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Uncommon Q&A: Tweeting with David Spinks

  • The Uncommon Team

    The Uncommon Team


At Common Room and Uncommon, we enjoy celebrating and learning from inspiring community leaders.

For the past decade, David Spinks has worked at the intersection of community and business. In 2014, he co-founded CMX, a network of over 20,000 community professionals. In 2019, CMX was acquired by Bevy, where David is now the VP of Community. David’s book, The Business of Belonging, was published in March 2021. He also hosts a weekly podcast called Masters of Community, where he interviews the world’s top community builders and experts.

In the lead up to our first Uncommon Book Club, we held a Twitter Q&A with David, including questions submitted by the Uncommon community. You can see the real-time thread here, and we transcribed the conversation so you can read it below. Check out David's list of inspiring community leaders and his insights on how to measure the health of your community and grow your personal brand.

Have someone you’d like to nominate for the next session? Or questions to ask the experts? Let us know on Twitter or join the Uncommon Slack.

To kick things off, we’re gonna be super predictable and ask about your fellow community leaders. Who are the builders and thought leaders you’re most inspired by? We love seeing it paid forward in your work.

I always have a hard time answering this question in one tweet because there are so many, so I made a whole list 🙂 A few people I've been learning a lot from recently are Tiffany Zhong, Cooper Turley, Shana Sumers, Brittni Cocchiara, and Max Rothery.

Talking more about The Business of Belonging, Uncommon members dug in on Chapter 5, where you cover extrinsic and intrinsic motivators — driven by an award vs. competence and autonomy. How can community leaders ensure the right balance between the two?

The important thing is to ensure that instrinsic validation is the primary reason that members are motivated to participate. If it's only extrinsic motivation, the community will be fickle. Use extrinsic rewards to surprise & delight, and to reinforce intrinsic motivation.

We're seeing this a lot in web 3.0 now, where a lot of people join communities just to get rich, without really knowing or caring much about the project or the people in the community. So when the price of the token goes down, the community either gets toxic or disappears.

The web3 projects that succeed in the long run are the ones that focus their community building efforts on the people who are there primarily for intrinsic value, and see the extrinsic rewards as a bonus.

You also give a shoutout to Holly Firestone and her SNAP model: Status, Networking, Access, and Perks. What about that framework resonates with you?

I'm a sucker for any good framework that helps people break down a broad topic into specific, memorable elements. And that's exactly what Holly did with SNAP. I use it all the time to help brainstorm ideas for how we can reward our members in creative ways.

Okay, now that we’re all warmed up, let’s do a question about questions. What should people be asking when they sit down to assess the health of their community?

  • Are members coming back? (use monthly/daily active members)
  • Are they getting value from the community? (use surveys/interviews/NPS)
  • Do they feel safe, welcome, and included? (use surveys/interviews)

We run a big community survey every year, and just implemented a system where members get automatically surveyed 90 days after they join the community. This gives us a regular pulse of the health of the community.

Looking at other questions from our community members, a friend from Community Folks is wondering how you go about creating your personal brand as a community builder?

Love this question because I think community builders are so focused on serving others, that sometimes they don't prioritize their own brand enough.

There's one approach that has worked wonders for me my entire career: constantly share what you're doing and learning in public.

Choose whatever medium you feel comfortable with... video, tweets, blogs, newsletters. And just keep creating! Try something new in your community? Write about it! Created a process that has been working for you? Share it! Have a novel idea? Post it!

Not only does it help you build your brand, but it helps you understand your learnings more deeply. You're forced to organize lessons into a structure that others can learn from.

Speaking of great personal brands...You called out how much of an impact Seth Godin and his writing had on you early in your career. What specifically stuck with you and continues to impact how you approach community building?

What's interesting is that everything he's saying feels obvious now, but back then it was very difficult to find any big-name marketers talking about community. He was one of the first people who put language to what I was thinking and feeling. It made me feel validated.

Tribes, and the book Groundswell by Charlene Li, shaped how I first thought about the intersection of community and business. Tribes spoke to the importance of building belonging in business. Groundswell provided a tactical framework for applying it to growth.

Also on the topic of "early in your career" — and because we've all been there — what advice do you have for any community builders just getting started?

Just start getting community experience any way you can. One option is to start a community. It's never been easier! You can also volunteer to moderate or be an organizer for a community that you're a part of. Nothing will replace rolling up your sleeves and doing the thing.

I also highly recommend creating an "inner circle" for yourself. Find people who are in similar stages of their career to you and meet with them regularly, 1-1 or in small groups. Having peers you can be really candid with and get feedback from was invaluable for me early on.

You recently had a debate with Richard Millington about whether people join brand communities for belonging or information. Can you give us the elevator pitch for belonging?

I think that people come to communities for benefits, and they stay for belonging. They don't first come to communities for belonging, because they don't yet know and value the other members of the community.

Another huge thank you to David for taking the time to answer those questions, and to our Uncommon community for submitting great ones. We’re excited to do more of these Q&As with experts across community-led growth, so keep an eye out for who’s next and get your own questions ready.

Until then, you can find us on Twitter and join us on Slack.