Transcript of How to Build a Community Around Your Business

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John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. And my guest today is Jono Bacon. He is a community and collaboration strategy consultant, advisor and speaker. And he’s also the author of a book we’re going to talk about today, People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams.

John Jantsch: So Jono, thanks for joining me.

Jono Bacon: Yeah, thank you for having me on it. I appreciate it.

John Jantsch: You are the first Jono I’ve had on my show. So is there an ethnic origin to that? That’s the first time I’ve seen that name, actually.

Jono Bacon: No. And actually before we even get into that, I like how you pronounce my name correctly the first time. Which basically never happens in the U.S.

Jono Bacon: I was named Jono by a kid who lived opposite a new house that my parents moved into when I was seven. And it just stuck. And that-

John Jantsch: Oh, so it’s a nickname like Scooter or something.

Jono Bacon: Exactly. No, my real name is Jonathan. My stage name is Jono.

John Jantsch: All right. No, that makes total sense. It’s like Bono, you know?

Jono Bacon: Right. But without the money or the talent.

John Jantsch: All right, so let’s talk about communities.

Jono Bacon: Sure.

John Jantsch: What’s the origin of communities in business? I know it’s really popular to talk about right now.

Jono Bacon: Yeah.

John Jantsch: But if we’re going to go back and talk about the role of community throughout business, how would you describe it?

Jono Bacon: So I think really, we’ve seen a real growth in communities in recent years and especially because technology has been growing so significantly. I mean, 85% of millennials, for example, are now on a smartphone, and we’ve seen internet access grown around the world. So what’s happening is we’re able to connect people together more effectively than ever.

Jono Bacon: Prior to all of this technological evolution, people would form together into local communities. And they’d find a lot of value in that because there’s something intrinsically satisfying about people getting together to collaborate around something. And especially when that something has a real sense of meaning. One of the things that we’ve found in behavioral economics is that meaning and doing meaningful work is very important to most people.

Jono Bacon: So in the business world, when you can get your team to collaborate together and to work together and everybody feels connected by the mission of the business, then you tend to get happier, more effective, more proactive employees.

Jono Bacon: So what’s happened is we hear a lot about community these days. We hear about, for example, GitHub has become a hub of technological development and sold to Microsoft for seven and a half billion, and Salesforce has got over a million members, and all these different examples. But really, what’s facilitated a lot of that is the same basic psychological principle around people doing interesting and meaningful work together. Technology is just enabling it more than ever before.

John Jantsch: And would you even say though that it goes as far as just similar interests? I mean-

Jono Bacon: Yeah.

John Jantsch: I mean, the thing about high school. This table was this. This table thought this. This table played this video games. But now they can find that same table anywhere in the world, right?

Jono Bacon: Exactly. I think that’s what it is. We’re inherently social creatures, human beings. And we thrive in social groups, you know?

Jono Bacon:  Now, there’s a good and a bad side to this. We have seen, for example, tribalism forming in negative ways. Fundamentally, what I think we’ve seen consistently across communities is that when you have a central focus and a mission, whether it’s activism, whether it’s a product in your business, whether it’s something else, and you can corral that group of people together with a shared workflow where people can see their own reflection in doing that, it can generate really meaningful experiences for people.

Jono Bacon: And one of the reasons for this is because when we kind of, without delving too much into the psychology, when we participate in groups, we generate the social capital. And social capital is kind of an unseen currency that we tend to think of as reputation. So people who do great work, we tend to respect them. And then that reputation is something we can harness to make decisions or to influence other people. And when that’s done in a positive manner, it’s pretty incredible what you can do.

Jono Bacon: And these principles really apply to a really broad variety of different places. We’ve seen these principles applied in businesses, but also, like I say, in activism and crowdfunding and beyond. So this is really the core of the human condition, I think, is what makes this work.

John Jantsch: Well, and I think a lot of people, especially with the onslaught of social media, I think a lot of people, a lot of businesses have thought about, “Yeah, I need to build my following. I need to build a Facebook group and call that in community.”

Jono Bacon: Yep.

