The term “follower” is often used to designate the members of a community, as if it is an entirely passive role. But a more specific description would be “joiner.” To join is to be one among equals who want to make something together.
Going to meet-ups is one way to find people like you. But you can also search Google, or scan LinkedIn profiles and send “Connect with Me” notices. You can tweet links about what you’re interested in or leave comments on an Instagram feed.
The particular qualities you value that will make someone a potential “like you” will affect how you search, what you search for, and even where you search. What follows is a taxonomy that helps in that effort by identifying five different types of communities.
This form of group is united by an activity in which they all take part. Examples include entrepreneurs, web designers, film-makers, venture capitalists, and librarians. Practice is not limited to paid professional activities; it applies as well to anyone who wants to take part in a common interest or hobby, like French speakers or marathon runners.
The most efficient way to find others who have such mutual interests is through an online keyword search.
This is a group based on being of or in a certain place. During my recent relocation to Paris, I learned of a website called Message Paris. Members paid a nominal subscription fee to find others in the city and get quick and easy access to such information as how to choose a school or how to deal with foreign taxes.
Later, I found another website called Mes Bonnes Copines (“my good girlfriends”), which connects people to one another to other various kinds of helpful services, such as swapping babysitting services. I also used geolocation on Twitter, focused on Paris and even on my particular arrondissement, which led me to information about upcoming events, local news, and people I might find interesting, for example, who won the “best boulangerie” contest near me.
These resources helped me to navigate a new city and make contact with others who were doing the same, using the parameters of territory and geo searches.
A community of passion is driven by a shared interest in a particular subject, but differs slightly from one based on practice. Let’s say you’re a parrot lover, as my friend Arikia Millikan is. Her journal — she’s a writer, so her notebook will likely be in plain sight —has loads of parrot-related content, so whenever friends see it, they can’t help but notice and say, “Wow, you must really like parrots.”
Even though most of them have never seen her actually interact with a parrot, they send her all the parrot videos and paraphernalia they find. Arikia also shares anti–animal abuse petitions on her social media pages, so people come to understand that the topic matters to her. A combination of digital tools has helped link her to others “like her” who share this passion. This same method can be used for dog lovers, motorcycle enthusiasts, pottery makers, art collectors, skiers, and so on. Searching based on passion is content driven.
Provident communities are the product of seemingly random connections — the serendipity of meeting just that right person whom you later went on to found a company with, or high school buddies who introduce you to your future funders on Kickstarter.
This process is actually not as random as it appears. For example, entrepreneur advocate Tereza Nemessanyi was not a known expert when she first dived into that world. She started by first soaking up ideas from blogs written by venture capitalists but then noticed that lots of interesting ideas were actually published in comments sections. She began to leave her own comments, which led her to greater personal clarity and led others to discover her.
She then created a blog on her own domain, tweeting actively to support it, which after three years led to her building her own company. As she attended conferences promoting her business, she found people already knew of her from her comments and so were interested in talking with her. After she left her own start-up, she got a job at Microsoft, helping the company to build strategic relationships with start-ups and entrepreneurs.
Providence is, by definition, random. But there is clearly a strategy to leverage it, which is to figure out where you can be to create opportunities for serendipity, like conferences or blogs where the topic or attendee self-selection process creates a fruitful context.
Purposeful communities are those that share a vision of the world as it could be. Identifying people based on their interest in a specific goal or challenge is the hardest way to align with a community because they are not typically found in one spot, or by keyword searches. Even those who appear to be alike enough to have shared purpose won’t always have that alignment.
Unlike practices areas, purpose-oriented communities don’t always have known user groups and are, more often than not, not geography dependent. Because these groups are issues based, finding people with common purpose means finding those who share a commitment to a cause, and that involves a more sophisticated method of signaling and seeking.
This taxonomy of communities is a framework you can use to think through whom you need to find and how best to reach them. If you were, for example, looking for fellow parents trying to change an after-school program, you could find them based on the practice of child-focused after-school programs and also based on proximity. If you were looking for people who were interested in biosciences and entrepreneurship, you’d look for a mix of practice areas so you could find the subset of the groups that met this combined criteria.
It’s not meant to be definitive as much as a place to begin, so feel free to mix and match strategies that work based on your particular needs.
From THE POWER OF ONLYNESS: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World by Nilofer Merchant, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Nilofer Merchant, 2017.
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