
You already know how to do this! ❤️
What memorable connection experiences from your own life come to mind as read these? What can you learn from and incorporate into your community?
If you’re building a community business and want more clarity, more support and connection with peers, check out BACB. It’s our year-long community experience for community business founders. You can learn all about it and apply to join us here →