13 Remarks on Building Communities Through Shared Passions


Some of London’s leading community builders came together at Social Media Week London for an insightful conversation around community development, establishing a mission, and finding others with similar passions. The speakers discussed the science, strategies, and tools behind some of the the fastest growing digital communities, and also tried to define what the word “community” truly means. Today, where “Community Manager” is one of the most vague yet vital job titles there are, SMW London explored this topic and more. Creative Mornings led this discussion featuring four speakers. They were: Hannah Fitzgerald (Hyper Island), Emily Hinks (SheSays), Tak Lo (Techstars), and Victoria Stoyanova (Creative Mornings), pictured respectively.

What Does “Community” Truly Mean Today?

1. Tak: As an early start up, building a community is a cheap acquisition tool. It can be a great hiring pipeline too. Cultivate a community and the first employees that come from it – they believed in the company right from the start.

2. Victoria: “Mission” is a critical word when it comes to communities. Douglas Atkin, Global Director of Community at Airbnb, argues that a movement is a community mobilized to take action driven by a shared vision of how the world should be. A movement is just a community on the move. People who share characteristics and beliefs.

3. Tak: Techstars’ mission is to serve entrepreneurs (#GiveFirst). You can be more productive with a mission, but it’s hard to survive as a start up without a focus from the start.

4. Tak: Tactically, you can use events as a platform to communicate with your community, but conceptually, it is about whatever you can do to unite these people. Ask what is key with your community – what do they want?

5. Emily: “She Says” organizes different events every month, and those events change, evolve and help shape the community. We’ve started doing more workshops as there was a larger demand. We listen to what is said on social media as well as at the events to see what we can provide for our community.

6. Hannah: We have a toolbox at Hyper Island. We use it to build the community with current students. There is an element of self leadership – where do you sit within the community? What is your role?

7. Tak: You can’t hold on to the community too much, or else it will fly away. Authenticity needs to be present, and sometimes you have to do things that are not directly aligned with the business objectives. Look at the recent example of Reddit and the reaction to the dismissal of Victoria Taylor. Communities become very powerful – if you try to contain them, it can be difficult.


8. Emily: Once you have banded the people together with a shared purpose and passion, they are the ones that drive it. Step back and let it be what it is – you can’t force anything upon it.

9. Victoria: Do your homework, show up, and be present. You can’t really hack developing a community, you need to listen to the feedback you receive.

10. Emily: Give people the keys to drive. I set up the Manchester branch of “She Says” because I missed the London one. Collaborate, host events, and bring in people around you. Don’t give yourself too much to do – bring other people in who share your passion, and want to help out as well. Make a commitment once you start, and share that with other individuals for them to jump on board.

11. Tak: Scaling community is damn hard. Even U.S. to UK can be very different in terms of language, humor, or frames of reference. Citymapper does a good job of expanding communities – now they are starting a super hero community in each city so that you can find someone local. WeWork is successful with building communities – they spend three months in a community to understand it before taking significant action.

12. Emily: Communities give you a sense of belonging. You chose to go and be part of that group, so give them a reason to continue interacting and be there. With the Alumni program at Hyper Island, we want to leave people with a glow, whether that’s energized from an event or newsletter demonstrating that Hyper Island is truly making a difference.

13. Emily: A community is a shared space just for you. Not your workplace, not your friends, and not your family. It’s a beautifully selfish thing. Communities are either physical or online, and serve as a space for interacting with likeminded people about something you are passionate about.

Social Media Week


How Simple Rules Evolve in Communities


Simple RulesWhile conversation and interaction was welcome in the comments box of many publications and blogs early on, as social networks evolved the commentary moved to platforms like Facebook and Twitter. For good or for less optimal exchanges, they now happen in public.

It didn’t take long for people to figure out that sharing a poor service experience on Twitter would drive a faster resolution than trying to redress the issue via normal company channels. Smartphones with cameras for taking pictures and video, and connections to all kinds of apps and tools to share what is happening instantly.

The slow pace of change in companies complex policies and practices is one of the reasons why customer service in social is not fair.  As I wrote in that post:

Life is not fair, we all agree on that. However, the root cause of special vs. fair treatment online comes from deep organizational disconnects. Unless your business plans to use what it learns online as an opportunity to fix internal processes, social outposts will continue to be expensive lightning rods.

When we look at the evolution of business after the introduction of social media dynamics we saw four themes emerge:

  1. Accelerated market reputation and authority create new options

  2. There are costs to not doing the right thing

  3. Customers and markets don’t stand still

  4. Simplicity gets results

Point number four is still a work in progress for many organizations, especially startups and companies with a technology, technical and even scientific focus. Beyond learning to communicate simply, this touches the very operational fabric of the business.

Counter intuitively, the inclination to create processes that lock people in are a turn off or turn away. As I wrote in that post:

there are enough examples in the marketplace today that speak to how the more a system is open, the more individuals can, and thus do, choose to be part of it.

Communities evolve at a faster pace than businesses; and so do standards or commonly accepted practices and behaviors. In Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt look at popular culture for examples:

Consider the case of standup comedians, a community governed by the simple rule “Don’t steal jokes,” and where the punishment for violating the rule is no laughing matter.

In one 2005 incident at the Laugh Factory comedy club in Los Angeles, George Lopez grabbed fellow comic Carlos Mencia, slammed him high against the wall, and punched him. Mencia’s alleged crime? Plagiarizing Loperz’s material.

Joke stealing is the cardinal sin in standup comedy today, but it was not always so. For much of the twentieth century, stealing jokes was no big deal. In the vaudeville era, performers would repeat other comedians’ materials without attributing the source.

Later comedians, such as Milton Berle and Bob Hope, drew on vast stores of generic jokes. Expert delivery and timing, rather than originality, mattered most. Hope was widely accused of joke stealing, and Berle was so notorious for it that he once quipped that the prior act was so funny I dropped my pencil.

In contrast, the current generation of comedians, including Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K., rely on distinctive routines that mirror their individual personalities, rather than standalone one-liners. Modern comedy is driven by unique material rather than expert delivery, and today’s comedians have worked out rules to protect their intellectual property and sanctions to enforce those rules.

The “Don’t steal jokes” rule emerged, like the rules of the road, out of ongoing interactions among community members, without any particular guiding hand, and is strictly enforced by the community itself.

Sull and Eisenhardt say “rules evolve to address the most pressing issues in communities.” The difficulty, however, is that:

While evolved rules benefit from legitimacy and relevance, they also have weaknesses. Evolved rules are often implicit and deeply entrenched, making it difficult to examine them critically when circumstances change, or abandon them when they become dysfunctional.

Entrenched rules may prevent people from imagining alternative ways of behaving.

The famous “this is how we do things around here” motto may prevent an organization from evolving its business model to stay in step with changed times. We see examples of this every day — optimize, optimize more, cost-cut, reductions, cliff.

On the other side of the equation, venting in social networks has remained a common practice even as may organizations have overhauled speed of service and resolution in normal channels. This has led to unpleasant unintended consequences for individuals and groups.

Simple rules should make sense to guide direction in an organization and/or community, save time and effort by focusing attention, and simplifying how people process information.

The specifics of how we run the business should be more iterative to capture the value of opportunities when they present themselves. As for specifics in communities, they should be anchored in moral values — which is why truth is important to us.

Still curious? See why simple rules produce better decisions.


Conversation Agent – Valeria Maltoni