Over the past few months, I've had some stirring to create some sort of community. What I realized, in looking deeper at the word 'community', is that I wanted to bring some like-minded folks together from my neighborhood. The problem? I wasn't all that involved in my neighborhood. I played soccer during the week and weekend but that wasn't always in my neighborhood (depending on how you define 'Upper West Side').
So, I thought about what it was that I did and the experience I could bring to a community meeting. From that, I started the Upper West Side Work from Home meeting. In a city as big as New York, I thought there might be a handful of folks that shared the same experience / challenges / opportunities I do - working from home and slightly missing some of the commradarie found when working in an office.
By the way, that's not the actual title of the meeting. I don't really know what we're calling it. As a marketing guy, I should probably have a name for our meeting. You'll see shortly why I haven't pushed for a name.
What I do know is that there's a need out there for a gathering like ours. After a very small sample (our third meting will be in December), I've found a few things that might help you build that community you've been thinking about.
- Meet Regularly: We've set up a monthly meeting. This seems to work out well as I don't think my schedule would allow more responsibility than once a month. Again, this will only be our third meeting, but the second meeting had a higher attendance and was as equally interactive as the first.
Realize that even if this is something your community needs, it might only be needed at a certain interval. Whatever the interval, just make sure you commit to it.
- Communicate Regularly: This one's a bit tricky. In our case, I said up front that folks could 'register' if they'd like to. That simply meant they could provide a first name and their email address and I would send them a reminder about an upcoming meeting and a follow-up after the most recent meeting.
That's two direct communications via email over a single month. At some point in the future, the frequency may change depending on how the meeting evolves.
For now, I'm sticking to low-key direct communications. (That doesn't mean I don't indirectly communicate to the group via Twitter, website, etc.)
- Meet Timely: What time of the day should you meet? This one's tough - it really depends on the group. Everyone has a particular time of the day that works best for them. Think about who will be attending, then your own experience, and pick a time. Then stick with it.
That doesn't mean the meeting time can't change in the future, just pick a time and keep it consistent for the first few meetings. This will help your schedule and keep the amount of confusion to a minimum.
We meet from 2 to 4 in the afternoon on Wednesdays. Why then? It worked with my schedule as I can get up a bit earlier the day of the meeting and finish up any projects that need to be completed. Also, I checked with the venue to see what day would work best with their schedule.
Bang. Wednesdays. 2pm.
- Plan Accordingly: This one's funny, at least for me. I've always felt content was king, and drove the direction of any particular product, service, strategy, etc. I've come to this belief from many successes and many failures.
The funny thing is, my assumption as to why folks would want to meet isn't necessarily why people are attending.
My assumption of how a meeting would work looked something like this: We meet around the start time with some greetings and introductions before diving into a specific topic that affects us all as a group. Then, we discuss. Then, move onto the next topic. Then, some networking / chatting.
What's actually happening is totally different. It's turned into a water-cooler type of discussion. It's chatting about recent events in our lives. Then discussing some challenge we've had while working from home and listening to how others have dealt with a similar challenge.
Here's the funny / challenging thing for me - I just join in.
While I might be the guy who helps put the meeting together, I don't want to be the guy that stubbornly doesn't listen or see what's actually needed. I get concerned that it turns into an afternoon social gathering (never a bad thing) instead of a meeting.
But the trick is that the community is defining what the meeting should be, and that's so very cool. And we'll probably all come up with a great title for our community meeting.
- Be Responsive: Realize upfront that people - your community - will have questions about the meeting, deciding whether they should attend or not. Make sure you provide a few different communication points and respond to their queries. And respond quickly.
Reassure them you are serious about planning this meeting.
- Be Flexible: Things will change. People will unsubscribe. Be flexible to these differences.
It doesn't mean you have to upset the cart entirely, but you may need to position it differently depending on people's input.
Continually remind yourself why you are going through the effort to create this community. To bring people together. To build connections. Ask for feedback in different ways, listen, and react accordingly. Most important, have fun doing it. And realize you will meet some incredible neighbors who have an amazing story to tell.
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