One art of building a community is creating a powerful, shared, narrative.
Note the key part of that story, shared. If members don’t share that narrative, it’s just another story. A story about the community that doesn’t represent the community might repulse existing members.
You can’t arbitrarily create a narrative in a word document and expect the community to accept it.
A history already exists. You can’t change the past (although you can change the future to create a more compelling narrative). However, you can choose what to include, what to exclude, and how to structure the history.
Your goal (in writing down the narrative) is to structure the history in a way that’s compelling to members. If you do this well, members will read, accept, and share this narrative with others.
There are several core components to a great community narratives.
1) The founding story. This is your origin myth. In your founding story you need to celebrate the founder, highlight the previous reality and the new reality the founder tried to create. This often follows the hero’s journey. The founder has unique qualities which led to them to try to create something new.
The story has to be interesting to read. End every paragraph leaving the reader dying to know what happens next. It should reflect truth, but embellishments can be useful. It needs to be short too.
This is why it’s important for a community to seem created not by a company but either by a) an audience member and supported by the organisation or b) a member of the company (let’s call this the Robert Scoble/Rand Fishkin approach). Every community founded by a clear individual (or group of named individuals) is stronger than a community without a clear founder.
2) The small group story. Next come the early followers. Who were the first members to join, how did they join, what was unique about these initial disciples. Think of these as the co-founder of the community.
It’s good to put them into the history of the community. Highlight how their unique experiences, characteristics, or assets were useful to the community early on. Around 5 to 8 members tend to be good to mention at this stage.
3) The early victory story. Now you need an enemy, an early threat to your small group’s existence, or a challenge your community overcame very early on. This spurs future efforts to succeed.
You need something your group achieved early to unite them. This might be a member that was helped, a problem that was resolved, an event they was attended. Every social group needs an early victory to create a sense of shared history.
You don’t just need one of these, you can have several. The challenge is to ensure you have at least one. Make sure that there is a clear closure (new reality created) as a result of each victory story.
4) The momentum story. Now you need the momentum story. People only join groups that appear successful and will increase their own self-concept. You need to highlight what the group is working towards achieving now. How is this momentum being sustained? What are the challenges that must be overcome? How can members help you overcome those challenges?
A community narrative should be epic, exciting, and fun to read. Newcomers should be guided towards reading the community narrative and indoctrinated in the narrative upon joining the group.
The narrative creates a separation of your community members from mainstream society. It gives members something to believe in, something to fight for, something they provides meaning in their own lives. People need to justify why they’re spending so much time in a community, a narrative helps achieve that.
Better yet, narratives helps newcomers identify their own role within the community’s future. This drives further activity a far stronger sense of community
You can include quotes and stories from members in the narrative. The more mentions of individual members the better. You can include pictures, stories, and a list of in-jokes/references that will help members make sense of the community.
It’s important in your own communications with members to subtly refer to different elements in the community narrative.
A narrative is a powerful tool that unites communities. It creates shared experiences, establishes agreed norms, and helps us make sense of the context/content of current actions. Narratives created shared symbols, shared history, and the perception of continued progress.