The Big Themes at CommunityNext

Community Next SFO 023 (Custom).jpg

was a one-day conference at Stanford University organized by Noah Kagan, and a great example of the wide variety of applications, perceptions, tools, concepts and strategies that surround the word “community�?. The talks were a mixed bag of academia, tool pitches, stories behind communities and panel discussions that covered a lot of ground. Some great, some not so good.

These are two major groups and subjects that I saw at Community Next:

  1. Community *as* Business. These are the web sites and businesses that are built on a foundation of community. Often, community was the intention is starting the site. Examples from attendees include: Dogster, Fark, skinnycorp (parent of Threadless), Daily Strength, My Church, etc. are examples of sites that depend on community as the core component of the site.

    This was the most dominant group by far. It seemed that many of attendees were planning a community-based start-up and looking for ideas and resources for community as business.

  2. Community *in* Business . This group was less represented and accounts for existing businesses that are interested in “community�? but haven’t yet taken the plunge. A few of the talks, including Tara Hunt’s and Jake McKee’s was more focused on this perspective – thoughts on making community a part of an existing business.

What I find interesting is that these two groups are not all that complimentary. The folks who have turned community into a business play from a different playbook than existing businesses who operate in the world of more traditional strategies. They sometimes look with disdain upon businesses that are stuck in their old ways, but trying to “get�? community. Their lessons are valuable, but don’t translate well to many existing businesses.

However, some common themes came up across the talks and I think that they are lessons that everyone interested in community should consider:

  • The most successful communities were started by people with a ton of devotion and passion about the community project. This can’t be created in a board room or assigned as a project.
  • Successful communities require a community manager to balance the needs of the community and the organization. Like I wrote recently, the manager is the protector of the community.
  • In-reach vs. outreach. Instead of focusing on bringing people in (outreach), be more focused on making people feel welcome after they arrive.
  • Authenticity, transparency, genuineness are absolutely required in the community setting. Do not deceive.
  • Listen to the community, listen to the community, listen to the community

Four great but easier-said-than-done rules from Threadless:

  • Allow your content to be created by the community
  • Put your project in the hands of the community
  • Let the community grow itself
  • Reward the community that makes your project possible.

A few of my favorite quotes (or the closest I can get from my notes, sorry if these are off):

Matt Roche of Offermatica “MySpace makes it look like US culture is being overtaken by the eight grade�?

Mike Jones of UserPlane “You can’t be authentic as an organization if everything is filtered.�? And (I think)… “To many companies, ‘viral marketing’ amounts to spamming users and ‘monetization’ means banner ads.�?

Jeffery Kalmikoff of Threadless, about what makes him motivated about Threadless. “When I was a kid, I didn’t start skateboarding because it was part of some strategy – I started skating because skating RULES.�?

More than any other folks at the conference, I was most impressed by Threadless. They have a very successful business that is made successful by the way in which they enable their community to produce quality products – in their case, T-shirt design and patterns. I think the Threadless model RULES.

Scott Beale has a few great photos and more links...

[Update] I also wanted to say that the community was well organized and executed, but lacked wifi. To be on a university campus (Stanford no less) and not have wifi for everyone was a disappointment.