The Principles of Community Building as Applied in Web3
More than a decade ago, Robert Putnam wrote a book called Bowling Alone, where he presents data on how society has become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and any sense of true community. He looks at how community-building activities are decreasing and even bowling – an activity based on leagues – is becoming a solitary activity.
In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg describes the concept of third places which are structural tools for community creation. Places that weren’t our homes or work, but gathering places where spontaneous conversations could happen without anyone feeling like they are being sold to. Think coffee shops, community centers, barbershops, parks, and even churches. Places where relationships were formed by striking up conversations with strangers or even seeing the same few people over and over again. Oldenburg called these anchors of communities.
When you look at the works of Putnam and Oldenberg together – combined with several studies and articles about increasing loneliness globally – you find that these anchors are disappearing. The reasons behind why this is happening are complex, but it opens up an opportunity for Web3 to redefine what community could mean in the future -where the principles of interaction are anchored in community building.
So – what are the principles of community building in Web3?
Although community building is a complex topic, 4 principles can be broadly applied to creating a true community.
Principle 1: BUILT BY PEOPLE, NOT A COMPANY
While a company can start a community, it can only be built by a person(s) that takes on the responsibility of creating the shared goals and values of a community. A great example is LuluLemon. The cult following garnered by the brand was not simply because of shared interest, but because of persistent care and quality provided to community members by the brand representatives. In more local examples, mom groups are often led by mothers that come together to support each other and receive support. These communities grow and flourish with a person or persons setting and maintaining a shared purpose for the group.
Principle 2: SHARED INTERESTS THAT LEAD TO SHARED EXPERIENCES
Have you seen the viral videos of the opening of The Avengers: Endgame with the fans going wild when the last fight scene begins? That’s an example of a spontaneous community that started with a group of people with shared interests that led to a shared experience. A true community is built on shared interests where people want to learn, teach, and engage with each other. They want to talk about their shared interests and build spontaneous relationships with community members that lead to new experiences. This is why some of the strongest communities out there are fandoms, religious groups, and support groups. Everyone that is part of those communities is there because they are interested in sharing and engaging on a shared topic.
These communities are often very strict on who can sponsor events, and meetups, or where they take donations. They find a way to support the community without tarnishing it with advertising and “marketing.” In the end – they become leaders in their respective spaces because the community members do not need to be incentivized to be there. Their incentive is each other.
Principle 3: SPONTANEOUS PARTICIPATION
A true community has people with varying levels of knowledge on a shared interest, but each person is invited to participate in the conversation. Many people think the best communities put an expert on the podium and answer everything that community members ask – but community leaders know that a true community is built when each individual has the opportunity to both ask and answer the questions of other members. This is a critical part of what makes communities feel safe and welcoming – if this is removed, it’s no longer a community, it’s an expert forum.
Principle 4: LISTEN AND SERVE A FINITE NUMBER OF MEMBERS
For many community builders in Web3, and the corporate space in general, this is the hardest part to understand and accept: the quality of a community drops when it gets too big because it becomes harder and harder to serve the needs of the community, causing a drop off in participation. Building a long-last community requires community leaders to listen to their members and incorporate their needs continuously. This also requires leaders and other members to moderate the community to ensure no one is promoting their own agenda at the cost of the community. Taking it further, it means that community leaders need to understand how to help the Web3 community grow by understanding how to serve its needs, rather than focus on increasing the number of members.
Unlike the over-monetization of community in Web2, Web3 has the opportunity to create spontaneous anchors for new communities in the future of the web. It can be achieved, we just have to look to the pre-Web2 past and see how to adopt the principles of community for the Web3 era. When it comes to building Web3 communities, we need to think about how we can apply these principles in new and innovative ways by finding ways to create shared identities and purposes that reflect the unique opportunity of Web3.