John Jantsch: I mean, when I listen to you talk about community, I’m not sure that some of those communities are formed sort of for the same reason. I mean, they’re almost like “We need a community because then we can turn them into brand ambassadors and then they’ll sell more product for us.” I mean, that’s probably … In some ways that’s probably the wrong way to go into it, isn’t it?

Jono Bacon: I think so. I mean, when I work with clients for example, and they’re interested in building a community in whatever form they’re looking at, the start of the conversation in my mind always has to start with what is the value for your members? Like why should your prospective community members get involved and do this?

Jono Bacon: So we tend to see a lot, particularly online, where people are coming up with all of these hacks and approaches to … You know, examples that you gave, like social media, content, advertising, all of these pieces. And to me, those are the mechanics of getting your message out there. But I think we have to start from why would they participate in the first place?

Jono Bacon: I’ll give you a concrete example. This is actually in the very first page of my new book, People Powered. I used to work for a company called Canonical, and there was a kid called [Abayomi] sent me an email one day. I’d been in this position for about six or seven months. He lived in the middle of Africa in a pretty rural place. And he sent me an email basically saying that he would earn money around his village doing chores. And then he’d walk two hours to his local town. He’d spend all of his money that he raised on an hour’s worth of internet access. And he’d contribute to this project, Ubuntu. And then he’d walk two hours back.

Jono Bacon: And the reason why he did this was because even though he was just a kid in Africa, on the global stage, he was playing a cog in a much bigger machine. And it gave him that sense of purpose.

Jono Bacon: So to me, we have to start with that sense of purpose first. And then all of the mechanics of how we get to people and we bring them in, that all needs to happen. But if you don’t have that sense of purpose, then you run the risk of doing a lot of outreach and then not getting a lot of return when people actually come and join you.

John Jantsch: Okay. So if we’re going to start with purpose then, which obviously makes complete sense, it’s a little counterintuitive sometimes for businesses. So how do we then go about like … I mean, what’s the first step then in saying, in sort of analyzing, even? Because I’m sure people bring you in and they say, “We need a community.” So what’s the first step for … How do you build that and integrate that into an organization?

Jono Bacon: Right. So the first step I think is define that value proposition for both you and for your prospective members. I’m a big believer that ultimately we’re going to get down to very specific tactical details. Every tactical detail has got to have a genealogy that goes back to the value that you want to generate. Otherwise your tactic’s not connected to the point of all of this. So start with the value, and then what we do is we keep zooming further and further in.

Jono Bacon: The next step is to understand the target personas you want to reach out to. So for example, do you want people to be performing advocacy? Do you want them to be answering questions for your other customers and users? Do you want them to be producing technology such as happens in the open source world? Do you want them to be translating what you’re doing? You know, your product or your content.

Jono Bacon: So we first of all identify a set of personas and then shape them into … And understand what do they want? What drives them? What experience do we need from those personas?

Jono Bacon: And then what we do is we generate a set of, I call them Big Rocks, which is essentially what are your broader objectives that you want to accomplish in a set time period?

Jono Bacon: So for example, if we were to say, “Okay, I’m a company. I’m a small company. I’ve got a web product. And I want people to be able to provide help and support each other in kind of a forum-style community.” We define the value and then we say, “Okay, support is our persona.” Now what we do is we say, “Okay, what are the things we need to do to sufficiently put in place that community? Okay, well, we’re going to need to spin up a forum. We’re going to need to have some content and some social media to bring people in. We’re going to want to incentivize and reward people for doing really great work.” So you structure that as a set of high level objectives that gives you a sense of what the deliverables should be.

Jono Bacon: Now, where the rubber hits the road is that with most companies, doing this work is cross-functional. You need your technology team to spin up some services. You need your marketing team to be involved. You may need your product and engineering teams to be involved. So the key thing is once you’ve got that strategy, you need your leadership team to set the expectation in your company. “This community’s not just an island of the side of our business. This is part of what we do. It’s part of the product.” And then you provide guidance to your staff members for how to participate in that.

Jono Bacon: Because the companies that tend to fail in this is they hire a community manager and that community manager essentially acts as like an ambassador to the community. And everybody else thinks, “I can safely ignore the community and just go through that community manager.” And what your community members really want is they want that interaction, they want that engagement directly with your staff. So that’s how I tend to break that down.

