‘With’ Them or ‘For’ Them?
Building a community for your audience is very different from building a community with your audience.
Building a community for your audience means researching what they want, developing a strong concept, creating the platform, and inviting them to join and participate. This is the standard approach.
Building a community with your audience means something very different. It means you embed the audience deeply within the decision-making process – even (and especially) when it makes you uncomfortable.
It means you give your audience veto rights on major decisions (what platform to use, how it should be designed, what the rules of the community should be?)
It means your audience do most of the legwork and you play a supporting/coordinating role. They take on roles within the community, invite people to join, and stimulate the early discussions.
It means you probably move slower and have less control over the process. But the benefits are tremendous. It removes the risk of launching a flop, ensures you can scale quickly and provides members with a true sense of ownership.
Both approaches can work but don’t get confused between the two. Members quickly see through listening exercises disguised as collaborative community building approaches. If your members can’t make decisions you dislike, you’re not building a community with them.
If you truly want members to take real ownership, you need to give them real control (and that includes the freedom to make mistakes).