Six or seven years ago, I was at a low point in my life. I was recently single, had five figures in student loans and a very stressful, demanding job. I had a relative pass away and I didn't feel I was close enough to anyone to talk about it. I realized how much I had prioritized work and romantic relationships at the expense of friends and family. That's when I started trying to make more connections and build community among the people I knew.
I started a group GChat with my three best friends from college that we still use to talk with each other every day, despite different time zones and busy schedules. I began my "Potluck Brunchables" series where 20 - 30 people would come over for a big potluck brunch every few months and end up staying well past dinnertime. The latest version is "Real Chill Potluck Dinner", of which we had our first last Sunday, and is a smaller, more laidback version of Brunchables of yore. Last year I joined Greenpoint Art Circle, a community art group in my neighborhood, and a few weeks ago we had our first group art show with 150 people attending. A few community-building attempts haven't stood the test of time (RIP Ladies' Book Club), but I am grateful for prioritizing my community over the past few years.
It's been reported over and over for the past few years how people are craving more connections and community. Millennials are the loneliest generation, politics are more divisive than ever, and more Americans are reporting feelings of anxiety. My theory is that it's not singular event or app that is leading to these feelings of loneliness and social anxiety. With the increase in digital connectivity (mobile phones, social media, constant connectivity with email and text), we feel programmed to be constantly communicating with each other. Millennials today have been on Facebook for over ten years, and likely still have connections from high school and college, despite being in their 30's. Our social networks have become more expansive as there are multiple reasons to connect with people, whether professionally, socially, or romantically. We feel we know more people since their posts still randomly appear in our feeds, yet feel a sense of FOMO because we don't really connect with them. It feels odd to see a high school friend announcing her second child, but then I question why we haven't stayed in touch enough that I'd be invited to the shower.
For the past few years, "content is king" has been emphasized among marketers. My feeling is that the largest issue consumers have is too much content, and agree with eMarketer's podcast "Behind the Numbers" that moving forward, brands should focus on creating community. Some of the best examples of brands who have achieved this are Nike with their various running and training groups, AirBnb for their host communities, and Peloton for inspiring their "mom" customers to connect about reclaiming their self-care and fitness.
While digital technology gets a bad wrap for preventing "real connections", I actually feel quite the opposite. Multiple apps and platforms have been introduced that facilitate digital introductions in order to connect people offline. A few I've used are Nextdoor (an online forum based on your zipcode), Quilt (an app connecting women to have open, real conversations IRL), and VAWAA (a global marketplace of artists and craftsmen you can stay with and learn from on your next vacation). I just found out about and looking forward to trying eatwith (a global platform where you can sign up for dinner experiences, cooking classes, and food tours in multiple cities).
Whether you're a brand or an individual looking to create a new community, a few things to keep in mind are:
1. Commonality - If it isn't clear what members have in common, a community will never thrive organically. The more intimate and personal, the better. For instance, owning a Peloton bike is a pretty generic way for Peloton customers to connect. Being a mom getting back into a fitness routine with a Peloton bike is more specific and personal.
2. Convenience - I was talking to a friend who was thinking about creating her own writing group. The only problem is that she lives in LA, which is notorious for people staying within their own neighborhoods. I had told her the best way to build consistent participation is to make it convenient for everyone involved, whether it's meeting at the same time on a weekly or month basis, convening in the same neighborhood, or committing to always connect through video chat.
3. Value - Why the heck are people meeting in the first place? How does gathering in a larger group provide value to all the members? What is their shared objective? What I love most about AirBnb's Host Community is that they know exactly what hosts desire: to get more bookings. All of the content they create is focused on tips and tricks for getting more successful bookings.
What are your thoughts about community becoming the new king? How do you build community in your personal life? What type of community do you wish existed that currently doesn't?