I was on a job interview recently (yes, I am on the market!!) for a position in communications strategy, and was asked a bunch of questions of what I would do to help raise awareness of the organization’s presence in the world, make it clear as to what their goals and objectives are, make it easy for aligned partners and projects to engage, and help weave together the many siloed communities out there who are all technically part of their nascent ecosystem, but mostly unaware of each other’s work/existence.
It was fun to think about this as I reflected on everything I’ve learned so far in developing my own brand and presence here at Emergent by Design, the various online communities and collaborative learning environments I’ve helped develop, and the in-person events and conferences I’ve helped organize.
I’ve found it important to focus on the deeper human side of things rather than just the surface tools or tactics, so here are a few insights I’d like to share about the essence of brand and community building, from a people-centered lens:
How to Develop Your Brand
As Tony Hsieh of Zappos would say, your culture is your brand.
You can spend a lot of money in advertising and posturing about who you are, or you can demonstrate it through your behavior.
Behaviors (as well as shared attitudes, values and goals) form your culture. Your culture informs/defines your brand.
So what’s a desirable organizational culture?
Some popular themes might include: a culture of collaboration, open communication, transparency, innovation, excellence, continuous learning, belonging, creativity, empowerment.
While these all sound fantastic, they’re not easy to do just because you ‘want’ to. I haven’t experienced collaboration and cooperation to be something that comes naturally or easily (for me, at least). It takes work, and requires actual commitments to yourself, choosing and sticking to some core values, and demonstrating leadership by showing others what that looks like.
It has much less to do with choosing the right ‘collaboration tools,’ and much more about learning how to communicate effectively and resolve interpersonal issues, establishing trust and respect, building strong relationships, and instilling confidence in people’s skills and capabilities.
So what are the core values you’re committed to to form the foundations of your culture?
Zappos culture, for example, is based on these 10 core values:
1) Deliver WOW Through Service
2) Embrace and Drive Change
3) Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4) Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5) Pursue Growth and Learning
6) Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7) Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8) Do More With Less
9) Be Passionate and Determined
10) Be Humble
A similar list can be found in the core values of Agile Boston:
* Serve Others
* Be Purposeful
* Create Results
* Create Relationships
* Increase Learning
* Communicate Honestly
* Create Fun
* Be Focused
* Be Committed
* Be Courageous
I’ve found this kind of intentional culture design to be truly transformative, and actually enjoyable. It creates psychological safety to know what’s actually valued by a community, so you can lovingly ‘call bullshit’ on others when they’re out of alignment with those values, and quickly correct situations that lead to unnecessary drama.
For example, if your culture values results and learning, one of your commitments might be something like ‘I will personally support the best idea, regardless of its source.’ This is a simple statement, but one that can help a group transcend egos and get focused on common goals and objectives.
Why all of this is important for brand development has to do with the caliber of talent you hope to attract, whether we’re talking about employees, partners, or contributors to open collaboration projects.
A culture that’s fun and high-functioning, displaying clear goals, ways to track and measure progress, easy opt-in ways to participate, and a sense of greater purpose, tends to make for a good game.
How to Develop Your Community
This goes hand in hand with developing brand and culture.
I’m going to again reference the things covered the other day in the Memes, Manifestos and Movements post, specifically the insights about cultural/community development put forth by Dave Logan and Eric Raymond.
Dave’s advice was:
* Listen to the conversations around you
* Speak in terms of collective values
* Actively triad
Eric’s advice included:
* Name things
* Find the Deepest Yearning
* Use Cultural Capital
* Develop Mission Awareness
In both instances, the keys to weaving together and activating a network/community had to do with strong communication and leadership.
One of the things that came up in the interview discussion was how to better make the community visible to itself and foster collaboration within it. We talked about how just creating a platform for collaboration or environment where the community can gather is not enough.
