Building comminuty is a team sport. Uncommunity #8

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Experts AMA! *drum roll* *🥁 🥁 🥁 Introducing…

Mark Birch is the author of the book Community in a Box. He is involved in building communities for more than a decade. He is currently working as Principal Startup Advocate for Amazon AWS.

Building communities with or without events. What's the advantage for communities with events?

Communities have always had events at the core because events are the catalyst that brings people together. We forgot about that in the online realm because the focus of communities shifted to the exchange of useful knowledge or building relationships in a distributed way. Think Reddit or Stack Overflow or Facebook. Even in the online space, however, events are an important mechanism to build ongoing interest and continuous engagement. The difference is that “events” look different, taking the form of contests, games, webinars, and other virtual experiences. The reality is that all communities rely upon events as an important mechanism to drive long-term interest and engagement.

Define a sustainable community?

When I was building and scaling the Enterprise Sales Forum, a community to bring B2B sales professionals together, I would ask people signing up to the community how they heard of us. In the early days, most of the responses were “Mark Birch”. There was a point about 12 months into the life of the community when I noticed that the majority of the responses cited friends or colleagues at work. The community had grown beyond my social network and beyond NYC where the community started, growing in cities across the US and throughout the world. This is what encouraged me to embark on an expansion plan to build chapters in Canada, across Europe, and eventually into Asia. The lesson I took away from this was that your best marketing is always word of mouth. The only reason the community has lasted for over six years is people trust the community and are willing to share actively about it. Look for those signs of word of mouth, cause when that happens, you have a true community growing and becoming self-sustaining.

Community-in-a-Box. Give us a highlight of the book and why events are important?

Sometimes in the process of scaling a community, you will hit a wall where things that worked earlier do not seem to work anymore. I share a story in the book of my first foray into expanding the Enterprise Sales Forum outside NYC. Boston was the most logical city to launch the first chapter outside NYC, and the first two events were well attended. Then the next event had no more than a dozen attendees. The next event was just as embarrassing. I could have written off the experience and shut down any thoughts of expansion. Instead, I doubled down on what I knew worked, focused on execution, and the result was a complete turnaround that led to Boston being one of our most highly engaged communities.

One brand community you admire and why?

This is self-serving as I founded the community, but I am going to say the Enterprise Sales Forum. What is special about it though is that the community had evolved to the point that I was able to walk away during a very difficult time in my life and the community still functioned as a global organization. Very few communities survive from the long absence of a core founder, but the volunteers and teams held strong and made things work. I have always fundamentally believed that the strongest communities are the ones where the founders are eventually unnecessary. Why? Because it means the community is about the vision and values and not about the leaders and personalities.

One community professional you admire and why?

Derek Anderson, the founder of Startup Grind. He started very much as I did on, grew chapters across the US and worldwide, and is still going strong ten years later. He did two smart things. First, he realized to scale, he needed a better platform, which he built into what is now Bevy, an enterprise-class community and virtual events platform. Second, he bought CMX, the leading community for community managers, and folded it into Bevy. Derek has continued to invest and foster the growth of that community, which shows me how important and vital a voice he is in the fast-growing community space.

Advice to someone just getting started?

Don’t go building a community on your own. Get like-minded folks that you know and trust to join you. Building a community really is a team sport in the beginning until the community can become self-sustaining and can take more of the responsibility and work off your shoulders.

Follow Mark Birch on Twitter, read about his book here.

What else we’re reading?

What’s new at Uncommunity?

  • Experts to follow:
  • Carter Gibson - Internal Community Programs Lead at Google
  • Noele Flowers - Running all things communities at Teachable
  • Tools added:
  • Habitate - Don’t just build a company. Grow a Community
  • Chaordix - The beginning of many beautiful relationships
  • Reports added:
  • Online communities - Fewer, truer fans.

Go to to find out about the latest tools and all new jobs that we added this week from companies like Morning Brew, Public, Picsart, Venafi. Check out the jobs.

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