Communities Require Commitment
Note: This post originally appeared in the Gather Community Consulting Newsletter. Get future newsletters by subscribing at the form below this post.
I have some big news to share this week!
In August, I’ll be uprooting myself, my partner, and my dog from Seattle and moving us all to Milwaukee. Why? I’ll be attending the master’s program in Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee! There, I’ll take time to research big questions around online community and our social fabric and how we connect.
Making a huge decision like this requires a lot of yeses and even more noes. I’m saying yes to research, but I’m saying a tear-filled (no matter how temporary) no to Seattle, my community here, and leading large-scale consulting projects.
Ultimately, that’s what any commitment requires: saying yes to one thing and no to most everything else.
“Commitment” is a word I’ve been mulling over in the last few weeks. When we commit, we allow ourselves to connect to others or a cause. Commitment is what enables us to love someone and see their faults. It’s what gets you out of bed on a Monday morning to go to work and know it will bring challenges that will change you.
Our decision to commit to just about anything is what allows us to go above and beyond for a cause or a relationship and to trust that it will work out.
Communities require commitment from leaders and participants alike (thus, the commitment curve framework for creating commitment). You and your members must say yes and follow that yes with action. That usually means saying no to other things so you can focus and follow through.
Asking someone to commit to your community or cause, therefore, is asking them to say no to other things.
Most of us know what a big deal it is to ask for a commitment from anyone. Some people try to engineer around it. Behavioral economists talk about “commitment devices” and how they help secure commitment. When someone proposes marriage in western culture, the engagement ring is a device that symbolizes the commitment. But no one (or at least no one we enjoy being around) wonders: How can I make my partner commit to me? Will this ring do the trick?
We could encourage people to commit to our community by giving them devices like these, yes. But when we think strictly in those terms, we enter the realm of social manipulation, not community building.
We need to flip this idea over. We mustn’t ask the question: “How do we get people to commit to our community?” Instead, we need to ask: “How do I create a community that is worth committing to?”
When coaching community builders, I often suggest they ask these questions:
Why will our members want to participate in this [fill in the blank: activity/cause/action]?
What might I be asking them to say no to? In light of that "no", is a "yes" to our community worth it?
These are hard litmus tests to pass. But if you can't answer these questions, don’t be surprised when members say no or ignore you.
Asking and answering those questions honestly takes deep empathy. It forces you to get out of an action mindset and into one of feeling. Put down that to-do list and imagine what your members need.
If you work in an environment that values action more than feeling, that is no small feat. And that, my friend, is why I admire the work you do so much. You are pushing back on the practical to create something that actually adds meaning to our lives. That takes commitment.
P.S. You may be wondering what will happen to Gather once I go back to school. Here's the answer: I’ll be continuing client work on a very limited basis, rolling out a few new resources, and committing to writing this newsletter.
I would love to lean on you during this time to continue hearing from you about your challenges in the field. I can bring those back to the classroom and help direct my fellow students and researchers to your expertise and experience. :)
Thanks for being with me on this journey so far, and for continuing with me. And if you're new here, welcome. I appreciate you.
Last week, I also shared the following:
6 tools to help streamline your community workflow: I highlight some of my favorite tools like Xmind, Airtable, and Miro.
A bit of a personal interview with Honeycommb about how I got into this community work and what keeps me going.