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Uncommon Book Club πŸ“š David Spinks and The Business of Belonging

  • David Spinks

    November 19th, 2021

  • Rebecca Marshburn

    November 19th, 2021

Welcome to the Uncommon Book Club - a gathering place to learn from community authors. For our inaugural event, we were joined by David Spinks to discuss his book, The Business of Belonging. The conversation focused on topics around a few key chapters and themes from the book and how to apply his SPACES model to your own community.

We've highlighted a few key questions below, and you can hear all the details in the video above.

Can you start by grounding us with a quick overview of the SPACES model and what its purpose and outcome is?

The purpose is to help businesses define what the value of community is, because a challenge that most companies face is they start believing in community, want to invest in it, start hosting events, launch a forum, and then six or 12 months later they start asking questions like, "What was the value of all of that work? How do we measure it? What was the ROI?" That's backwards. You want to start by knowing what the business outcome is you're working towards.

There are countless ways you can build community. So what are you going to choose? What are you going to focus on? Which members are you going to focus on? By understanding your business goal first, it can act as a constraint and allow you to say no to doing some things, and focus on the things that will have more impact. For that, we use a SPACES model, which helps businesses understand their options.

SPACES stands for:

  • Support - your traditional support forums, customers answering questions, solving problems for each other.
  • Product - where you're collecting feedback and insights you can apply to your product and innovate and find product market fit (if you're a super early stage startup).
  • Acquisition - community programs that help you grow, drive pipeline, acquire new users, acquire new customers.
  • Contribution - if you have a platform you want people to be contributing to, which could be articles, code, Wikipedia articles, Airbnb, etc. So you build contributor driven community programs to help them, essentially, to populate the platform.
  • Engagement -customer retention. By building community for people around their passion and their interest, you increase their loyalty to your brand and your product, and increase their customer lifetime value.
  • Success - where support is more reactive, people have questions and we want to get them answers, success is more proactive. You're saying, "How do we teach people how to use our products more effectively? How do we help our customers grow in their careers and get promoted and be really successful?"

You mention in the book that each of those areas often exist inside of an organization already, but across different teams. Any tips for how to approach joint goal planning with those teams, and the best first team to align with for traction? And then, how can you grow that traction?

Community, to some extent, is creating some new goals for business, because community health and engagement should always be a part of what you're tracking and focusing on as a community team. But as far as ROI driven objectives, they all exist already. So it's not about creating new ROI, necessarily, but how do you use community as a tool to accelerate the impact, the growth, the ROI of those teams.

Community is very cross-functional. And so you can have co-owned goals. This is what we do at CMX and Bevy. We have marketing goals, and CMX is focused on acquisition. We will co-own the marketing qualified lead (MQL) goal for the quarter. We try to drive that through community and CMX side by side with marketing. What we're starting to do now is also add customer success and renewal goals, and work directly with customer success.

How do you choose which one? Kind of depends. A criteria I would consider is the stage of your company. If you're a super early stage company, you're just getting off the ground, you're probably still looking for product market fit, so product might be a really good thing to focus on. And then you find product market fit, and you're really trying to grow, your company-wide objective is to grow, maybe now you start focusing on acquisition. Or maybe you've grown a lot, and now you have lots of customers, and you're trying to figure out how to support them and set them up for success. At that point, the biggest need your company has is around customer success. So you might do support or success or engagement.

It really ties back to the core objective for your business for the next six to 12 months. And hopefully, your company is at a stage where that's made clear for you. And if not, that's a really good question to bring to your CMO, bring to your CEO, and say like, "What is our goal as a company over the next 12 months? If there's one thing that you think is the most important thing for us as an entire team to focus on, what is it? Are we trying to grow? Are we trying to improve products? Are we trying to retain customers? What is a thing that matters the most?" That should be one of the most important criteria, and then you consider other things, like your members. What are they motivated to do? Because maybe your company wants to start a support forum, but if you don't have experts in your customer base who are raising their hands and saying they want to be an expert on a support forum and answer questions, you can care about it as a business all you want, but if there aren't people there to answer the questions, it's not going to work. So dig into who are the community members and customers today, and what are their motivations? Do they want to host events? Do they want to be a part of a forum? Do they want to be a part of a customer advisory board?

And what are you good at and what are you capable of doing? Are you going to be able to access the data that you need to measure this stuff and report on it? Are the systems and operations in place for you to be able to do this work? What are you genuinely excited to do as a community team, as a community professional?

As people develop their community's personality, what questions should they ask themselves?

I think the personality of communities tend to mimic the personality of its leaders. Because when you're building community from the start, it's a lot of you. It's you showing up, you creating content, you starting conversations, until others start to do it organically, and so you're kind of setting the example. When I started CMX, it was the way I phrased questions, the way I showed up. I try to be as authentic as I can be to who I am when I show up in a community. I like to be really honest and ask straight questions. I love exploring conceptual topics in community and geeking out on stuff. And so I just brought that energy to the community, and the people who connected with that are the people who participated and kept showing up.

