Stuck at the start of building your community? You aren’t alone.
Creating value for the members of your community is complicated for a simple reason: you have assumed the “Builder’s role” which instantly changes your perspective. This effect is so strong, it can distract you from your mission to build something that resonates with the members of your community.
Not to worry! We can use a really simple device to create a meaningful and sustainable experience: The Hero’s Journey.
In mythology, the “Hero’s Journey” refers to a common template of stories that involve a Hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed.
I use the example of the Hero when working with clients because it's an easy frame. We’ve all heard a great story! Instead of building something with 1s and 0s, we will actually tell the story of our Hero. Instantly, we are back in the driver’s seat actively building something that will resonate.
The analogy of a story is perfect because it gives permission for the Builder to dream. To role play. To create a plot. Stories are easy to edit and have room for as many characters (other heroes?) as you want.
Video games are an alternative framework that can be useful, depending on your background and what you are building. The concept of infinite lives (members), a journey with levels, rewards for achievement, and a curated path to success can be very helpful. Whichever you choose, make sure the approach resonates with you.
The Hero is a natural extension of a customer profile. Creating profiles for different types of customers can feel unnatural. I mean, who really is Newbie Nora anyway?
Telling the story of people who belong and succeed in your community space is 100x easier.
If you have examples of this already happening, even your own journey to this point, start there. If you don't, or if you need to start again, then it’s time to get creative.
Turn on your phone or recording device and start talking. Tell a few stories about the people -- the Heroes -- who are successful inside your community.
Here are a few key talking points that can help you build your Hero:
- Where does your Hero come from?
- What attributes does your Hero possess?
- Describe the mood of your Hero.
- What makes the Hero unique?
- What is your Hero struggling with?
Kedrick has long searched for a solution to his public speaking woes. Even at a young age he avoided large crowds and talking to more than a handful of people at a time. Most 20-year-olds are out to conquer the world; young Kedrik is dealing with an unreasonable fear of podiums. Kedrik has tried hypnosis (he sort of still thinks he’s a duck). He has read so many public speaking books that he’s actually really educated on the topic, he’s just lacking in the practice.
As a Community Builder, your priorities are two-fold: People and Process. Now that you have a Hero, it’s time to create something for them.
Watch out! It’s super easy to fall back into the trap of the mundane. Instead of building a course or struggling with forum navigation, you should be building an Adventure for your members.
The best place to start is why your Hero is here.
People join your community for a reason: to be a better marketer, a better course builder, a better teacher, a better parent. Got it? Good.
No ordinary agenda will do. A proper adventure has to be compelling and exciting. It needs a start and an end. And there has to be some fun stuff along the way. If you’re still struggling, think of your favorite movie for some inspiration.
Remember, there is no one right way. You aren’t building a finished product, you are creating an experience that your community members will share.
Based on their common interests and this experience, your members will be empowered and mobilized to start creating their own adventures.
This is where the real magic starts to happen -- when the Heroes in your community gain autonomy and begin to improvise and explore. None of this will happen, however, unless help them take that first step.
Here are some questions you might want to ask to frame out the adventure:
- How does your Hero find and join your Community?
- What does your Community have that the Hero needs?
- How will your Hero acquire new knowledge or skills? Classes? Training?
- Where will the Hero go on this adventure?
- What will tell the Hero that the adventure is over? What will the Hero earn?
Young Kedrick is overjoyed to find this online space where people with similar challenges and ambitions can connect. And the small group class approach is uniquely different than the “expert” recordings he has been listening to all these years. The class begins on the first Monday of every month, and each month is a new theme. Kedrik is excited to see this month’s topic is “Why Hypnosis Might be a Total Scam” and he can’t wait to get quacking. (Couldn’t resist!) In just four weeks he’ll not only have earned his first badge, he will also have practiced talking to groups online for a total of two hours!
The Crisis (the Test, the Event)
In order for your Community to be sustainable over the long term, there has to be something that compels your members to stay engaged.
Your Adventure was the catalyst, but there should be something greater. If the course is in the foreground, what I am describing is in the background.
Your members will do better when there is something they are working towards. Without it, there’s very little motivation to get involved. This timeline creates tension and opportunity.
The most common way to do this is through challenges. As you build your community, think about an Event or Test that forces members to put some skin in the game. A good Test will force your members to stretch; it shouldn’t be something that anybody could do on Day One.
Try to Think Bigger Than What You Can Build
Inside the community I lead, Endurance Nation, these critical inflection points are races. Each race lives outside of our community; an external event that members will join.
Each race represents a critical inflection point in the athlete’s season. It is the target for hard work and preparation. It is an opportunity to test skills and fitness. It becomes an opportunity to learn and adjust.
You might have a community of legal professionals who are preparing for the bar exam. You might have a community of teachers who are preparing to launch a course. You might have a community of drone enthusiasts who will build and fly their projects after a set period of time.
There is also an opportunity within the uncertainty. An adventure with high walls and limited options ultimately limits the potential of your members.
The most important part of the test? It happens on a deadline, without fail.
Finally, there's no limit to the number of times your hero can take this journey. There may be several steps or milestones a member needs to hit before they're ready for the big leap. Or perhaps they will need to take a few repeat swings at the same target, where each swing is an important opportunity to capture lessons learned.
Here are some questions you might want to ask:
- How does our Hero approach this Test?
- What risks will the Hero have to take or consider?
- How much time or assistance will the Hero need?
- Is this a group event or an individual experience?
Staring proudly at the badge in his signature, Kedrik is startled to see a notification pop up for a group message. One click, and Kedrik is filled with a feeling that might be excitement. It could also be dread. There’s an opportunity for up to ten people to speak at the community’s annual Member Conference. It’s an all-expense paid trip to Boston! He’s always wanted to take a duck boat ride. Demo speeches are due by the end of the month, in recorded form, and selections will be made shortly thereafter. Kedrik wants to share the power of his experience, but this will be a big step. Looks like he will need to tune in to the next weekly online meeting to learn more!
This is perhaps the most critical of all the steps in the Hero's journey. How our Hero handles the challenge directly shapes who they will become.
The worst part? You can’t specifically create a determined outcome or response. There’s no way to predict how people will respond to the challenge, or to the result.
You can, however, help your members process what has happened. You can give them a space to process the event and instructions or a template on how to do it. This could be a written summary or an interview.
Capturing and preserving these experiences will become a useful archive for future members. The archive will also inform you on what resonates and motivates your members (and what should change).
Here are some questions you might want to ask:
- How does our Hero learn?
- What will our Hero be willing to share?
- Who will help our Hero process this?
- Where will this all happen?
Kedrik was so proud of his online demo speech, he thought it would be the ticket! But it turns out that it wasn’t meant to be. Kedrik was upset at first, but watching some of the winning submissions showed that he has some more work to do. Lucky for him, as a finalist he did get high-quality feedback from the founder and a discounted ticket to the event. On to Beantown!
So What’s Next?
Well, if this was a movie the narrator would insert the happy ending. For most of us, life's not that simple. For most of us, growth is an iterative process. An opportunity to hone our craft and our skills. A chance to get better alongside our peers as we learn and grow.
In order to facilitate this inside your community, you have to normalize the process of trying and learning.
Done right, your community will have a diverse range of members at all different points of the journey. They will be able to mentor, advise, and support one another. The combination of short- and long-term experiences will allow members to grow at their own pace while still being a part of the group. Nice work!
If you like this post, I have also written more on the topics of Founding Members, Community Design including creating your community brand and new member onboarding. Find me on Twitter (@pmccrann) and let's connect.