It’s not only possible for communities to have a clear vision and purpose which drives them forward—it’s basically essential. Without a clear purpose, your community will always struggle to grow organically and attract the right people. And if your community ever changes its direction or focus, that will be driven by its new purpose.
There’s a ton of ways to discover and describe your purpose, but we’re going to stick with the simplest: the tried-and-true “Who, To, So That” framework:
- Who…does your community serve?
- To…do what?
- So That…what happens?
The majority of organizations in the world make the same mistake at some point in their lifetime: trying to be all things to all people. Positioning yourself for a specific audience (i.e. choosing to exclude certain personas or demographics) is a daunting, but a necessary hurdle to overcome.
Your community is not for everyone. It shouldn’t be, it can’t be, it isn’t. Your community has a unique identity and you need to capture that identity to understand who you should be attracting and searching for, and who is going to drive your community up and forwards over the years. Remember: this is an exercise in discovering who you want to attract, not in picking out groups to exclude!
How to discover your identity
You need to get introspective. The definition of a shared identity is one which all of your members would use to describe themselves—and which those outside your target audience would not. The grade of specificity here will vary. A classic car group might define its “Who” as simply as;
“We are a community of enthusiasts who enjoy looking at, and talking about, classic cars.”
But another group might be significantly more specific:
“We are a community of enthusiasts who enjoy discussing the technical aspects of body restorations for 1980’s Ford Mustangs.”
The members of the second group would be welcome in group one, but not vice versa.
What will you and the community accomplish together? Once again, how specific you are comes down to the community. As with the “Who” statement, most communities get conservative here and stay as generic and safe as possible:
- Learn new skills
- Broaden your horizons
- Meet like-minded people
- Advance your career
- Get inspiration
For the Ford Mustang group above, some of these would be applicable, but they can (and should) go much further.
- Meet like-minded people…including automotive detailing experts and hobbyist enthusiasts
- Get inspired…by the world’s most creative bodywork restorations
- Learn new skills…by seeing how Mustang restorations are completed
Think of your “To” as a short list of selling points for new members—if it doesn’t get you excited, it’s probably not quite right.
What is the ultimate point of being in this group? What do members gain from being a part of the community? This is the one area where communities are prone to overcomplicating things. Your community doesn’t have to be innovative, groundbreaking, or the best in the world—it just has to serve a specific need. For our Mustang enthusiasts, their “So That” could be:
- You can nerd out on Mustangs without bugging your other half
- You can learn the skills needed to complete your own restoration one day
- Others can learn from your projects
- More people realize how fascinating bodywork restoration can be…
It could be a million different things and we can’t prescribe them to you. If your community is already up and running, you only need to look at what’s actually happening—your mission statement is sitting right there, waiting to be put into words. Once you put your “Who, To, So That” together, it will encapsulate what your community is all about and why good-fitting members should join.
It’s important to remember that the hardest part in all this is implementation. It’s easy to fire a “purpose statement” around the community; actually embedding it in your culture so it positively affects members, growth, and the direction of the community takes commitment and work. But over the long term, that effort will pay off tenfold when you have a community that understands what it is, what it’s doing, and where it’s headed.
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