Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Where Does Community Come From?


Value > Mission > Resource > Experience > Community

Community is a hot topic these days amongst many disciplines, and rightfully so. In a busy, global, diverse, economy it can be difficult to find and create relationships. Brands are quickly finding the importance of communities, or "tribes" as the marketing guru Seth Godin refers to them. Leaders are discovering the importance of creating community within an organization for it's culture benefits as well.

From a social psychology perspective (as written in the text Applied Social Psychology), community needs 4 things to really exist; membership, influence, fulfillment of needs, and a shared emotional connection. Business and brands have traditionally had the fulfillment of needs part down, but now leaders are being asked to provide membership and even a shared emotional connection. For a lot of brands, and many leaders, emotional connections and influence are muddy topics at best. Giving your customers or team members influence over outcomes is not covered in most management classes. Emotional connection is definitely not a common topic in economics (although it's gaining steam).

Knowing what community is becomes important, but knowing how to create community is the key. Where does community actually come from? Can it be developed? If so, how? Any brand would covet it's customers feeling a sense of belonging, fulfillment, and emotional connection. Any leader would love to hear their people say the team meets their needs, influences them, and connects them to others. As I've researched and read on the topic over the years, I've found a pattern to creating community. Often it happens organically, but it can be curated and structured (though not fully created). Here's what I've found:

A clearly defined mission that is aligned with shared values drives community engagement. 

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Values: Community starts with common values. This is not to say everyone has all values in common, but any community must have some value in common. The stronger people identify with a value, and the more values common within a group, the stronger the sense of community will be.

Mission: What we do with our life, what we're passionate about, stems from our values. When a community starts to form it is centered on some sort of mission or action which derives from the common set. A clearly defined mission that is aligned with shared values drives community engagement. It's why people give their resources such as time or money to the community.

Resources: When values are shared and mission is aligned, resources follow. Most often this resource is time. People will give their time to participate in a mission they believe in. Sometimes the resource is money or a skill. The stronger the value, the greater the mission, the more resources are committed.

Experience: When a group of people spends time together accomplishing a mission they believe in, this creates experiences. Common experiences are the glue that holds a community together. It's what people rally around and identify with.

Let's look at two examples.

I still remember clearly the events of September 11, 2001. That experience was shared across the country. Everyone experienced that together as it unfolded in the news. The visuals of the TV coverage etched that forever in our minds. As a citizen of the United States of America, I value freedom and life. That event violated my values. It didn't align with our mission as a country to promote democracy and peace. I remember President Bush standing at ground zero solidifying the mission to go find the people that did this terrible thing and bring them to justice. Men and women around the US sacrificed resources for this cause. People joined the military, gave money to the victims, served the first responders, and so much more. The experience rallied our country and solidified our community. As a community, we even sacrificed some freedoms and liberties because of this event.

Let's consider something completely different: Wikipedia. How do you create an online dictionary completely sourced and curated by volunteers? You start with values that people can align with. Values like open source, free, sharing, and peer reviewed. You mix in a mission of making knowledge available to the masses and using the power of the internet to do good things. People align with this and the community gives time and talent, for no fee, to write and review massive amounts of information around the world. Participating in this creates an incredible sense of accomplishment - an emotional connection and experience. And thus, you get a strong culture that rallies to support Wikipedia with it's money, time, and talents.

So that's it. That's where community comes from. Over time experiences become stories and storytelling becomes experience all over again. This cycle of experience and story telling is what holds communities together and continues to strengthen them. If you're running a brand or a team, this is for you. If you'd like people to not just participate for a functional benefit like a product or a paycheck, you need to build real community.

Over time experiences become stories and storytelling becomes experience all over again.

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What have you found to be important when it comes to developing communities? I'd love to hear from you.

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