Why Community Building is a ResponsibilityUntil I met my husband and we started spending Thanksgiving with his parents, I spent each Thanksgiving I’ve lived in Maine working with Wayside Food Programs, serving Portlanders who need a bit of extra support.

It’s become one of my favorite holiday traditions for a number of reasons—one of the biggest being it constantly reminded me, in the most inspiring of ways, of the many different ways we create communities around us.

Community Building Makes Us Human

Community building is a remarkable thing because communities take so many different forms and play a variety of different roles in our lives.

  • Some communities are large—large enough to have micro-communities within them.
  • Others are small and intimate, even private.
  • Some consist of people we see frequently.
  • Others we see only once a year, or maybe less than that.
  • Some are full of people just like us.
  • And some with those very different than us, but who we connect to in one small, yet substantial way.

They are diverse, unique, and crucial to our survival as humans.

Community Building Is a Basic Need

If our time in isolation during COVID-19 has show us anything, it’s that community building is so much a basic need, we will find a way to do it, despite any obstacles in our paths.

When I worked the Thanksgiving dinners at Wayside, I was able to see examples of the hundreds of different communities each of the dinner attendees had built around them. Even when they lacked in many other ways, they prioritized building communities to survive.

If you’ve ever read Man’s Search for Meaning (one of my all-time favorite books), you see examples of irrepressible communities that literally kept people alive at concentration camps, under the worst circumstances.

Even the Spin Sucks Community has taken on a different, closer bond over this time. We need each other more now than ever. Professionally and personally.

All these examples spotlight how crucial a role these communities play in our lives—in our mere survival.

I wrote about this after my first Thanksgiving serving at Wayfair.

Communities are part of who we are as humans. They define the human experience and therefore, are something, as communications pros, we must respect and constantly work to understand. This is even more true now than ever.

The Communities that Create Our Lives

Take three minutes and write down all the different communities—online and off—you are involved in.

It’s pretty amazing how vast and varied they are, right?

You might have a community for gardening and one for your sport.

You might have a community because you are a parent or one for your kid’s sports.

There is probably a community for your local surroundings and one for your hobbies.

And then your friends, family, work colleagues, Spin Sucks friends, and so on.

Then you have the communities you might only participate in once or twice a year, but they are still important.

If we look back to Wayside, part of what makes it so special is many of the same people volunteer each year, likewise you get many of the same dinner guests.

They know you, you see familiar faces, you catch-up with families who have grown and changed throughout the years, you follow their stories and lives.

We are all very different people in some ways, with very different lives, but also very much the same and united through those differences.

An event such as the Thanksgiving dinner provides a petrie dish for those mutual bonds to strengthen.

So you have a group of people who might not have the chance to interact or communicate on the daily basis, or might even be intimidated to do so, but this event connects, equalizes, and creates a community of very different people, celebrating a day of gratitude together.

And that’s where community building is really powerful.

Wayside Food Programs provides a great meal, but the most important thing they do is foster a great community.

Community Building that Crosses Channels

The transmedia world we live in also provides the opportunity for communities to cross channels.

For example, many of our Spin Sucks community members met in the comments section here, but went on to communicate on different channels, and even meet and become friends in real life.

Some of you have even created your own micro-communities, as a result of the initial connection here.

The greatest role you can play in community building is to foster it, give it a place to grow and transform, but don’t try to own it.

When your community takes on a life of it’s own—grows, creates, and succeeds separate from you—that is a success.

A Never-Ending Process

Community building is a dynamic, never-ending process.

We never hear “communities built,” and there is a reason for that. It’s always community building. 

A healthy community is never really built, it’s always becoming.

A community that stops transforming, is a community that will soon become replaceable, or slowly die. 

And, in many ways, that’s why healthy communities help lead organizations through change.

Think about that as we journey into this next phase of navigating the COVID situation.

Your community needs you, but you also really need your community.

They’ll help lead you to where you should go and how you should evolve. 

If the community leads innovation and direction the organization can adapt in a way that’s natural and intuitive.

If you choose against your community be aware of that and know why.

Community Building In 2020 and Beyond

Community building during the next several months will be more crucial and more difficult.

Last week, we talked about the language of communities because that’s one component that is so important as we navigate a world where online communities are upfront and center.

Likewise, time and time again we see that environments—communities—direct the actions and behavior of the people in them.

The communities we build, the communities we participate in, the communities we abandon….all of these matter.

As communications pros, we often lead the community building process, and we need to understand the power that position provides.

We need to build valuable communities, communities that serve to improve the lives of their members (much as Wayside does), communities that speak to the environment and culture we want to cultivate.

We often think only from a self-focused promotional capacity when community building—and that perspective undermines the whole concept of what a community should be. Especially now.

In 2020, let’s all strive to make community-building an important part of how we build the cultures we want to be a part of, and the success will organically come from there.

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

View all posts by Laura Petrolino