The problem with community templates

How Google is getting your way

It’s Wednesday, July 26th, and today we’re talking about the perils of community plans and templates. 🏴‍☠️

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You will never find a perfect community plan.

And while answers are nice, sometimes they’re a convenient place to hide. If we don’t have the information, how could we possibly launch? It wouldn’t be prudent.

Most of the time, you don’t need more answers, you need to take action.

Today, let’s talk about:

  1. What you can know

  2. What you can’t know

  3. And why many times, more answers = more mess.

What you can know:

There are universal principles in community building, and they are not nearly as highly regarded as one would hope. My hunch is that they’re too squishy to be loved (same). People like us want answers. Step-by-step tactics so we don’t have to get mired in ambiguity and risk.

I’d like to think that last week's email was a bit of good news in this regard. I covered the 8 critical decisions I think you need to make before launching the community. If you missed it, they are:

  • Who will manage it?

  • Why should this exist?

  • Who belongs here?

  • What outcome does it drive for me?

  • What outcome does it drive for them?

  • What are some ways we can get there?

  • Where will I host it?

  • What intel will I collect?

  • How will I welcome them?

The real kicker here is that I’m not telling you to make these decisions before you start planning; I am telling you that this is the plan. That you don’t need to do anything else before you launch because, past this list, you’re getting into the procrastination zone.

While those decisions are straightforward and tactical, there are all three additional pieces you can bank on:

  1. Authenticity reigns supreme. You know my feelings about authenticity are complicated, but communities are built on genuine human connections, not superficial interactions. Your brand community must be an extension of your brand's personality and values. Embrace your quirks and oddities because there are enough run-of-the-mill, lukewarm voices out there. When it comes to community, weirdos win. Nerds win.

  2. Active listening is your secret weapon. In the digital age, people are aching to be heard, seen, and valued. Your community should foster an environment where members feel comfortable, dare I say excited, to share their thoughts and ideas. I’ve been in communities where people were scared to post. That is death to the vibrancy of a community. Listening and observing will help you to co-create experiences that make their world a more colorful place.

  3. The value exchange is critical. Your members are not there to consume your content. Otherwise, they could simply follow your social channel. All members want three things:

    1. To meet someone interesting

    2. To learn something interesting

    3. To contribute something interesting

And you have the opportunity to manufacture all three of these wins.

What you can’t know:

The unfortunate truth is there are things you just can't predict until you hit the launch button. I find this sort of exciting. The community you launch tomorrow will look wholly different in a year, and you’ll be surprised many times over.

I’ve been in communities where I ever could have predicted that:

🦙 A wild love for alpacas would become a central theme (it was not an alpaca community)

🍦 A thread about favorite ice cream flavors would lead to a vibrant formation of a small group of folks who went on a Gelato tour

🕊The sharing of one woman’s battle with grief after losing her baby would turn into a book, co-authored by her and another grieving parent who responded to her in coments

There are two big unknowns that make most community builders nervous:

  1. You can’t know who in your community will talk, and how often.

  2. You can’t know if your event or post ideas will be met with enthusiasm.

And of course, it’s these two categories; engagement and programming, that worry us the most. They are the places we want to have more certainty around because they are also the places we feel most embarrassed about failing in. The post no one responds to or the event no one will attend. The volume of people who don’t say a word: these things don’t feel great.

But it’s just data.

That’s it. It’s not a commentary about whether you’re good or bad at this. It’s information that you can use to adjust and try something else. And you absolutely cannot make those adjustments until you try. And on the flip side, your community is going to surprise you in so many wonderful ways as well.

A quick story:

I was in my early 20s, a single mother of two, putting myself through college. I was always broke. The engine of my 1996 Chevy Corsica blew and needed to be replaced entirely. I felt such a sense of desperation. I had nowhere near enough and no way to get around. A few days later, Josh showed up at my door with a check for the full amount. Josh was the leader of a small group of people that met at my house weekly. Without my knowing, he had turned to the community, and each had contributed to my unofficial repair fund.

Embrace the unpredictability and let go of the illusion of complete control. Sure, you can set the stage, establish guidelines, and steer the ship, but some of the most magical moments happen outside of your planning.

Why more answers can mean more mess:

Repeat after me: "I will not be lured into the dark alleys of template-hunting." Seriously, the never-ending search for foolproof templates can suck the life out of your brand community aspirations.

I’ll prove it. Click here. (Do you trust me? Do it).

If you were a good sport and clicked, you were met with a host of answers to the question “how to start a community.”

They looked like this:

Each one of these is simply someone's approach to organizing information. All can be helpful, but none can possibly know exactly what you’re launching and why. Each brand community is like a fingerprint – distinctive, with its swirls and loops.

Sure, you can learn from others' experiences, but blindly following a template means stifling your community's potential for genuine connections.

We all want a roadmap to success, but communities are living organisms, not rigid structures. The beauty lies in their uniqueness and willingness to start before seeing the end.


I spent most of this week sick in bed, so I apologize for the lack of links this week, but I refuse to send you anything I’ve not read. Until next time…

Want to build an outstanding community? I can help in three ways:

  1. Check out the CommunityOS Masterclass, a pithy, low-cost course covering all of the basics of community strategy 👉🏼 Get it here

  2. Need full support on strategy, launch, and/ or execution? Book a call with our agency. 👉🏼 Schedule here

  3. Just need some custom guidance? 👉🏼 Book 1 :1 consult