And so I think in some ways, CMX and any other community is going to replicate some of that personality. Now, as the community grows, it's going to start to adopt more of a social identity. And other leaders will rise up and they'll start to have influence. And it starts to become less about my initial personality. I'm sure there's still remnants of it, but it starts to create its own culture. And that's where it's important to be really intentional about the example that you want to set, because you're still choosing the leaders in a lot of ways. So maybe you are selecting people that align with the kind of culture, the kind of personality that you want to create in the community.

And a really helpful tool for doing that is actually: Instead of asking what the personality or culture is that you want to create, ask yourself what you don't want it to be. Who do you not want to be? Defining what you're not is sometimes a much more effective way of getting clarity on who you are.

A really quick example from CMX is that CMX started with CMX Summit. We didn't even have an online community. We had a Facebook group for the attendees of that event and that was it. But it started with a conference. And on that homepage we wrote in big bold letters, "This is not a social media conference." It was like the second thing you saw. "Welcome to the event for community managers. This is not a social media conference." And because at that time, a lot of the culture in the world of business and marketing was to conflate community and social media, [it worked to say what we were not].

You could be a community manager and people would say, "Okay, so you manage a Facebook group or you manage your Twitter." And, yes, sometimes community managers do, and that's okay, but there are different roles. I think it's much better understood today, even though people still struggle with it. But at the time we really wanted to say, "This is what we're not. If you're here to focus on social media, you're not going to learn a lot. There's not going to be a single talk that talks about launching a Facebook page or running a Twitter account. It's all going to be focused on owned communities, community experiences, connecting members to each other."

That really resonated with the people who also felt that way. They felt like it was a breath of fresh air to say, "Wow, finally, an event where I know it's going to be focused on the things I care about. And they're explicitly stating that it's not going to have these things that I don't care about."

In the book, you talk about extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. Do you see specific motivations working at different stages of a community?

In the early stages, people don't care about badging and points and things like that so much, yet, because there isn't a large ecosystem. Points and badging helps more when there's lots of members and they want the large group to know they have status within the community. But in the very early stages, when it's 10 or 50 or a 100 members, the social dynamics are more clear and intuitive. People know them when they show up in the community and they participate there. So I don't need a badge for people to know that I'm an active contributor, they know. And it's still new, so there isn't a lot of history anyway.

So in those early days, the reward is very intrinsically driven. I think it's about early adopter mindsets, usually. They like to be there first. They like to be involved, making sure that they feel heard, that they're involved in building it and shaping it. You're giving them access to members of your team that they otherwise don't have access to. Those kinds of rewards that make them feel special, like they're part of something, like they're a leader in that way works really well.

And then once a community gets larger and larger and larger, that's where I think you need some of the more like scalable reward mechanisms, badging, points, gamification can help. And then once it's big as well, those founding members, then they care about the badge, because they want everyone else to know that they were a founding member, and they can have that in the community. They can also have that on LinkedIn.

And then there's status. Again, in the early days, maybe one or two people were mods, if you even need to have moderators at that point, or event facilitators, but it's mostly you doing the work. But then as a community gets bigger and bigger, you need to create these contributor roles of moderators or event organizers or advisory board members, or advocates, ambassadors, these kinds of titles and roles that people get. And that's actually a reward in itself, just like giving people a status as an ambassador, as a leader, as a moderator, that's a reward for them, because that improves their reputation. And that's helping you manage your community at scale and grow it. So as it grows, that kind of reward becomes more impactful.

How do you approach enabling your community members to create content, events, or sub-communities? How do you enable those members to create that content, or additional groups or events where they can connect with each other?

I think there's the human level of the answer to this question, and then there's the technical and operational level to the answer to this question.

On a human level, ideally and usually, you're starting to see people raise their hand organically and want to contribute. A lot of the time it's like, "Wow, they just started hosting a meetup in London. Great. How do we support them?" And then you say, "Wait, can we do that somewhere else?" And then you put out the option to your community, you say, "Hey, we're launching this program. We're looking for a few people to be the founding members of this program and launch a chapter in your local city. Apply here, if you're interested." And you open up a path for them to be able to raise their hand. Maybe there are people who are motivated, but they didn't know how to raise their hand or didn't know that they were able to.

But just by giving people permission, you'll, hopefully, see people raising their hand, if they're already engaged in the community. Now, if you do that and no one raises their hand, no one contributes, and you're confident that you've gotten it in front of everyone, then you have more community building work to do. And people just don't feel as engaged or motivated or they don't see the value yet.

The key for all of these programs is that it's a win-win. Especially if you can make your members win two times more than you're winning. Ask why they are going to host an event. What is their motivation? And usually for events, they want to improve their reputation. They want to be the local leader for the industry. Maybe they want a network to bring in more business. Maybe they're a consultant and they're looking for clients. What is the thing that them hosting an event or them writing an article or them being a moderator, is helping them achieve?

Your goal as a community builder is to understand what success looks like for your leaders and do everything you can to make them successful.

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