How to build a self sustaining community
Where members are engaging on their own and the community is thriving
A self sustaining community is one where the members manage and grow the community alongside the community owners. This is key because managing a community at this point is easier. Getting your community to this stage takes a lot more than a few steps, what this article aims to do is give a short overview of what you can do to get started.
How can you build a self sustaining community though?
Let me share a series of steps that have worked for me and can work for you too:
Give every member the value they came for kindly and quickly
Make it stupidly easy for them to give back to the community what the community needs
Reward them quickly, efficiently, thoughtfully and variably as they give back
Once members go through all 3 steps above, they automagically come back to give again so they can get more rewards. This is based on the Hooked Model by Nir Eyal
Where you trigger people to take action, reward them for that action and allow them to give or invest back their time so it is easy for them to take more actions they are rewarded for. This is a very basic explanation, but it gives a summary. See The Hooked Model: How to Manufacture Desire in 4 Steps for more detail.
That said, these steps are not as simple or as easy as they are written. For instance:
How do you give rewards if you are running a community with little to no budget?
How would one know what value they came for? Is that different from the reason the community was set up?
But by explaining each step in detail, you'll see how to make them work for you.
Do note that a lot of the concepts here are summarised and so they should be contemplated on and practised to get a fuller picture. Also, feel free to ask questions where anything seems unclear.
Step I: How do I know/define the value the members came for?
Here you have to define the needs or pain points the members have, like why did they come to your community? What did they need? What job did they require done for them?
To learn how to define this for your community takes years of practice and a certain mindset. I created a DIY guide to help you learn this in steps: How to define the needs and wants of your community. For a short summary, to learn the value members come to your community for, you have to:
Increase your ability to empathise, so you can be in their shoes and see/feel from their perspective
Increase your ability to listen, so you can hear them talk and share when they do this directly and indirectly
Learn to ask the right questions that research deeply and pull out needs and insights
The DIY guide/article above explains this in detail.
Step II: How do I make it easy for them to give what the community needs?
This step has 2 parts:
How would one help members give back easily
How would one help members give specifically what the community needs
First you'll have to define what the community needs.
This is basic. It is the same as the goals for the community, so a support community would need more people to answer questions or a NFT community would need members to engage in the programs and voting and processes of the DAO. This is usually defined as the community starts.
Next you need to make it easy for the members to do it, thereby giving back. This sounds obvious, but I have found that most communities just expect the members to know what to do or where to go, with no specific direction.
For instance, if you want more members to answer questions in a support community:
Make where to answer questions very easy to get to,
Create a "How to answer questions" guide they can follow step by step.
If you want more members to engage in your DAO:
Create a very detailed and prominent contribution guide
Make the Contribution steps/button front and centre for everyone to see and use
The steps above are dumbed-down, but they give a good picture. Here I am basically saying, you want to remove any guess work and handhold them to do what they need to do, so they have no blockers and it becomes stupidly easy to engage in the community and give back.
To get a deeper understanding or to see the psychology behind why people take certain actions and not others, go through the Behaviour Model by Prof. B. J. Fogg.
This sounds easy and straight-forward, but for most communities, it is very hard to know what to do in them that gives value to the community as a whole. It is hardly ever explicitly stated.
Step III: How do I reward?
Reward doesn't have to be money or monetary in any sense, most times the best rewards require zero spending. For most members, simple things like Thank You notes or publicly mentioning and recognising their contributions go a long way. And once you understand why they are in your community and what motivates them, you can always tweak the rewards to match.
Some good guides to look at as you think of rewards are How to Reward Your Community Members by CMX and Rewards for Community Leaders by Patreon.
In the coming weeks, we will be launching a guided online workshop where we will take you and your team through this process, step by step and show you how to do this for your community.
If this interests you, please sign up here for the waiting list: Waiting List: CM Workshop on How to make your community sustainable.