"You have a community...now what?" with Erik Martin

image of author Antonia HellmanAntonia Hellman

2022.01.12

3 min read

We ended 2021 with a bang, by hosting Erik Martin as our fourth and final guest in our “How to build a community” speaker series. Erik was the first community manager at Reddit and later became general manager. After community and/or marketing roles at Depop, WeWork, Airtime, Nike and Teal, he is now VP of Services at Commsor. It’s safe to say that he knows a thing or two about community building.

Our event with him was centered around what you can do once you have an established community. For instance, once your community is large enough to sustain itself, what can you as a community manager do to continue supporting it? Here are four quick takeaways from our discussion with him.

A self-sustaining community is one where members are inspired and invested enough to introduce their own ideas.

Erik understands a “self-sustaining community” to be one where the individuals in the group are moved to use the space or medium to express their creativity. Members of the community come forward and use the tools given to them by the community in a completely different way than it was previously. That indicates that they themselves feel ownership over the space and care enough to help it evolve.

To get to that point, it takes community-wide engagement. Something that community managers can do to promote such engagement is involve members in activities and promotional materials (newsletters, interviews, social media campaigns, etc.). Even though you as the community manager may be doing most of the work, it’s important to give the members that participate most of the credit. This will boost morale, and it’ll also show other members that, if they have great ideas, you’ll support them in pursuing it.

Once you have a community, its purpose becomes more of a conversation.

You may have started your community with a specific purpose in mind; however, once it’s grown to a certain size, it’s not all up to you anymore. Yes, you have accountability for your community’s space, but everyone now has their own emotional connection to what you’ve built. Your community means something to everyone that continues to be a part of it, so it’s incredibly important that you include them in discussions about its direction.

Get input from folks that aren’t the loudest voices in the room with a random number audit.

It can be challenging to understand what people want and need out of your community when you’re hearing the same people speaking up. Sometimes, there are some quieter members that would like to participate actively, but they’re not sure how. And sometimes there are people who would talk if the community were different in just a few small ways.

One way to get these people talking directly to you is to go to them. With a massive community, that’s hard because you simply don’t have enough time to speak with that many people. Erik suggests running random number audits, where you assign each of your community members a number and then run a random number generator. Whichever number gets picked, you reach out to that person and have a conversation with them. If you do one a day, the numbers really start adding up!

Communities are like movie genres

With every genre, there is an understanding of what it is and what it isn’t. But there’s tons of room for interpretation. Communities are the same way. Everyone comes with some idea of what a certain community is or isn’t, but there is always room for creativity, growth, and positive change. Keep an open mind.

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About author

image of author Antonia Hellman

Antonia Hellman

Antonia Hellman is co-founder and CEO of Toucan.

She is a recent graduate of Stanford University, having studied political science and economics.

She enjoys long walks to explore new cities, listening to audiobooks on 1.2x speed, a cup of hot water, and re-watching mediocre movies.

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