You Too Can Create A Community That Runs Itself
It is possible to bring people together around a central message, build a community and then give that community the space to run itself.
Once the community is established, there doesn’t always need to be one person or a single company driving its activity.
Others getting behind the community mission and buying into its spirit creates its own momentum and that, coupled with them feeling empowered means that over time, it is the voices of many who lead.
This article follows my observations on the path the You Are The Media project has taken on its journey – I don’t have all the answers but am writing this as a means of figuring things out in plain view.
What I’m trying to prove with You Are The Media is that you can build a community to a point where it’s ready to take on a life of its own. Click here to read an article that looks further at this.
The Power Of Many
If a community is only ever led 100% by a person or single entity it becomes agenda-driven, whereas when it’s embraced by others it takes on a collective identity that truly serves its members. The energy everyone brings becomes the driver that keeps the community pulse beating.
This is something that I wanted to demonstrate to everyone at the last You Are The Media Lunch Club of 2019.
In the past I’ve hosted every single YATM Lunch Club since May 2016. At our most recent event, last week, I took a back seat and Justin Cohen did the honours – proof that it is the people who are part of the community that make it special. As each year progresses, the baton is being handed on to more people. This is something that has evolved quite naturally, almost unintentionally.
Let’s start with how you bring people together around a focal point or message and then nurture further activity and initiatives from that. Then let’s look at how creating something that runs itself can become a very real possibility. This is about the group taking responsibility and sharing the commitment. Just think of all the hours you, as the community builder, will get back!
How You Build
First, some context around getting off the starting blocks when you’re building and leading a community that will eventually run itself. Some pointers for when you’re looking to unite people around a single message:
It needs to be managed.
There has to be a single point from which responsibility is taken.
My responsibility to the You Are The Media community is to send a weekly email, be accountable for the speakers at the annual conference, ensure there’s clear direction on the topic for each YATM Lunch Club and make sure everyone feels welcome when they come to the events. In between every event, activity continues, it doesn’t go quiet. If it did, YATM couldn’t survive. For instance, if there was nothing all year and then one single conference, it would be very tough to sell conference tickets.
It begins with a vision.
My vision for You Are The Media was to create something where people could feel they belonged. From this the message centred around businesses taking responsibility for their own narratives and the platform they told them from, and building a following of subscribers, customers and advocates.
You create, you share, you build (read this article on why your blog is such a powerful place in 2020). By having this core message, I then wanted to bring people together, from all around the UK and overseas, to this central place, YATM, where the activity happens.
From the vision, people connect to something.
We all want to belong and feel a part of something. If community was not such an integral part of You Are The Media, it would be just me sending sales-related messages to get people to buy something. I do sell, but that has come about through building trust first. I don’t want anyone coming to an event where they feel that I have let them down.
Keep everyone in the loop.
Everyone needs to see that you care and be kept up to date with what’s happening. YATM’s entire programme of activity for 2020 has now been planned. It’s like releasing a whole series on Netflix in one go (have a look at the 2020 calendar).
Drip-feeding people with news of events every now and then doesn’t work – your audience needs to be able to plan and prioritise what’s relevant and useful to them. Whilst this is the hardest aspect for the organiser, this sort of consistency pays off. On a personal level, to do this I had to make a trade-off (cut something else out of my week). Click here to read on making a sacrifice.
Bringing people together is a key piece of the experience.
It’s ok talking about online communities, but how often do people get to speak to each other face-to-face, going beyond a Zoom call?
If you died tomorrow, how many people from LinkedIn and Facebook would come to your funeral? When people come together, what you create is something very real that cements belonging and community.
Empower others from your original vision.
Every article and event backs up the YATM vision for people creating and building their own audiences. This makes it easier for them to decide if YATM is something that they want to get on board with.
The more they become equipped with the right tools to build their own communities, the more confident they become. And it’s important to acknowledge those who are a part of this growing community. As an example, at the end of last week’s YATM . Lunch Club, we had the annual YATM awards – member achievements that were celebrated by having the community spotlight shone on them.
How It Can Run Itself
Over time, collective energy builds its own momentum. For the founder/s it’s a liberating place to be, other people stepping forward, where everything is not just on your shoulders. This is something I saw happening throughout 2019.
Invite people to get involved, but only when they want to.
You can’t force people to do something that doesn’t feel easy to say yes to. I asked Justin (Cohen) to host the last YATM Lunch Club of 2019 as he has been a part the community for a long time, attends the events, is a part of the crowd and the switch from me as host to Justin for the last event was an easy ask. Make something that people want to get involved with and leave the door open for them.
Give people what they come for.
The more you stick to a framework, the easier it becomes to find a rhythm that you don’t have to always be monitoring. For instance, a weekly email sent at 6.30am every Thursday and a monthly event that has a clear topic relating back to the overarching agenda, soon become the community touchstones that people look out for and become comfortable with.
Find ways to evolve in an organic, fluid way.
You Are The Media started as an email from a blog, it became a monthly event, a podcast and then a conference. Who is to say that it can’t manifest into other areas that other people take charge of in the future? What is created effectively becomes part of a wider network that retains that clear underlying community message.
Find a means for people to push themselves.
When something starts to run itself it is about other people, not you. The common identity that they have united behind makes them feel comfortable, minimises risk for them and makes it easier for them to put themselves in unfamiliar spaces, out of their comfort zone. For instance, this could be sharpening presentation skills or just being ok with talking into a microphone. This is something that Fleur Cook will progress when YATM launches in Bristol in 2020. Other people are prepared to take the lead.
You don’t search for influencers, you champion introverts.
You don’t need to find people of clout to have an impact and encourage reach, you put the spotlight on those within the group. Gordon Fong is someone who is very much part of the YATM community.
He owns a hosting company and may seem quite a reserved character. He’s not brash, he’s not loud mouthed, but by being a part of the group, he delivered the “The Worst Business Entrepreneur Presentation Ever” at the last YATM Lunch Club of 2019 event. It went down a storm. Click here to watch Gordon’s talk.
Roles start to become created.
Over time people gravitate towards taking on certain responsibilities and roles are formed.
I’m seeing two clear roles emerging for members within YATM. People will either become advocates or step forward to lead in certain situations, sharing experiences or presenting. The advocates are the people who rally the group, share within their own wider circles, bring people they know along to events and help grow the community that way. Those who are happy to step forward maybe can’t come along as frequently, but are able to use their skills to bring value to the group.
Create a culture of appreciation.
No one wants to step forward and be forgotten about. You have to recognise the importance of making others feel at home and reinforce that they belong. Celebrating together strengthens community.
The last YATM Lunch Club closed with the annual awards – certificates recognising those people who have done exceptional work. Toasting the success of others feels good, particularly when it’s people who are part of your community.
Allowing a community to run itself, starts from being comfortable with an empty room.
Let me explain: Every YATM Lunch Club starts with a quiet space, effectively the shell for what will eventually be the event. You fill it with people, food, interaction, ideas, chat, a running order, camaraderie and an overall agenda and it becomes everything.
It works when everyone is involved in creating the occasion.
This is the same for a community. A community works best when everyone involved is driving it forward, when the power belongs to each and every single member.