Again, it takes time and effort and (in my opinion) a genuine interest and passion from the people stewarding the community building effort to want to get to know who the people in the community actually are, what their needs and desires are, what their current practices and processes look like, and what direction they think they’re moving in.
I’ve found that people often have a difficult time articulating these things though.
So there is a bit of an art involved in this — knowing how to build rapport and trust, knowing how to ask the right questions, knowing how to listen for common themes and patterns, knowing how to make sense of these things and then translate them into language that will be accessible across the disparate groups you’re trying to bring together, spotting opportunities to introduce people and projects to each other so they can cross-pollinate, and being able to hold space for and carry the larger vision that unites the community.
I see there being a great opportunity now for leaders to emerge, people who know how to tell the stories of their communities, and weave these together with the larger stories that are unfolding around the shifts in global society and culture.
Now with all that said…. what would I do?
Here are a few ideas in response to the original questions:
1. Raise awareness of organization’s presence in the world
- Build relationships with people and groups in alignment with your mission and values.
What your organization cares about or represents already exists in the world. People are already doing it, or talking about it. Find them. Give them props. Be excited that you’ve found each other! They are your tribe, and will help you spread the word.
- Partner with projects and events that reinforce and support your stated objectives.
Collaborating and teaming with other groups within the network demonstrates an actual commitment to collaboration and teamwork. Show your awareness of who’s out there already making things happen, and honor them by finding ways to support their efforts, share resources, and not waste time duplicating work.
- Celebrate wins with the whole ecosystem.
I’m reminded of Kevin Kelly’s post about Brian Eno’s concept of “scenius,” which is defined as ‘the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene.’ It talks about the ‘network effects of success’ as being part of the operating principles of a scenius. “When a record is broken, a hit happens, or breakthrough erupts, the success is claimed by the entire scene. This empower the scene to further success.” If your organization is trying to position itself within an ecosystem, share news of your own successes while also participating in the successes of the kindred spirits in your network.
2. Make goals and objectives clear to the public
- Help others locate themselves in relationship to your story.
Have a clear vision, mission and values on your About page. Be explicit about what you want and what steps are currently underway to actualize those things. Give examples of accomplishments, and how you measured success. Show how the efforts being undertaken from other independent entities within your ecosystem are by default also supporting your own goals.
3. Make it easy for aligned partners and projects to engage
- Design structure for interactions.
Provide some clear entry points and tiers for engagement. (To donate, click here. To promote or share with your networks, do this. To participate in a project, see what help is needed here. To submit a project, follow these submission guidelines. To join the conversations, go there. To let us know about your community, introduce yourself here. etc)
Provide some standards and guidelines for what quality and excellence looks like. (If you’re fostering dialogue, set the ground rules for engagement so there’s a bias towards sharing, learning and growth. If you’re looking to promote collaboration across projects or communities, help define the protocols of communication and documentation that promote interoperability.)
Have the question “How can I help you?” at the top of mind and heart when engaging with others in the network.
4. Weave smaller communities together into a larger global ecosystem
- Uncover the bigger picture story, and tell it.
Talk to the people in these communities, and look for common patterns in the beliefs, values, language, and practices within them. Connect the dots and help shape the narrative, find common ground, and discover the vision that everyone is already sharing.
- Tell people what’s in it for them.
I’m a believer in enlightened self-interest, the idea that we can act in a way that serves both ourselves and others at the same time. I see this as similar to a non-zero-sum game, the concept that we can have outcomes that don’t require one player to lose in order for the other to win. (In fact, it’s theorized that as networks and society becomes more complex and interdependent, we realize this strategy actually makes more sense in enabling everyone to get what they want.)
People are already pursuing their own goals. They may be unaware of the other players, unsure of why coordinating with those other players might actually make their own goals easier to reach, or how to do it. Help tell that story.
And there’s a brief overview of some concepts I’ve heard experts share, as well as some reflections from my own experience.
How do these thoughts about developing brand, culture and community strategy resonate with you?