Conversations: Jonny Rose on Community Building

My ears were struck by this hyperactive gentleman as he preached love for his community. It wasn't the first time he reiterated why this community existed, what's been happening, where it's going and how I could get involved.

Was he talking directly to me? The microphone barely kept up as I watched his feet jump across the stage. Myself and the hundred or so future tech entrepreneurs sought inspiration in unison. I have fond memories of my time as a member (and eventual leader) of the Croydon Tech City community.

Jonny Rose has a way with words. He is often heard before seen – his words not mine – and I agree with that. People listen to Jonny and I had the pleasure of a conversation with him about his adventures in community building. I did a lot of listening. πŸ˜€


In this post I share some of Jonny's absolute gems of advice about community building, such as the importance of clarity, consistency and conversation. And why you need hope and measurement. Read on to learn more from a masterful community creator.

Start with the end in mind

It's easy to grab a boilerplate community code of conduct, define a community charter and declare your community is good to go. Yet before all that, it's important to define a vision for the community. Where do you want it to end up? What does the community look like in a future version of itself? What sort of active members are there? What behaviours are members exhibiting on a day-to-day basis?

No one wants to create a community that doesn't have a positive outcome, yet it's often hard to articulate what that actually looks like. Step into the future, start there and work backwards. Only after that should you begin to shape a code of conduct based on the context of the community vision and goals.

You've gotta have hope

Jonny loves to create new things and the novelty to kick-start Croydon Tech City was nearly enough. Yet novelty wouldn't be anything without hope. The hope of what a community could become and the positive impact it could have.

I have a hunch adversity played a part helping Jonny grow the community. Croydon has an unwarranted bad reputation and a lot of people laughed at the idea of a tech community in this part of South London. I think this helped the community come together as outsiders to demonstrate what's possible when you create something against the odds. A sort of "We'll show 'em!"

Makes you wonder how many communities grow out of adversity and struggle.

Clarity, consistency and conversation

Clarity

What does your community want to be? What does it currently look like and who is it for? And more importantly, what is it not? People would rather be inclusive yet a good community has to find an appropriate level of exclusivity. Clear boundaries help steer a community in a direction that works for them.

For example, "I want to build a community where everyone is nice to each other" isn't so helpful. Be more specific: "I want to build a community of tech entrepreneurs where we have a space to meet every third Thursday of the month".

Consistency

A successful community has common and consistent signals and behaviours. A good community manager demonstrates why the community exists, what's happening right now, where it's going and how to contribute. They do more show than tell.

Demonstrate signals and behaviours using a repeatable cadence that works for you and the community. Our attention is often pulled in many directions so consistent signals and behaviours make it easier for members to keep coming back – a win for both retention and growth.

Those new to a community want to suss out how the community behaves. Establishing norms also helps those who step out of and into a community. Content and members change, yet the essence of the community should remain the same.

Consistency as a community manager means showing up at the same time to provide the community with the appropriate level of leadership, guidance and direction. For example, make yourself available between 12 and 1pm each weekday or open up your calendar to invite 1-2-1 calls with community members.

"Community cannot thrive on random instances. In the marketing space, we call this "Random Acts of Marketing." – Jonny Rose

Conversation

You have to be able to talk and converse with your community. We tend to broadcast a lot of information which tends to be easier than actually sitting down (virtually) with a community member on a 1-2-1 basis. Listen to your community members. You might not like what you hear so use that as a learning opportunity. Even if you disagree with what someone has to share it's important to listen.

Numbers always matter

A social or business-focussed community cannot hide from numbers. For example, your community might want to reach 1k community members where 10% of members post once a day. Numbers allow you to understand engagement.

Growth is important and Jonny believes most communities want more people, in principle. We can't shy away from a desire to grow a community and acquire the right number of people. Retention numbers give us a good indicator of engagement.

For business leaders a community must track to a dollar value whether you like it or not. We can't shy away from numbers and they have to work in unison with the vision and goals of the community members.

Iterate as you moderate

Moderation for an in-person Croydon Tech City event usually meant someone on the door and selecting who to invite "up on stage". I was fortunate enough to work the door, compère at events and do the odd talk here and there.

There are many boilerplate code of conducts for online communities out there and that's a good starting point. Jonny suggests it's possible to allow an online community to inform moderation over time. Iterate on moderation principles and approaches based on observed behaviour and feedback from 1-2-1 conversations with community members.


Along with all the brilliant community building activities, Jonny Rose runs Win At LinkedIn – a LinkedIn coaching service that helps B2B service providers generate leads and close deals like a pro. He also runs a fashion outlet called Croydon Vs The World and the Lead Generation Nation podcast.


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Photo of Croydon by Dustin Tramel on Unsplash