The State of the Community Industry: A Return to Community-Driven Business

By Caitlin Struhs posted Oct 28, 2015 11:42 PM


David Spinks, founder of CMX, has been building communities since he was 13 years old. He attributes shifts like organizing for the gaming industry, joining Twitter and following thought leaders like Seth Godin and Lisa Gansky to his community success.

The common thread is using technology to bring people together. The original definition for a company was a group of people coming together to exchange goods. All organizations have experienced a shift from centralized and isolated to more optimized and collaborative. Things have changed now that everyone is connected – think about the social media manager revolution, where people have to be proactive and cognizant of relationships rather than just data.

The return to community

More community professionals, and community-focused companies, are creating integrated environments to collaboratively create value. With everyone highly connected on a global level, companies can easily scale products and customer service. Think about these examples:

  • Airbnb. Not initially trusted by the majority for its services, this company was built from the ground up by a community professional. Ambassador programs and events helped with growth. Now, there are over $25 billion being invested in these collaborative consumption company types.
  • Product Hunt. This company changed the way consumers share products, and is one of the fastest growing websites on the internet today. It turned the traditional media model of hearing and consuming reviews on its head, and is now community-driven.
  • Duolingo. This is one of the largest language learning platforms in the world, but it started with only three courses within its community. It now boasts over 70 courses in many languages with more than 100 million users, along with a language incubator for community members to help each other and offer recommendations.
  • Verizon. This company’s online community is responsible for over 85% of the features in every product release! 

How community affects us all

Communities and community management are now a discipline. Community managers are the CEOs of community for their companies – this is a big shift, and it’s up to the profession to be shepherds of the movement. 

No matter how many tactics you collect, you won’t be able to execute if you don’t know how to truly affect change. That’s where the fundamentals of successful community building come in.

7 Fundamentals of Successful Community Building

  1. Piss people off. Take a stance and believe in something. It’s good to be inclusive, but it’s better to offer something specific.
  2. Don’t convince, organize the convinced. Give community members options to engage, but don’t force it on the unengaged. Find the people who already see the value.
  3. Do things that don’t scale. It’s tempting to want to reach those 10,000 people, but it’s not how you build to scale. When David wanted to thank speakers for attending CMX Summit, he sent personalized video messages. 
  4. Be real. Communities are built around real people who make mistakes and can be vulnerable. Marketing messages won’t work.
  5. Solve a real problem. No one will come back to the product if it doesn’t help their own issues. Don’t make it about your organization – focus on the members.
  6. Get comfortable with giving up control. Communities are built on distributing control (companies aren’t very good at this). Set up the mission/guides, and then hand over the control. 
  7. Treat community as a discipline. What you’re doing is a true discipline, not just a nebulous, fluffy strategy anymore. Community deserves to stand on its own, separate from the old guards like marketing and communications. 

About David Spinks

David Spinks is the founder of CMX, the hub for the community industry. He built his first online community when we was 13 and has since dedicated his career to building communities and giving community professionals the opportunity to thrive. Spinks previously founded Feast (acquired) and BlogDash, and has built community for Zaarly, LeWeb, Udemy and SeatGeek. He serves as a mentor on community strategy for 500 Startups, Startup Chile and hundreds of different companies of all sizes.

Twitter: @DavidSpinks