Lessons In Building A Real-world Community From Scratch

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been gearing up to launch a new project here in Syracuse, something I call Beansprout. My aim with Beansprout is to bring this city’s coffee lovers together, no matter their skill level or favorite flavor, and create a new community from the ground up, focusing on local cafes, educating, as well as light-hearted social gatherings. I love coffee, and I love my home city, but our local coffee culture is more grab-and-go than it is social. So, my aim is to change that, and slowly but surely I’m working toward launching something which I hope will be inspiring and helpful to Syracuse’s citizens, as well as our local businesses.

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So what goes into building something like this? To start, it’s a ton of research. I’ve gotten a sense of who our coffee enthusiasts are in this city over the past year, but without actually looking into the demographics, and as Richard Millington puts it in Buzzing Communities, the psychographics – the collective thoughts and feelings– of my intended audience, I’d be left trying to grab random people to bring them in. Instead, my strategy is to target people I know, and ask them to bring in some people they know, and then those people bring in people they know – building off the organic networks that are already in place, building in waves.

Millington’s text was actually very inspiring this week, and covered a lot of what I’m aiming for, as well as teaching me a few new things to work on. For example, I originally thought Beansprout would be a community of interest; after all, coffee lovers are interested in coffee. But because I’m keen to focus on coffee specifically in Syracuse, it is also a community of place, and my want for educational events and resources also makes it a community of practice. I’m comfortable with the hybridization, but defining the scope of the community is integral to understanding how to build it.

One key thing I hadn’t considered until this week was to interview potential community members, to see what they have to say, and whether they’d really be interested. Millington asserts that short, 15-minute interviews with potential members will yield information such as challenges, or aspirations, as well as help to identify symbols which represent the potential community and its members. David Spinks also echoes this in his article, How to Build a Community From Scratch. I found these insights to be incredibly helpful, as promoting Beansprout to others was one of my key challenges, and these interviews seem quite capable of helping to flesh out some options and targeting.

Overall, this week’s topic has been incredibly helpful in giving me some direction. Building a community from nothing is not an easy task, but it would be a fool’s errand to dive in head first without first conducting the proper research. And, even though this is a personal venture, the lessons it has taught me so far will be invaluable for my career in social media.

Have you ever built a community from scratch before? What were the key lessons you took from the experience?

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