05.26.2015

This year at CMX Summit East, we introduced one another to some amazing speakers and attendees, who gathered from all over the world at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The energy in the venue was palpable, and people got together to create arts and crafts name badges, talk about the growth of the industry, and share ideas about how to move forward.

We had selfie stations, 90’s throwback yearbook photos, and an arts and crafts table to bring together the world’s most talented community professionals. Seeing everyone laugh and create together was by far my favorite takeaway from the event, but we also all learned a ton of actionable tips from our speakers.

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The overwhelming theme this year was, without a doubt: what we do demands respect. Community building is hard work and can change the face of business. It can be viewed as a “soft science”, it can be measured, it can be created coldly with a template– there are general principles that we all know can be applied to any community. But community doesn’t necessarily have to be this way — it’s about creating connection to create better businesses and better worlds in which to live.

Some community building is an art. Some of it creates a feeling that cannot be ignored, ignites fires that grow into movements. Numerous speakers suggested that organizations are shifting dramatically to allow room for the embers of community to burst into flames– and we should be working with and for those organizations.

For those organizations still scratching their heads wondering what value community can bring, it is CMX’s job to educate them. It is your job, community builder, to work somewhere that gives a damn about your impact. We’re here to create more of those workplaces for you.

I loved how CMX speaker Sarah Judd Welch summed up the entire event in her Community.is wrap-up:

“In the past, the meta community community has spent so much time talking about others – how we can prove our value to them, what worked well for this company, why we should exist. We were on the defense. This time around, we focused on ourselves and on each other – what successes and inspiration we’ve seen, why community is empowering and what the inevitable future looks like. The meta community community finally feels secure enough to be okay in its existential struggle and breathe.”

In addition to these overarching themes of the event, every single one of our speakers gave us huge ideas to consider. Here are the major takeaways from every single talk, complete with the speaker’s slides.

11 Key Community Building Takeaways from CMX Speakers

1. Give people opportunities for spontaneous interaction.

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Scott Heiferman took the stage for the second time this year, and he clearly defined community as “people talking” to one another. He asked us to think about a person that we had met at some random point in our lives and to think about what would have happened “had we not met.” His Meetup co-founder is one of those people. They met while working together prior to 9/11, and got the company off the ground shortly thereafter.

How can we engineer spontaneous, amazing connections among our community members? That’s where the true value lies.

2. If your internal community is not strong, don’t bother creating external community.

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David Spinks explained to us how organizations are changing, and how community must be at the core of these changes. If it is not, all community-building efforts will crumble.

Why? Community starts with a central vision. That vision is carried through internal employees who then empower core community members to carry that vision among the rest of the community and to a wider audience. Without that strong core, you have nothing.

3. Community products should be built to allow your community to surprise you.

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Chris Pedregal took the stage to talk about how his mindset as a founder and product builder changed when he started to see community products as community-peripheral versus community-centric. Over-engineering helps no one, Chris said.

Chris Pedregal talked about how he works with his team at Socratic to design, test, and measure community product features. It comes down to this: don’t over-do it. Build basic and let your community surprise you.

4. Customs and rituals matter.

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Ana Noemi spoke about the five defining characteristics of enduring communities. She pointed out that community building is nothing new. In fact, we’ve been building community since humans existed.

She went on to define the five traits of enduring communities. One of those really stuck out to us in the audience: rituals and customs are essential to communities. This is really one of they key characteristics that sets communities apart from networks. Communities perform rituals regularly — together.

5. Communities must be small.

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Laurel Touby took the stage with some controversial comments: communities in business become transactional over time, she said. The point that she was getting at is that businesses almost always kill their community-building efforts by growing too fast and expecting to get more out of their customers than they give.

For tight-knit communities to thrive, they must be kept small. That doesn’t mean that businesses can’t create large thriving communities (well, Laurel might argue that’s the case), but it does mean that, to keep them strong, they must meet offline, create sub-communities, and put boundaries in place.

6. As a community leader, it’s your job to say “I don’t know”.

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David Marquet shared with us a community leadership framework that we can all put in place, whether we are building internal or external communities. The centerpiece of the framework is to create trust and to allow people to think independently.

To do so, start by saying “I don’t know.” This may seem counterintuitive, but it is an incredibly generous act of leadership, allowing people the ability to learn as they go and to make mistakes in a safe, supportive environment.

7. Listen.

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Alex Dao really drove home the point that listening to our community members makes them more loyal. We must listen to users of our product, and we must do so before we would ever expect anything in return.

Alex outlined exactly how this worked at Vimeo from 2009 to present, bringing them massive loyalty and growth during those six years.

8. Measurement can be done, and we have the tools to do it.

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Evan Hamilton shared a kitten- and equation-packed presentation on community ROI. In it, he gave us the templates for beginning to figure out how to measure the value of our communities. It is possible, and we must start somewhere.

Even if community cannot always be measured, its value being far beyond anything revenue-based, we can still translate much of our work into numbers. Evan showed us how, including some concrete templates for measuring success.

9. Start small. Relationships build community over time.

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In Matt Brimer’s talk, he shared that everything starts with individual relationships.

How do you start to build them? You “do things that don’t scale.”

Examples include: one-on-one coffee dates, group dinners, tours, and manually building an email list person by person. These early adopters help you cultivate the larger community, establishing the brand and becoming evangelists.

10. Community will be the next phase in digital marketing.

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Sarah Judd Welch shared with us learnings from working with and analyzing huge brands such as General Electric and Under Armour. Her conclusion: community is the next phase in digital marketing. That means community will be insanely valuable in coming years. And that means YOU will be insanely valuable in the coming years, community professional.

11. To empower a community of volunteers, you must be mission-driven.

Kristine Michelsen-Korrea spoke to us about how Duolingo built their Incubator Program over the last few years. She outlines the questions you must ask as an organization to ensure that you are able to empower volunteers to build amazing things together.

She also outlines exactly how to start to build your volunteer program.

Our speakers gave us an incredible opportunity to learn and connect around the power of what we do. Now it’s our turn to go out and apply these principles in our daily work, empowering our members.

We can’t wait to see you in San Francisco.

Want to buy a pre-sale ticket at the lowest price possible before the details are announced? You can reserve your spot now!

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Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones | @caremjo

Carrie is the COO and Founding Partner of CMX. She has built community at Chegg and Scribd and has consulted with community companies around the world. She lives in Seattle, WA with her pup, Bruce Wayne.