Community Planning Like a Professional Athlete

Vegas plays with your mind, they say, as all evidence of time disappears. The early allure of no limits gives way to the realization that “24/7 YOU” is simply unsustainable. Vegas is a great place to visit, but not the kind of place that we want to stay. Before you @ me on Twitter, the same is true of Disneyland (yes, I went there).

Even armed with this understanding, the default setting of online community builders is set to Always On.

What happened today? What's next? What's the newest thing?

Momentum is manufactured, and as a result there is this pervasive feeling that we can never take our foot off the gas for fear that people might, you know, leave.

It’s not a personal criticism; technically it’s the fault of technology. Everything is instant in the 21st century. As a result, our members by default want things that way as well. Even minor delays can seem like an eternity if it’s something you really want, after all.

This is where Serena Willams comes to save us all.

Community Power Hack: Adopt the Athlete Mindset

Ok, maybe not Serena Williams (she could totally do it!). Feel free to pick your sports icon or team or just sport.

Every sport has a beginning and an end. The preseason and the championship. The training and the competition. The workouts and the rest days.

Whether you love basketball, or tennis, or hot dog eating competitions, we can all agree that our heroes need a break. They simply can't compete year-round. Their bodies break down. They lose their edge. The game itself almost changes when the stars can’t compete - it's not quite the same.

Remember: These are the best of the best. That’s right, the fittest athletes on the planet need rest. They need a break. They need downtime away from their life's work. They need to recharge. To grow. To adapt. To change.

Guess what? So does your community.

Here’s how you can leverage seasonality to improve your community.

Thinking Outside the Bus

As creators, we bring a one-dimensional mindset to what we're doing. We are teaching a skill or facilitating an outcome. By definition, we have a starting point and an ending point.  

You know what else has a start and an end? A bus route.

If you've ever ridden the bus, you know that sometimes a ton of stuff happens between the time you get on the bus and the time you get off.  Yes, destination achieved but no two bus rides are the same.

This perspective of how our members experience our community -- and how our community helps our members -- is a foundational shift. This perspective will help you to create richer and more engaging experiences that will make your community stand out and thrive.

Remember the question is not “Did the bus get you there?”

Questions that help you to expand the membership experience could include:

  • What happened while you were on the bus?
  • What would you do to improve the bus trip?
  • What happens before or after the bus trip that makes a difference for you?

Seasons Improve Your Content

So you’ve got a great six-week online course for underwater basket weaving. You’re building a community around that and you're reading this and thinking to yourself, “How on Earth does underwater basket weaving have a season?”

The truth is that every activity worth doing not only has a beginning and an end -- there's a seasonality to it as well. You simply have to look close enough.

Underwater Basketweaving totally has season! There are obviously limitations to being underwater at different times of year. Some of your weaving may be indoors, some of your weaving may be outdoors. You'll need different equipment and different preparation for both.

Improvement: You can create multiple options of your content for different environments. Perhaps a challenge for your members in multiple settings or with different timeframes.

And let’s not forget what you are weaving with! The materials that you use for basket weaving are also subject to the seasons. What you create with in the wintertime will be different than what you use in the Spring. In other words, the four seasons already drive how you are able to create.

Improvement:  This is an opportunity to educate your membership on the pros and cons of different types of materials. You can go synthetic vs. organic. You could create a greenhouse course to help folks source their own materials year-round. You can help those experiencing a shortage of weaving materials redirect their artistic talents to new activities.

Seasons Deepen Your Membership

Here’s a story on how we adapted to the season of our members for a better community outcome.

After two years of running Endurance Nation, it was clear we had a revenue problem. Our members were taking downtime. There were times of the year when they were not training or competing. With a lack of options, people were quitting and promising to come back in two to three months. Not. Good.

Instead of fighting it, we pivoted to follow the natural flow of our members’ seasons: we offered a “hold” option. Members could pause payments on their membership annually for up to two months.

How did this help our community?

First, we kept more customers. Less cancellations = more members, period.

Second, we leveraged the time off to create a sense of urgency about coming back. We made it about regaining skills and fitness. Ultimately, this season approach inspired us to create our three-year plan which is now the default engagement approach we have with all of our athletes.

Third, turns out that restarting is also a great time to bring on new members. Having downtime actually gave us bandwidth to recruit new members into a space that was just getting started again.

Seasons Sustain Community Leadership

Fighting day in and day out to create activity and sustain an always-on mentality is not only exhausting, it's frankly unsustainable.

Seasons give community leaders space to grow.

  • We have opportunities to evaluate our programs to see whether or not they were successful.
  • We can capture lessons learned from our participants and turn that into new products.
  • New products that we have time to build because we stepped away from the teaching component for a while.

Seasons give us permission to think beyond the one-dimensionality of our founding premise. Just like our basket weaving friend who is suddenly sourcing materials from all around the globe, we too can find unique areas that we can explore and expand to add value for our members.

Seasons give your members opportunities to lead as well. As a multi-year participant of that renowned epic underwater basket weaving course, I am well suited to help others on the same journey. I can mentor and advise them because they're walking the same path that I once walked.

Seasons Create Opportunities

Regardless of the niche within which you are creating your community, seasons give you incredible optionality. Here’s another story about that pesky membership downtime from the Endurance Nation archive.

As you recall, at the end of each season many of our athletes would leave the Team. Many would take time off and come back in a few months.  Not only is this is no way to run a business -- it’s no way to build better athletes.

With only six months to train and six months of going backward, our athletes were continually just getting fit enough to race and then stopping again. We were literally rebuilding them from Step One every year.

The solution? We stopped emphasizing races and created the OutSeason. We turned this negative -- a hole in the middle of our season -- into an opportunity. We were, and still are, the only coaching company that has an intense and dedicated program that lasts three and a half months over the Winter.  

By expanding our “season,” we turned our weakness into our strength.

In a similar manner, you too can be one of many communities serving a particular demographic. It’s how you solve the problem that matters, not the problem you are solving. There are infinite possibilities in there but you can create both for and with your members.

Be Human, Help Humans

Using the “season” frame as you design your community is a simple way to prioritize the needs of your members.

Just as importantly, the frame also helps foster the long-term health of your community by expanding opportunities for growth and development.

Simply put, seasons give permission to members and creators alike to be more human.  There’s no better way to win at community!

Author's Note

If you like this post, I have also written more on the topics of Founding Members, Community Design including creating your community brand, new member onboarding, and The Hero's Journey. Find me on Twitter (@pmccrann) and let's connect.