Building Community? You won’t succeed without this.

It seems like the entire world - from the Silicon Valley, to creatives, to solopreneurs - is harnessing (in some cases, co-opting?) the power of community. By ‘community’ I mean people who share a purpose or need, who choose to belong to each other in a certain container, and whose identities may be informed by this belonging. And by ‘power’, I mean business model.

This trajectory makes sense, given the rise of social digital technologies, the commodification of many offerings which used to be free-er, the unbundling of many larger companies, technologies, or institutions leaving room for offerings that meet more niche needs (personally I am seeing a lot of this in the personal development and education spaces where I‘m most active), and the now-ubiquitous subscription model. Digital marketing is becoming less about having a ‘conversation’ online and more about ‘are you with us on the inside or are you on the outside’? Capitalism is very good at identifying humanity’s deepest urges and fears and exploiting them. Belonging is a primal human need.

In many ways, I’m excited about the rise of community-based models. People in the West are starved for the connection they can provide. And community models, by design, necessitate participatory approaches, which we need to practice, especially as we enter a new era of uncertainty and disaster driven largely by the Climate Crisis. But I also know that there’s going to be a lot of people trying to build an initiative or business using a community model, and struggling to succeed. The reason won’t be for lack of ambition, technical skills, or because of poor design. The reason some community efforts will fail is because they lack heart.

community-building needs your whole heart. Credit: Nicola Fioravanti

Yup. Heart. Not ❤ , but real care and love. When I consider all the communities in my life that I feel close to (not just as a customer, but as a human being), it’s because the people who are stewarding them truly care about us and our (the members) shared purpose. And it shows in everything they do: all the hard work required to create spaces that allow large numbers of members to participate and feel connected to something bigger than themselves. Contrived caring simply will not work, certainly not over time. But deep commitment and love is will.