John Jantsch: So you mentioned the incentivize word. Is there … I mean, to me, the sort of the unicorn is that people are so in love with this brand or with this product or with this game or something that they’ll willingly spend hours a day, you know?

Jono Bacon: Right, right.

John Jantsch: Helping people out. But the reality is most of us probably need to do something to reward people.

Jono Bacon: Yep.

John Jantsch: But then, I’m guessing the greater the reward, maybe the less the loyalty. I mean, how do you balance that?

Jono Bacon: It’s a really great question. So I think a big chunk of this is … The way I tend to think of it is human beings, again, psychologically, we respond to rewards very well. I mean, it’s one of the reasons why we go to work, we get a salary, why we respond to bonuses, why we get our 10th stamp on our coffee regulars’ card, or you want the air miles at United or Delta.

Jono Bacon: So what we need to do is we need to understand, when we define those personas, what do we want these folks to do? And then how do we define what good is, what success is? And then how do we incentivize people to move in that direction? But also how do we reward when people do great work?

Jono Bacon: And there are two types of incentives I think it’s important for us to think about. We tend to think of swag and gifts and gift cards, which are the extrinsic rewards, and that can get expensive pretty quickly. But what’s even more important are the intrinsic rewards.

Jono Bacon: For example, imagine somebody goes into your community, where you want them to ask a question or you want them to advocate for your product, and they do a great piece of work. They answer a question. Maybe they write a good blog post or do a video about your product. Sending them an email, at the CEO or a CTO or someone, sending them an email and saying, “Hey, I just saw this piece of what you did. We really appreciate it. It’s people like you that make our community tick. Thank you.” That email can buy you another six months of interest and passion, because it taps into that need for validation that we tend to have.

Jono Bacon: So the way I tend to look at it and what I recommend to clients, and I walk through this in the book, is when you design that journey for how someone gets started in your community and how you on-ramp them, onboard them, which needs to be really simple and effective, how do we pepper in these incentives so they’re regularly incentivized to do something new at every step of the way and they’re always reaping a set of rewards?

Jono Bacon: Now, you’ve got to be careful because there is a psychological kind of curve to this, where if you reward too much, what tends to happen is people then only focus on the rewards. So they’re so focused on the rewards, they’re not actually focused on the reason for doing this work, which is to bring value to the community and to make things happen. They just want to get the goodies that you’re providing. So there is a balance to this as well.

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John Jantsch: So as I listened to you describe the process and how you onboard, and I mean, let’s face it, this is a lot of work-

Jono Bacon: Oh, yeah.

John Jantsch: If you do it right.

Jono Bacon: Yeah.

John Jantsch: And I think that that’s where … I mean, I think people probably go in thinking, “Yeah, we’ll spin up a community and that’ll be great. That’ll be another marketing channel for us.”

Jono Bacon: Right, yep.

John Jantsch: But I think they neglect … Then the thing becomes a wasteland, because they neglect to sort of set the proper expectation of what kind of an investment it is.

Jono Bacon: Yeah, no, it’s, yeah, exactly. Communities take work. And the thing is, as well as, and I say this to every client that I work with or when I speak, there is no silver bullet to it. I mean, the method that I’ve developed over the years and that I’ve put into People Powered is the method that I find to work most consistently across the most number of clients that I’ve ever worked with. But everything has to really be tied specifically to the company and to the community and to the team that you’re working with.

Jono Bacon: So fundamentally what I’ve found to work, to kind of tie it all in a bow, is the best thing you can do is to kind of go through these pieces. And they don’t necessarily need to be big pieces of work. I think you can define your personas relatively quickly. You don’t need to spend weeks on it. I think understanding the value on a general … Again, you can define that relatively quickly. But what does need a lot of work is when people start joining your community, you need to have people who are regularly engaging with them and encouraging them to participate, because what builds communities is a sense of momentum.

Jono Bacon: So for example, if you imagine, John, that you walked down your local high street, right? In Kansas City. And you see an interesting new restaurant. If there’s a ton of people in there and there’s a table free, you’re probably going to look at the menu and maybe go in and eat. If it’s completely empty, you won’t go in there. You’ll think that it’s dead.

