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  • Writer's pictureBethany Crystal

Building Community Bird by Bird

Lesson 1: Build your audience over time. If there’s one obvious thing I’ve learned about community-building, it’s that it takes time. Too often I’ve seen community organizers throw a ton of spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. They try a webinar one month, a roundtable the next, a group forum the third, then maybe a dinner, a fun night out, a happy hour. Don’t get me wrong, while experimenting is fun, some of the best communities I’ve been a part of are less about experiments and more about consistency. There’s a lot of dependability and trust in a group when you always know where and when to find them. Starting with that foundation is important. While I didn’t ask, my guess is that the owners didn’t get a ton of seagulls to show up the first time they threw yesterday’s bread onto the sidewalk. And it probably took weeks of repeating that behavior in order to get the birds to show up before they threw the bread. But over time, they showed up. Bird by bird.

Lesson 2: Keep it simple. The second thing I’ve learned about community is that you don’t need to get overly creative or fancy. I’ve noticed a lot of people get hung up on the tactics -- what tools do I need, what software must we build, what data must we collect? Trust me, I’ve been there. It’s easy to fall into the trap of over-complicating your offering. But one thing I noticed this morning was -- the cafe sells a lot more than just bread. They carry sausage rolls and spinach-and-feta wraps and banana bread with dates. Despite these near-unlimited options, they aren’t changing up the breakfast sampler for the birds each day, which would likely only confuse their feathery friends. Instead, when they found something that worked, they stuck with it.

Lesson 3: Let the birds...er, humans...lead the way.

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