Community is hygiene not heroics

I’ve been talking to an entrepreneur working on a social/mapping tool called GroupTones to connect local musicians with gigs and one another. Being a cellist in the Boston music scene, he has an intuitive sense of how to build a community around this product. He’s been visiting orchestras at local universities, engaging with people on Twitter, getting feedback on the appropriate subreddits, and starting to blog.

In a recent conversation, we discussed virality. His user base is growing steadily through word of mouth as users recommend the service, but there isn’t any one activity that is causing it to take off.

I told him to keep doing exactly what he’s doing. Building community is a never ending job. If you have a strong community, you’ll always have to manage feedback, maintain relationships, and engage users. It’s not something that you can accomplish in a heroic all-nighter but something that requires constant attention.

As my friend Sumana of the Wikimedia Foundation insightfully puts it, hygiene is more important than heroics.

For example, at 10gen, our community marketing programs started with big, one-day conferences. Those events are crucial for seeding community and continue to be important yearly milestones in each city we visit. The conferences are highly visible, somewhat heroic feats.

What many don’t see is all the work that happens between each conference. User forum posts, IRC questions, and tweets that receive timely responses. Monthly newsletters targeted for each local market. User groups that meet regularly with the financial and logistical support of 10gen. Personal check-ins with key customers and community members. That is the hygiene required to maintain a successful community.

How do you maintain good hygiene? It requires establishing patterns and habits, looking at key metrics at consistent intervals, and making the small stuff visible. I’m hoping to focus more on specific examples of this in future posts.

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4 thoughts on “Community is hygiene not heroics

  1. holdenweb says:

    Seth Godin has long advocated this approach: don’t try to “impress” the market, just keep doing what you do, well, and if you are producing something people need they will find out about you. Of course the ubiquity of the Intarwebz now makes it much more likely that someone producing output of interest to a minority will connect with their natural audience.

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