Community Building

The Business of Belonging with David Spinks

The era of businesses powered by community is here and we are excited by its potential.

David Spinks chats with Sarah Shewey, Happily CEO and Founder, about what makes a community-driven business as well as his new book The Business of Belonging: How to Make Community your Competitive Advantage.

A sense of belonging, connection, shared purpose, feeling like you are connected to a group of people. And that’s the foundation of this work, you need that, that’s the fuel that makes it all work. And businesses are starting to become aware of that and make community a really core value for both internally - how do we make employees feel like they belong - and then externally - how do we make customers, partners, investors feel like they are all connected and they belong.

David Spinks, Co-Founder of CMX and Vice President of Community at Bevy

David Spinks is a rockstar in the community-driven business movement

As a 3x startup founder and an experienced community leader, David has spent a decade advising and training hundreds of organizations (such as Google, Facebook, and Airbnb) in community strategy. Simply put, he is an expert on the intersection of community and business.

In 2014 he co-founded CMX, an international hub for community professionals to support each other through education, and events. Bevy, an enterprise software to power community-driven events, acquired CMX in 2019. David now serves as the Vice President of Community at Bevy to assist companies launch and scale event-driven community programs.

David is now an author with the release of his book, The Business of Belonging, How to Make Community your Competitive Advantage, which is the #1 New Release in Direct Marketing on Amazon! He shares all he has learnt about what makes a winning community strategy, from the fundamental concepts to practical engagement techniques.

For more on his book and for all the expert insights listen to David on Happily Live with Sarah Shewey, CEO and Founder of Happily, and read on for a quick summary.

A few fundamental notes from their chat

There is a difference between building an audience vs a community

Instead of constantly explaining or showing the value of your business or product to people, a strong community will allow members to create and share that value for you.

Traditional businesses have always been about marketing and building an audience and to build an audience you essentially just help people, you create value, a product, something that they consume. To build a community you help people help each other. You create spaces and platforms for them to create value for each other rather than you, the business, having to create all the value for them.

David Spinks, Co-Founder of CMX and Vice President of Community at Bevy

Success lives where business and belonging overlap

The sweet spot to build a community is the place where the value to the business and the value for the members balance. It is the space where they overlap that opportunity and success can be found.

If you go into building community and you are only optimizing for profit you’re not really focusing on how you serve members and really give them a true sense of connection and belong and value, then your community is not going to have engagement...

David Spinks, Co-Founder of CMX and Vice President of Community at Bevy

Have clear business objectives for your community

By their very nature, a community grows towards a level of self-sustainability. Starting with a solid foundation of business goals for the community, and a clear understanding of the ways in which you want community to benefit the business, is essential in knowing how and where to guide this ship once it leaves the dock.

If you only focus on creating engagement and you’re not starting with an understanding with what is the business objective you’re trying to drive, how it will ultimately result in ROI, you’ll end up having a community that is engaged but you can’t justify the investment, you don’t know what the return is…

David Spinks, Co-Founder of CMX and Vice President of Community at Bevy

Some stats and figures for you

  • Companies with a Vice President of Community have grown to approx. 50 - 100 around the world
  • Globally companies with a Chief Community Officer role have grown to approx. 10
  • Only 12% of community teams feel confident in their ability to measure the business value of community
  • 88% of communities have at least one dedicated community manager
  • 86% of business say community is critical to their mission
  • Community saw more investment through the COVID-19 pandemic with 56% of companies now viewing community as more essential

Have a framework to calculate the ROI of community

Being able to clearly see the value of your community to your business will give you the confidence and information you need to justify and invest more in it. Although gathering these metrics can be tricky, David has developed a framework he refers to as The SPACES Model; Support Product Acquisition Contribution Engagement Success. He dives deep into that in his new book, and has a summary here via the CMX website.

Virtual events are considered more valuable and powerful than ever before

Largely due to the pandemic, virtual events are a format that both companies and participants are now more comfortable with. Businesses have seen the lasting benefits of virtual events; they are highly scalable, they are more affordable, more people can be reached, it has much greater accessibility, and they can be held more frequently than in-person events.

I think virtual events themselves are here to stay because they provide a really scaleable balance to the very time and cost intensive in-person events.”

David Spinks, Co-Founder of CMX and Vice President of Community at Bevy

Hybrid event programs will become more popular

Moving forward event programs for communities will be a mix of virtual and in-person events. There will always be a certain sense of magic that happens when a group of people meet in the same physical space, and so, in-person events are important to communities. Ideally the yearly events calendar for a community would have some events as 100% virtual, and others as 100% in-person.

