5 Ways to Build Community Amid a Crisis (And Why It Matters)

We live in challenging times. But in any challenge also exists an opportunity.

Today, it’s the fear and uncertainty sparked by the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak.

Tomorrow, your organization — or entire swaths of the population — could face another challenge.

That’s just one reason why building and cultivating a community is more important than ever.

Consider these words from Helen Keller: “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” The ability to build and grow in challenging times, just as you would in the best of times, is made easier and more meaningful within a community of shared intentions.

Communities provide support, connection and relief. They allow the most powerful unit, the small group, to accomplish things together and then scale within the larger group. Within a community, people feel just as comfortable celebrating as they do commiserating. Communities help people feel like they belong, that they have a voice, that their actions matter. Those feelings are powerful on an average day. Amid challenging circumstances, they can be the glue that holds fast, keeping your brand and audience together and working toward a common goal.

Your goal? Work on strategically building your community. Right now, this might even be more important if you had to or are considering canceling or postponing key annual meetings or gatherings.

Whether you’re a community building novice or expert, you can take steps in the coming days and weeks to strengthen the connections among your employees, members, audience and/or stakeholders. Start with these five tips.

1. Define your community — Before you can start conversations and help facilitate connections, you need to know your audience. Consider answering these questions:

  • Who does your community include?

  • Why are they an important part of your community?

  • What are some of their challenges?

  • What methods of communication do they prefer?

You could even take this visualization exercise a step further and sketch out personas of your key community members. This helps you understand them, their motivations, their role with respect to your organization, how to best reach them and what applicable questions or challenges you can help them solve.

2. Identify your community’s goals — Now that you have a clear picture of the people that comprise your community, use that insight to help collaboratively develop some strategic goals for your community. These goals should be driven and informed by the community members themselves.

  • Who can you tap from the community to be their voice in this conversation?

  • What information do they need or what do they want to accomplish?

  • Why?

  • And how can you help?

As you create these goals alongside the community, it helps to also reference strategic goals your organization or business may be working toward. Giving your community a chance to form goals that help accomplish these goals not only makes your work easier, but also gives community members a chance to feel truly invested in what you’re doing. The feelings of ownership and pride that come from being a stakeholder will not only help members of your community feel appreciated and recognized, but also that they have a seat at the decision-making table right next to you.

3. Start the conversation — By understanding your audience and what you hope to achieve together, you can start to create ways to converse, share and engage.

This is especially important in times of global uncertainty, such as what we’re facing now. Social distancing is keeping many people away from offices, gatherings, meetings and events. Seize the opportunity to let your community know you’re still invested in bringing them together, even if that unity is happening largely through digital methods. Consider tools like email newsletters, video chats, blog posts, social media channels and a branded mobile app to keep your community informed, engaged and invested.

Of course, you don’t need to deploy several types of communication at once! Take the following steps to start the conversation:

  • Revisit your community profiles and understand how they prefer to converse and be contacted.

  • As you experiment with these methods, understand that community building is a continual work in progress.

  • Refine your methods and tactics as you progress and learn even more about your audience.

  • Be receptive to feedback, and make it easy for community members to provide that input.

  • Better yet, ask your community members to be the ones to lead these conversations and reach-outs, giving them the stage to talk about the things that matter most to them.

4. Approach your calendar with flexibility — Convening is leadership. This means that events are typically a significant part of community building. Conferences, meetings and work sessions give community members a chance to learn, share, build relationships and solve problems face-to-face, strengthening not only individual connections, but also the entire community.

Yet when you’re forced to cancel, postpone or rethink an event, that can throw your community-building strategy into a tailspin. Take some deep breaths and a few steps back and reassess how you can still bring your community together in a different way.

Look at what you have scheduled and what you need to modify.

  • What did you want to accomplish during that event?

  • How can you still work toward those goals in a different format?

Can you:

  • Bring together smaller groups in virtual workshops?

  • Keep your community updated with recurring conference calls?

  • Foster virtual discussions or working sessions in places like a mobile app or a dedicated LinkedIn group?

Think of it this way: by keeping your community connected and engaged amid difficult circumstances, you’ll help strengthen those bonds and provide some much-needed stability and reassurance to those who need it. And you’ll also position your community to hit the ground running when challenges ease.

5. Keep the momentum going — Consistency is key to successful community building. Think of it this way: you can’t simply start a conversation and then walk away. Instead, outline the steps you’ll take to keep community-building a continual priority. Build a calendar for your communications, for example, so you can track the what, when and how of your outreach. This can also help you identify what sort of messaging, content and assets you need to keep your community informed and connected.

If community-focused gatherings and events aren’t already part of your strategy, start to think about ways you can bring your community together, even if those gatherings look a little different right now than they normally would. And again, don’t forget to encourage feedback and leadership from your community directly to more effectively measure your efforts and what you can change or refine to make them even more successful.

Do you remember the old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day?” Well, the same applies to your community. You aren’t going to build a community in a day, especially in the midst of challenging circumstances. Instead, focus on the small steps you can take now to bring your community together. Those small steps often lead to bigger actions, and that’s what community building is all about.

What we know is this: organizations that focus on strength in community in times of triumph are the ones that thrive in times of crisis. In addition to these helpful tips, are you ready to talk about your community as a whole and how we can best continue to strengthen it? Wellington can help you get there.

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