What do you actually use community values for?

What do you actually use community values for?

Starting outHealth

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

A five-step process to building a values-aligned online community.

This has been my experience joining every single online community I’m part of:

  1. Sign up for community
  2. Agree to code of conduct which you are either forced by the technology to read, or you pretend to read
  3. Sign off on community values
  4. You’re in! Woohoo!

I feel ashamed to say, if you’re joining my Soapbox Project community, you’ve probably had a similar experience. We only did our values brainstorm with our first 30~ members, and now... they vaguely float around in the “start here” space.


If I asked a Soapbox member to state our community values, they’d likely have to wager a wild guess.

Enough of this!

Time for values that are followed by action! Otherwise, what is the point of values?

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How do you create values for your community?

As Tatiana Figueiredo, my newest community-building mentor, says in her Build a Community Business course, your community values might not be the exact same as your personal values, but they should overlap. (I highly recommend signing up for the course if you’re looking for structured support — I’m one week in and already loving it.)

The most tactical values-specific exercise I’ve seen is this worksheet by Brené Brown on Living Into Our Values. It’s a worksheet based on her book Dare to Lead.

One key piece of guidance: Limit yourself to two core values.

Seems aggressive, maybe, but the more values you tack on, the harder it is to actually use them as a decision-making filter. In the worksheet, some questions you can ask based on your chosen values are:

  • Does this define me?
  • Is this who I am at my best?
  • Is this a filter that I use to make hard decisions?

For the first two prompts, you can replace the me/I language with “our community”. Here’s my shot at translating this into a community values exercise:

  • Do these values define our community?
  • Do these values represent our community members at their best
  • Can I use these values as a filter to make hard decisions, planning our programming, making pivots, and deciding what to launch?

If you’re having a hard time figuring this out by yourself, that’s not a bad thing — get input from other community builders by joining a cohort or accountability group (like the one I’m in) or ask your members. Even better, do both!

We did a values-brainstorming exercise the month after I launched Soapbox’s membership community, and it’s helped me be crystal clear about the two core values I’ve teased out: courage and joy.

What are yours?

🛑 STOP. Proceed only after you’ve found your core community values. 🛑

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What do you do once you have your community’s core values?

A quick heads up: I’ll basically be citing Brené Brown’s work throughout this whole thing, so if you prefer to exit this article and just read Dare to Read, that’s probably best.

But anyway. Once you have your core values, it’s time to operationalize them into behaviors and skills.

In the worksheets she provides (yes, more free resources), Brené shows us how to put values into practice with your team and also lists sample behaviors that demonstrate values alignment with daring leadership.

Here’s what I’ve found to be helpful as a community builder.

  1. Pick your two core values. You should have finished this step already. The ones we’re anchoring on for Soapbox are courage and joy.
  2. Understand what this looks like for the members of your community. When you first launched your community, I’m guessing you had a persona or user type in mind that you were designing for. What are THEIR values? (Hint: if your core values are misaligned, it might be time to revisit them.) If they’re aligned what are your members’ behaviors that represent these values? Are there specific behaviors you’ve seen in your community that don’t reflect these core values? Reflecting on the past few months at Soapbox, courage looked like:
    • A member asking a question about cultural appropriation, and other members answering respectfully without judgment
    • A member sharing her secondhand win
    • People reaching out to DM other members despite not knowing them super well
    • Me having a touch conversation with a member who is also a close friend, and navigating that power dynamic
    • Behaviors that went against courage:

    • Someone entered a video meetup that was invite-only for a subset of our members. I didn’t say anything and just let them lurk. This was not courageous of me, and I failed to protect the other members’ space and likely confused the entering member since I didn’t ask her to introduce herself, and basically ignored her
    • Joy looked like:

    • Hosting in-person meetups in cities where it’s safe to do so
    • Sharing memes, inside and outside of our digital community platform
    • Giving ourselves permission to write, and laugh at, silly email subject lines
    • Behaviors that went against joy:

    • Posts that share negative climate news while adding commentary about how we’re screwed
    • Comments that call out the original poster instead of the content they’re sharing
    • Being stingy with congratulations + affirmations on people’s wins

  1. Distill these interactions into concrete behaviors.
    1. To be honest, I’m still in the soup of figuring out how to do this step “right”, so I’m sharing my work with you in real-time. I’m realizing how crucial this step is, because values like “courage” don’t mean the same to everyone. We need to express the specific behaviors we’re referring to, so all our members can have shared language and understand how to practice these values.

      Our value of courage means:

    2. We will always choose courage over comfort
    3. We will give and receive respectful feedback and have tough conversations that drive our work forward
    4. We will be open to message requests and interactions with other members, so everyone finds it easier to practice courage in meeting new people
    5. We will respect the privacy of this community
    6. We will show up authentically as who we are, so others can do the same
    7. Our value of joy means:

    8. We will celebrate our own and each others’ wins
    9. When we disagree, we will disagree with the content, and not the human
    10. We will assume that we’re all doing the best we can, and call people in instead of calling people out
    11. We will use inclusive language so everyone has the right to express their joy as whole humans
    12. We will use our knowledge to support each other to find paths forward, instead of using it as a tool for judgment
  2. Identify skills your community members can build as you practice your values together.
    1. This is where it’s fully your job to guide your members to be in alignment with your two core values. At this point, we’ve distilled them into behaviors and we’re turning those behaviors into skills, which, defined by the dictionary, means it can come from experience, training, or practice. For example: the VALUE of courage requires the BEHAVIOR of giving and receiving respectful feedback. The corresponding SKILLS can be things like:

    2. Real-time feedback
    3. Non-violent communication
    4. Active listening
    5. Hugs
    6. (Hugs make me a more respectful recipient of feedback, but don’t worry — this is so far only in my personal life, and isn’t a skill we’re carrying into the Soapbox community... yet.)

Now, it’s up to you to create the programming and activities necessary to create to help members build these skills. That’s step 5!

🛑 STOP. Proceed only after you’ve found your core community values. 🛑

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The fifth step: creating values-based programming

We’re back to familiar territory, and it’s time for you to do what you do best.

Based on the values, behaviors, and skills you wrote down, you ask yourself two questions:

  • Is our community’s existing programming aligned with our core values?
  • What new types of posts, events, or content can I facilitate to help members build necessary skills to be a values-aligned community member?

At Soapbox, we have regular action hours and fireside chats. In our action hours, we... well, we practice taking action. We write to incarcerated people with the help of our brilliant formerly-incarcerated cohost Adelaida, we learn to plan our meals so food doesn’t go to waste with Chef Alison, and we partner with organizations like Carbon Collective so members can invest their values. (Pretty meta, right?)

I can confidently say our existing programming reflects our values. But I realized there is a massive opportunity: I’m responsible to create more practice arenas for members to cultivate the skills I’d outlined above.

This means I have to:

  • Add more sessions where members interact with each other, not just our speakers. Fostering these connections will make courage and feedback-giving easier
  • Ensure our cohort-based course launch features a “conversation practice” session
  • Consistently keep up our Friday wins thread, and treat it like a priority (for ✨joy✨) instead of something I do only when I remember. Maybe I use burb to automate these!

When you’re intentional about translating your values into behaviors, skills, and community programming, you not only have a values-aligned community; you also have a much simpler path to making decisions.

I’m curious to know what your two core values are and how these intersect between your personal life and business. Chime in on the thread below!

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