Jono Bacon: So what we want to do is we want to get people coming into your community and then sticking around. And the way in which we do that is constantly engaging with them, constantly encouraging their participation, their creativity. So we build a habit. And it takes about 66 days to build a habit. So once people have been there for about a month or two, they tend to becomes a habit and then they tend to spend more time in your community. And the amount of engagement that you need to provide in terms of handholding tends to go down. But in the early stages it does require a reasonable chunk of work.

Jono Bacon: But a lot of companies, particularly smaller organizations, can do this with just a couple of people, not necessarily even working full-time. Like maybe a full-time community manager, but then individuals in your company spending 15, 20 minutes a day going in there and spending time.

John Jantsch: Well, there’s a couple of good points there. One, I know it seems to me a community’s kind of passed the tipping point, if you will, when there’s a lot of engagement between community members.

Jono Bacon: Exactly.

John Jantsch: As opposed to just “Okay, I’m the manager here and here’s today’s question,” you know?

Jono Bacon: Right.

John Jantsch: Kind of thing. So I think that happens a lot. I wonder if the low-hanging fruit for a lot of businesses would be to think in terms of segmenting their customers as communities.

Jono Bacon: Right.

John Jantsch: So in other words, our most engaged, our most loyal, our biggest advocates already, trying to find a way to kind of champion them, as opposed to just creating a community that’s going to be all comers.

Jono Bacon: Yeah, all things to all people? Yeah, you raised a really good point, John.

Jono Bacon: The way I tend to approach this is I think there’s kind of three models for general communities. One is that we have consumers, which is people who get together because they share an interest such as fans in a video game forum or people who follow you on social media. The second is champions, where people want to kind of go above and beyond to make your community even more valuable. So these people tend to write documentation or tend to advocate what you’re doing. And then the third is collaborators, people who work together on a shared product. I think you can apply those different models within the same company.

Jono Bacon: So for example, a client that I’m working with right now, we’ve created a community which is purely focused on their executive decision-maker customers, right? So these people are not going to go to a forum. they’re not going to spend time in a web browser hanging out with you. But they do care about good content, networking, dinners, mixers, that kind of thing. So it’s kind of close in some ways to kind of customer success and a little bit of marketing.

Jono Bacon: But then we have another community within the same organization, which is really focused on the people who are implementing their product. So these are much more technical people. And that’s a forum where people can ask questions, where they can stay up to date with new releases and notes and things like that.

Jono Bacon: Combining those two would be awful, because your executive decision-makers would never go to that forum and your implementers would never just want just a drip feed of content and events. So it is important, I think, to tune it pretty carefully.

John Jantsch: One of the things that I have seen, and again I don’t participate in a lot of communities today other than … Probably the most are really on Facebook groups that I see as communities. And one of the things I’ve noticed is the communities that I belong to that are the most active, that people are most engaged, members are being rewarded emotionally.

Jono Bacon: Yes.

John Jantsch: And what I mean by that is that a lot of times their thoughts, fears, rants are being validated by other people.

Jono Bacon: Right.

John Jantsch: Is that a healthy community? Or is that just a community where people can say, “Oh, good, I can go here and say what I want”?

Jono Bacon: I think there needs to be a balance. The way I think about this is we need to be honest about these different elements of the psychology of how people operate. So much of this, part of the reason why I often mention the psychology is I don’t think you can build software, for example, unless you understand the machine it’s running on. And I don’t think you can build communities or businesses unless you understand how people tend to think and operate.

Jono Bacon: And people do tend to be impulsive, and we do tend to get into echo chambers. Now, if you have an echo chamber where the message that’s echoing is one that is positive, one that is focused on building great things, then you can get a lot of really positive discussion. But if that echo chamber is all about negativity, then you can have the inverse effect.

Jono Bacon: So a lot of this, from what I’ve seen, is basically about having good leadership in place, right? So if you have, for example, leaders who are open and transparent and are able to engage with difficult subjects in a way that is objective and focused, you can actually have that kind of emotional response between particularly a company and the community members in a way that is constructive, as opposed to just ranting and bickering.

