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What does community mean in 2022?
The buzzword that's been bopping around in the minds of tech bros and activists alike.
✨Community is the future✨ — yes. But it's also the past and the present. What is the future, though, is the way we define it.
I'm going to take a stab at what community means for us in 2022. As a baby community builder, I have a lot to learn, but I hope you'll accept my offering to the altar of community discourse. 😜
P.S. If you have any thoughts on this (agreements, disagreements, add-ons), please @ me on twitter.
Ask yourself first: what does community mean?
If you're planning to launch a community for your product, service, business, cryptocurrency, whatever, and you haven't yet defined what does community mean for us? then I'll tell you straight up: don't launch yet.
Your product might be excellent. Your team might have a collective 4,281 years of machine learning experience. But if you're building a community, it's important to know what it means.
If this sounds obvious to you, good! But I've lost count of the number of times I've asked this question to a future community-builder only to be met with "uhhhh", "we have a large Instagram following", and blank stares.
Two working definitions of community
The first (business) person to answer this in a way that satisfied me was Carrie Melissa Jones. I recommend reading her book, going to her workshops, and trying not to sound overly obsessed with her work.
Carrie provides the following definitions:
A community is a group of people who share an identity and a mutual concern for one another's welfare. A brand community is a community that is shaped by an organization, whether non-profit, for-profit, startup, or political candidate.
The other reason I am... totally NOT obsessed, just enthusiastic, with her work, is that she clearly says, "I do not and will not appropriate the term "community" for profit. Please know that all of this work is about relationships first, scale and technology second.". That's important.
If you're venturing into the community space with profit maximization as your goal, you will not succeed. You may succeed in making billions of $$$ and extracting wealth, but not in stewarding a group of people sharing mutual concern for one another's welfare.
The NIH also came out with an evidence-based, peer-reviewed, definition of community in 2001. Science is fun, right? In a study examining how diverse communities described community, they reported:
A common definition of community emerged as a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action in geographical locations or settings.
So basically, if you're building a community: your members have to have shared interests and be linked by social ties. In other words, they have to care about each other. And in 2022, this is the challenge many of us are grappling with.
Why is community any different in 2022?
You know the answer to this question already, but let's rapid-fire through some reasons, both good and bad.
- ✅ We no longer need to be bonded by geography. Whether we were referencing a religious, cultural, or professional community in the past, that meant that people actually interacted with each other in the same physical space. Now, with the advent of the internet and increased sophistication of social media and video platforms, we are free to have internet friends from all over the world, and still feel bonded.
- ✅ You can talk to your community basically whenever. I am the worst at getting off the internet, but it's hard because I've made SO many Twitter friends. I even had some of my friends (whom I've NEVER met before in person) host me on a 2021 East Coast trip! We're not bounded by timezones; discussion can be real-time and asynchronous. It's poppin to have internet friends.
- ❌ Authenticity and depth are harder to determine. The internet is rife with randos, or worse, #fakefriends. It's common to think you're becoming close with a person only to find out they're promoting their next MLM. Also, bots are becoming cleverer than ever.
- ❌ It's confusing to know how to participate in new types of communities. The most common reason people take time to engage with the Soapbox Project membership community is because they don't know how. It's not just like showing up to a prayer every Friday and knowing you'll see people you like. There's so many options now — where do I post stuff? Whom am I "allowed" to message? What can I share or not share?
- ❓ Decentralized communities are A Thing now. I LOVE the idea of community ownership being distributed. The adoption of blockchain technology is promoting the rise of DAOs, which are decentralized autonomous organizations AKA member-owned communities without centralized leadership. Super duper in theory, but it's so new, and I'm always skeptical about good things being abused by bad people.
Chime in — I want to hear your answers to "why is community any different in 2022?"!
Ok, so what IS a community in 2022?
Here's some thoughts, bets, hopes, and dreams about what community will look like in 2022.
- Hybrid. As we (hopefully) emerge from this pandemic hellscape, we're going to see hybrid community programming on the rise. We were forced to go all-virtual in 2020, which led to some magic, but creating in-person experiences that supplement that is going to be where it's at. The Soapbox Project community I launched in March 2021 has already had about a dozen IRL events that correspond to the cities in which people live. We've had meetups and action hours in Seattle, San Francisco, Brooklyn, Chicago, Bristol (UK), with ones planned for LA and DC.
- Multi-channel. I've made the mistake of assuming my community IS the Circle digital forum we're hosted on. But when I explore how our members talk to each other, it's not limited to one thing: we're laughing together on TikTok, sharing photos on Instagram, starting fights (ok just me?) on Twitter, and texting each other plans. Community isn't about tech — it's about people.
- People-focused. Maybe we're getting into the territory of my hopes and dreams, but I really do believe we'll see more people-focused communities in 2022. In the past year or two, community has been a buzzword that represents anything and everything — an Instagram following has "counted" as community, but I see kind-hearted, caring community leaders pushing back on this and helping brands/businesses/activists design programs that are about MEMBERS, not about the person starting the community.
- Impact-driven. The world is burning and flooding, and whether you work in computer science, medicine, designing tiny clothes for dogs, or politics, this affects you. In 2022, I believe (and pray) that communities will be ethically-minded and impact-driven in a way that works for their members.
- Fun. We have lived through too much BS to take community seriously. At the time of publishing this article, I have just thrown a birthday party (for myself) where 20% of the attendees were Soapbox members. And we didn't chat the night away about social impact or climate change — we just had a good time. Similarly, IndieHackers recently launched a Seattle group, and it's not all business — it's holding space for productive (and fun!) co-working sessions and just being together.
What do you think? Add to the list here!