In a previous job, I helped organizations build private social networks for their members. I was often asked “How do I create a feeling of community online?” In this podcast episode, we explore the tips and techniques for developing a sense of togetherness even when we’re far apart.
Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Hello, everyone, and welcome to episode number 141. Today we’re going to talk about how to create that sense of community online, how to feel that sense of team, that togetherness that we often have when we’re together with people and we get to know them. Doing it online is not necessarily harder. It’s just different. Now I’m going to go way back five years ago when I was still building private social networks for organizations. And I’m going to go into some of the techniques and the tools that I advise those online community managers to use to create a sense of community and their private, social networks. So this is going to be from the point of view of a community manager. Now every community has some sort of manager, whether it’s official or unofficial. It’s usually the person who’s most excited about what the topic of that community is or somebody who’s in a natural leadership position that generally pushes the flow of the community and creates that community. So this is going to be from that perspective.
And the first thing I always tell people if you’re trying to create a community is you need to create a community that people find useful. Otherwise, they won’t come. There are so many different things that are grabbing our attention these days. If people don’t find things useful, they’re not going to spend any of their energy on it. So when you’re creating an online community, there are a number of things to think about. So the first one is always what does success look like. And for communities, you have to think about what does success look like for the community and what does success look like from the members of the communities’ perspective. For example, success for a community might be becoming the go-to place for resources that people want to look up. If you’re a health organization and you specialize in [knees – 02:05], then you want to become the go-to place where everyone goes when they have a question about [knees – 02:11]. That’s not exactly the same goal as a member of that community would have. The member of the community is looking for knowledge and maybe people to network with about [knees – 02:21]. So those are two different things that when we’re designing communities, they have to be taken into account. So sit down and ask yourself what does success look like for your community and then what does success look like for the members, and then design your community for both. The next thing is to look for opportunities to introduce people to each other. As a community manager, you can kind of think of yourself as a host at a party or a hostess at a party where you greed people as they come in. You show them around and then you introduce them to others that they might find interesting or have great conversations with. And when we’re building community online, we have to do exactly the same thing.
After introducing people and showing them around, there then needs to be sort of encouragement or championing for people to share resources and start projects together. And something else that goes right along with that is you have to create an environment that’s conducive for communication. So people have to not be scared to speak out. They have to be comfortable talking with other people. And a good community manager can really spark that kind of environment and create conversations of those kinds. You can notice, “Oh, Jenn, I see that you’re completely interested in SEO. There’s this other guy over here who’s been working on SEO project. You should talk to him,” things like that. And of course as a community manager, we can organize events and experiences together so that people not only know who each other are but maybe have done something together. Pilar Orti does this for the Virtual Team Talk community. She organizes these conferences, basically, online and Sococo. And she calls them internal affairs. So anybody that’s part of the virtual team talk community is welcome to come to this online conference. Anybody is welcome to give a talk or a workshop. It’s sort of like a BIL conference online. So maybe many of you don’t even know what a BIL conference is. That’s sort of the opposite of a Tet Conference where everything is very organized and the timing is just perfect and everybody has practiced their speeches. BIL is sort of Ted’s DIY brother where it’s much more Lean Coffee style. People come with their own ideas. If you want to talk about Knitting, you can talk about Knitting. If you want to talk about nuclear physics, you can also do that too. But just having the BIL event causes everybody to have a shared experience together. It’s like going on an adventure together. And that always creates some sort of bond. And of course just like in any community, online or offline, it’s always good to show gratitude and thank people for their contributions. Everybody, me included, like to be acknowledged for work that we’ve done well, and showing appreciation is surprisingly easy. You can get more ideas back in episode number 52, perks for remote employees. I know it has remote employees in the title, but really, it’s just great gifts that you can give to colleagues online. Now I’ve said that every community has some sort of community manager. If yours isn’t clear, it might be helpful to appoint a new community manager, somebody who knows it’s their job to welcome people into the community and show them around. Another thing that I recommend is identifying who the champions are in your community. Who are the people that are most excited about what you’re doing? And then rope them in to help spread that enthusiasm and to get initiatives started. It always takes a little bit of energy to get the ball rolling. So if you can engage with the champions and the people that are the most enthusiastic, it’ll really push things pretty far. Be sure to share resources generously. Gone are the days of hoarding information. We want to help our colleagues as much as we can by sharing files, articles, thoughts, things that we know about certain topics, just sharing resources generously. And of course, last but not least, make it easy and infuse fun. Everybody loves to laugh. So I know that it’s important to be really professional and to impart knowledge. But it’s also really important to add a little spark of fun in there every once in a while. We’re all human, and it’s good to smile.
Okay, so just to quickly recap all the techniques that I’ve just said about creating community, one, create a community that people find useful. Look for opportunities to introduce people to each other. Encourage people to start projects and to share resources with each other. Create an environment where communication is easy. Organize shared experiences and invite people to participate. Thank people for their contributions. Appoint a community manager. Identify champions inside and outside of the community to spread authentic enthusiasm. Share your resources generously and make it easy and infuse some fun. I know that’s a lot of information sort of squeezed down into under 10 minutes, but I hope you got something from that. If you are looking to build a community or develop some sort of sense of team online, then definitely sign up on the Collaboration Superpowers newsletter. Every other week, you’ll get the top tips, tricks, and best practices from remote workers all over the world delivered straight to your inbox. It doesn’t get easier than that. Just go to collaborationsuperpowers.com/newsletter. And if you’ve got something useful from this podcast or you just really like what we’re doing, then please leave us a review on either iTunes or Stitcher. It really helps get the word out to other people about this podcast. And it shows your appreciation, so thanks in advance.
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