Communities Don’t Scale
The following article is taken from my Faiā newsletter.
I am writing to you from Lion City, Singapore. Back “home.”
Hong Kong was an incredibly productive trip, but it also highlighted a few things around what businesses are doing when it comes to “community.”
As a professional Community Manager in the past, I developed a tension between what I knew intuitively was community, versus what the business world was trying to force onto consumers as “community.”
According to the Oxford dictionary, community can mean:
- A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
- The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.
Based on these definitions, any group of people with “common characteristics” can be called a community. However, if you dig deeper into sense of community, it goes much deeper than this label.
From my experience, “true” communities don’t just share common interests and attitudes, they go beyond that. They start to tune into one another, volunteer their time (without seeking compensation), and even open up their homes.
This is when you find the difference between an audience and a community. Audiences scale (as you simply look at increasing the number of people). But community, or that sense of community, sinks into the cultural aspect of strong communities.
You may be able to replicate an audience (by numbers), but to replicate a community with a strong culture, now that’s a different ball game. That requires conscious planning, commitment, and time.
When it comes to building trust and confidence in people, which takes time and is an important factor in building resilient communities, it doesn’t scale like technology products. Building a true sense of community is not just a numbers game — the coefficient becomes magnification, not multiplication.
This “magnification” is of trust, deep bonds, and shared values. Some of the harder elements to quantify but, as the saying goes:
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” ~William Bruce Cameron
So if you’re looking to build a truly resilient community, especially in business, don’t just look at your member count. Don’t just look at the transactional elements.
Your brand (and pockets) will thank you in the long run.
In today’s online world of bots, cloud server hackings, fake news, and anonymous trolls, follower counts and “likes” are starting to become less and less valuable. Users are becoming savvier, and wary, of inflated numbers.
Twitter has de-emphasised follower count (if you didn’t notice), by switching its followers position. Facebook is shifting its algorithm to de-emphasise ads and business posts, to focus more on Groups and personal network posts (to increase intimacy with “true friends”, versus mass followers who may never even engage with you).
Deep bonds over loose relationships.
So how do you prepare for all this? Focus on the basics by building trust, deep bonds, and value. Startups may fail fast, but communities build slow.
What are your thoughts? Can communities “scale”, or are the definitions/interpretations simply different?