What Are Communities Made Of?

This is Part Two in a Four-Part Series on Observations on Community Building

For the second week of my experiment, I want to share thoughts on something I’ve been working to crack for a long time. What makes a community?

For those of us asked to build communities for a living, we really need to define the overarching principles of what constitutes them. While the internet is one of the best community building tools of all time, our thinking shouldn’t be limited to it. With this mind, here’s my best shot:

A community is a group of people who

1) Have a shared stake in something

It could be a baseball team, a neighborhood, or an online network. Usually, people have come to feel this ownership because they have similar values, and the thing they’ve chosen to identify with are an expression of their values. 

2) Are willing to provide value to one another without immediate return. 

Whether that’s neighbors holding the door for one another in a local shop, or an experienced member of an online forum doling out helpful advice to a newbie, a community doesn’t work if its members don’t feel its worth their time to ‘pay it forward’. Members give now to the community without asking for anything in return, because if they need something in the future, they have good reason to trust they’ll get it. Of course, this can get violated by certain individuals within the group. That leads to #3…

3) Have a set of guidelines for their dealings with each other.

In order for a community to flourish, there need to be social norms. You know how with your closest group of friends, you probably have a unique way of speaking with one another; you can trade comfortable good natured teasing, and at the same time, you know there are lines you just don’t cross. I see community guidelines being very similar, just on a larger scale. Customs for how people deal with one another are helpful for letting people know how they can share positivity, as well as for spotting someone who’s violating the code of conduct from a mile away. Guidelines are needed in order to keep the community cohesive.

I hope the above serves as a useful building block for others. This is a starting point though, not an end in itself. What do you think I’m missing?