The reality is that virtual tools do not give you the same sense of proximity, connection and serendipity that you get in-person.

David Spinks, Co-Founder of CMX and Vice President of Community at Bevy

David is sceptical of hybrid events

The idea of a hybrid event that simultaneously creates an equal sense of connectivity for both the virtual and in-person participants is not something we are likely to see a rise in. They are really two separate events happening at once with two separate experiences for those participating. If the goal of an event is to nurture connections between members, it is ideal to separately utilize the strengths of in-person and virtual events.

[A hybrid event is] a lot harder to do than people think, it’s a lot more expensive to do than people think, it’s not an ideal experience for people because people who are watching online generally just feel left out from the in-person experience, people in-person feel overwhelmed by all the online people and they just wanna talk to the people there in-person.

David Spinks, Co-Founder of CMX and Vice President of Community at Bevy

Would you like some more?

Here are links to resources and things mentioned in this Happily Live:

April 7, 2021

How to Build a Mighty Strong Community Online with Gina Bianchini

Building a community online is a craft. Its many moving parts should fold and flow together to create a structure that supports, uplifts and serves each one of its members.

Gina Bianchini, an expert on network effects, chats with Sarah Shewey, Happily CEO and Founder, about what makes a community thrive online, the changing nature of communities in the digital space and how to reframe your approach to building a community for your business.

I define community very narrowly… which is; are you creating the conditions by which people can meet and build relationships with other people? Think about it as member to member connections.

Gina Bianchini, CEO and Founder, Mighty Networks

Gina Bianchini is a pioneering woman in the tech space

She is CEO and Founder of Mighty Networks, a flexible web platform that ‘brands with purpose’ can use to embrace and nurture their community via online courses, events, memberships and subscription content all in one spot. Their mission is to guide in a new era of digital businesses that are built on the power of community.

The precursor to Mighty Networks was the pioneering social networking website, NING, which Gina co-foundered with Marc Andreessen in 2004. NING is a platform which allows an online presence and community to be built from the ground up.

For all the juicy expert knowledge listen to Gina on Happily Live with Sarah Shewey, CEO and Founder of Happily, and read on for a quick summary.

Some inspiring takeaways from the chat

Be the ultimate dinner party host

Think about building a community like hosting a dinner party. Not all your guests know each other, but you know all of them. You know what they have in common and what makes each one of them amazing human beings. So as the ultimate host you would carefully craft an environment in which organic conversations can be fostered, in which your guests feel comfortable and especially in which connections can grow independently of you - so the party can continue even while you step away into the kitchen to check on dinner.

What is our ultimate goal? It is to create a community or a network of people that gets more valuable to every member with each new person that joins and contributes and we are gonna use many different tools in our toolbox to make that network as valuable to as many people as possible.

Gina Bianchini, CEO and Founder, Mighty Networks

Social media is for gaining followers, not for building interconnected communities

Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are, as Gina describes, ‘moving in the opposite direction’ to building communities. They are certainly powerful digital marketing tools and important for brand awareness. However, they are mostly one sided conversations without much significant relationship building happening. If your business goal is to build a thriving community, social media platforms are wonderful tools in your box, but they are not the best ones for this job.

So if you think about DMs and the fact that you have Stories and DMs, that’s actually, ‘I talk out at you, you talk back at me’, but nobody's meeting or building relationships with each other. The comments sections, people continue to try to build communities in comments sections but the reality is, it’s really hard.

Gina Bianchini, CEO and Founder, Mighty Networks

A simply recipe for a mighty powerful community

All successful communities, as Gina explains, have cultivated the same sort of environment and culture. Here are some common threads:

  • People feel part of something bigger than themselves
  • There is an overarching common goal or objective
  • Everyone is learning something new together
  • It is a safe space and a support network

Communities are built online before they can also be successful in the real world

A community with intention blossoms in the digital space, and in-person events are just another way for members to connect with each other. By saying ‘online community’ we are focusing on ways in which a community stays connected and interacts in the digital space, inbetween or in spite of real life events. When you focus primarily on the online interactions of the community you are cultivating lasting connections by establishing strong patterns of communications for long after an in-person conference or event has passed.

When you’re thinking about a conference you are better off thinking about how you get people before they come. Before they come. The energy around joining something online that is digital, is before the event, not after.

Gina Bianchini, CEO and Founder, Mighty Networks

Did something spark your interest?

Here are links to resources and other stuff mentioned in this Happily Live:

March 31, 2021