Jono Bacon: And what’s interesting is, again, psychologically, human beings tend to mimic people they respect, right? This is one of the reasons why if you have a terrible leader in place, you’ll often get a lot of bad behavior. So if you have good leaders who are demonstrating these positive patterns, you tend to get better psychological or … Sorry, collaboration results or communication results in that community. You also need to have, for example, a code of conduct and you need to make it very clear about what is acceptable, what isn’t acceptable.

Jono Bacon: But that emotional connection between people is something that we all crave and that when you can tap into it in the right way, community is incredibly powerful because what you can generate is years and years and years of positive engagement and relationships with your customers and with your users.

John Jantsch: So I think a lot of times when people talk about community these days, they are talking the online forum, you know, the places where people can gather. But can an objective or maybe an outcome of a community be that it actually turns into user groups that do meet ups and that-

Jono Bacon: Oh, yeah.

John Jantsch: That have a physical element to them?

Jono Bacon: Yeah, it’s actually … I think this is really important. I actually dedicate a chapter in the book to this because to me there is something so powerful about being in the same room as somebody, right? There’s a whole set of body language that’s missing online. And real relationships and friendships can be developed more quickly in person. They can be developed, of course, online. But the key thing in my mind is you’ve got to try and have the online and the in-person pieces connected. Kind of a fusion of the two.

Jono Bacon: So I’ll give you an example. Some years ago I used to work for a company called Canonical. And we used to run these developers summits, where we’d get together, we’d bring a whole bunch of our community members together in-person in different locations, and we’d basically plan out work for the next six months. So the community members could play a role in how we shaped the next version of Ubuntu.

Jono Bacon: And there were a lot of people who couldn’t attend those events, either because they couldn’t afford to get there, they couldn’t travel physically or whatever. So what we would do is each of those discussion sessions would actually have a chat channel where people could listen along with an audio feed, and they could actually type into the chat channel and that would be reflected in the sessions. We connected the online people and the in-person people together.

Jono Bacon: Now, some of that doesn’t work completely. That’s not going to work, for example, at a social event generally. But in terms of those working sessions, it worked pretty well. And then, for example, just being able to reflect the output of the in-person session online as well.

Jono Bacon: So there are many examples of people forming local meetups, local groups. I’ve done this with a whole bunch of companies that I’ve worked with, where you get the value of that in-person kind of engagement, but then the online piece can connect in between those events. So you go to an event on a Tuesday night, for example, and then the next event is two or three weeks later. But ordinarily with just meetups, you wouldn’t have any kind of engagement between those two events. But if you wire in the online piece, then you’re keeping people engaged throughout that time.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and I see that happen all the time. You meet somebody at a conference one year and then you stay engaged through LinkedIn and other things. And then all of a sudden-

Jono Bacon: Exactly.

John Jantsch:  Next year, now you’re looking forward to seeing each other as opposed to just a chance meeting again. So it definitely has that aspect.

Jono Bacon: And yeah, and it’s all about that, like I said, building that momentum. Because if you only have these spikes of people spending time with each other, then it’s very difficult to build that momentum. But if you see a consistent kind of growth curve, then then it’s much easier to build that habit.

John Jantsch: Speaking with Jono Bacon. He’s the author of People Powered.

John Jantsch: So Jono, where can people find out more about you and your book?

Jono Bacon: So my website is jonobacon.com. J-O-N-O, bacon as in the delicious meat, dot com. And you can find the book is linked on there, but you can go to jonobacon.com/peoplepowered. And the book is going to be out in November and we’re taking preorders. And I put together a preorder package where preorder folks can get a whole set of additional perks, such as early access to the book, exclusive video content, a whole load of discounts, access to a knowledge base, and all that kind of stuff. So you can find out more about that on the website.

John Jantsch: Awesome, and we’ll have a link to the preorder page or the preorder bonuses in the notes if you want to check those out.

John Jantsch: So, Jono, thanks for joining us today. And hopefully we’ll run into you out there on the road someday.

Jono Bacon: Sounds good. Thank you, John.

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