What’s a Community Got to do With It?
A great community is like having multiple of your best friend in one place; you can’t have enough! Imagine 6, 10, 20 people who care about the same things you care about; people who detest Telegram as much as you do — I honestly don’t know why that many people should be able to access me, and the constant notifications. Dear God! But I digress.
What I’m getting at is that a great community is… great. It aggregates people with commonality in one place. This includes commonality of goals, interests, experiences, and aspirations. It can help timid people to find and project their voice because, finally, they are in a position to be heard in an intimate way. It can also help to reveal deeply held desires because of the safety of said community.
The problem is most of us spend our lives looking for a great community.
Sure, we have our colleagues and the water cooler conversations we share with them from Mondays to Fridays. We also have that church fellowship we attend on Sundays; plus points if you’re in the choir department coz you know you’ll be seeing your community at least twice weekly.
Here’s the thing though: the value of many of these communities stop where our obligation to them stops. I’ll explain.
As an employee, I have an obligation to the company I work for. It is therefore understood that my colleagues and I have a shared obligation to the company we work for. However, if you see this commonality and define it as the basis for a great community, you’d be wrong because that is only the first step in building a truly great community.
It’s the same way you won’t claim a stranger is your best friend just because you find that you both love to take screenshots of precise times. In that, you both would have satisfied the first condition of friendship as observed by C. S. Lewis when he said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself.’”
While the identified quirk qualifies you to consider the possibility of friendship and maybe even have a great conversation with that person, there’s another layer of commonality and possibly another that you’d have to uncover together to become besties. It’s the same thing with great communities.
Great communities comprise multiple layers of commonalities that are made stronger by something called the SPACES Model.
I first heard about the SPACES Model at the Empower Her Non-tech Bootcamp which I’m currently participating in. Prior to that, I’d developed a curiosity for community management after I started volunteering for an online community.
I wanted to know what makes people love and be vulnerable with brands; what keeps conversation flowing around brands. Importantly, I wanted to know the secret sauce that makes people commit (almost unflinchingly) to brands. In many ways, this curiosity is personal too because I am looking for an intimate community that can be these things to me.
I am looking for a circle I can be real with; one I grow with. I am looking for an intimate group of believers, dreamers and doers who will give me a strong sense of belonging and hold me accountable. Again, I digress because the SPACES Model isn’t about the individual. It is about the collective.
SPACES Model is a framework that allows businesses (primarily) to determine their community business value. It helps to connect a group of people with shared interests and enables an authentic relationship between business and end users. Perhaps most important is that it humanizes a brand.
Because this is a personal reflection, I’d like to transpose this knowledge to individuals and say that community demystifies us.
For the sake of the detours this piece has already taken, we won’t go into a discussion about the pros and cons of mystery. Let’s just agree to err on the side of demystification. After all, communities thrive on openness.
With the SPACES Model, businesses (and individuals) can create authentic connections that last a long time. They can bring their best products (and selves) to bear and provide valuable support. Importantly, they can achieve their aims in and through their communities.
What is the SPACES Model?
It’s really straightforward:
S — Support
P — Product
A — Acquisition
C — Contribution
E — Engagement
S — Success
In a business, this speaks to the tools or platform you provide that make it easy for community members to solve problems for each other. Imagine the burden that would be lifted off you if you didn’t have to show every one of your customers how to use your product; instead, community members show each other how to use it.
Ideally, this will save you from headaches. It will also reduce the cost of customer support since you would have empowered members of your community to offer quick and inexpensive support. Finally, it would improve the perception of your customer support efficiency since support will be readily accessible within the community.
For an individual, however, support is about how you show up within your community. It is your readiness to help, listen, and empathize.
This speaks to product iteration based on feedback. It’s why technology keeps getting better; companies rely on constructive criticisms from their community to improve their product. Of course, you’re not technology, so this speaks to something much more substantial about your person, e.g., are you open to feedback? When you do receive it, do you use it to become a better version of yourself?
The thing about communities is that they can be a tool for improvement, but that’ll only happen to the extent that you allow them to be, hence the need to seek and utilize feedback from them.
Branded communities would often drive awareness and customer acquisition through community advocacy.
When customers are loyal to a brand so much that they begin to advocate for it unprovoked, such a brand would have hit a significant milestone in its community development efforts. For an individual, I’d like to think of this with regards to the reputation we build for ourselves. Because when we build a reputation of excellence, kindness, and integrity, people will advocate for us in spaces we have yet to enter into. This, of course, can mean anything from job referrals to likeability and more.
This element of the SPACES Model speaks to the power of collaboration. Brand communities might interpret this as encouraging more user-generated content and/or providing useful resources for community members. Whereas, individuals who want to optimize this element of the framework must themselves be great collaborators.
Great collaborators are good at closing their teams’ gaps if they have strengths in those areas. They are not impatient or in competition with their team. They understand that “I” cannot overshadow the collective aims of “we” because an individual is far too small to be the purpose of a community.
You cannot drive engagement in any community without shared interest. I know. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Whether it is a business or any other kind of circle, communities need something to talk about to drive continuous conversation. That something to talk about is, more often than not, what community members have in common, e.g., a quirk for weird screenshots, chewing gum in pairs or (far less confusing) running.
Success, in this framework, refers to an increase in product adoption and customer lifetime value. Of course, this is after successfully driving engagement, contribution, acquisition, etc. At this point in a brand community, members have been a part of the community for a long time and have made a habit of driving the influx of new members into the community.
If you find your community to be so valuable, you can drive its success by encouraging your friends and family to be a part of it. Even better, you can help it to achieve its aims.
This is just one of the lessons I’ve learnt from Empower Her Non-tech Bootcamp so far. It turns out that I’m not just learning all there is to know about community management but how to show up in my community too.