The Next for Me team was at CMX Summit last week, learning about the latest community trends from thought leaders across myriad industries, from tech to wellness to gaming to online education. We have deep roots in online community (Jeff and Carole met when he was heading up community at E*TRADE and she was manager of moderation services at discussion software company WellEngaged), and we weren’t too surprised that even after two decades, some things never change.
Here are a few of our takeaways from the summit:
The Human Touch is Still Important
CMX founder David Spinks sat down with Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor, to learn how the social network grew from a single suburb in the Bay Area to serving over 90% of neighborhoods in the U.S. Turns out they managed to scale so large by starting small– reaching out to area leaders, sending physical postcards to invite new members, and even showing up at neighborhood improvement meetings. In the early days they connected personally with community leaders to make sure their needs were met.
Later in the day The Mighty founder Mike Porath spoke about going from a career in journalism to creating a thriving health support community. The Mighty is fueled by community and user generated content, and each contributor receives a hand-written thank you note from The Mighty staff. Each of these contributors becomes a powerful ambassador in their own right.
Your Idea Doesn’t Have to Scale Right Away
Nextdoor grew from boots on the ground recruitment of community leaders, and heavily vetted early adopters to make sure they were setting the right tone. Putting up barriers to entry seems counterintuitive, but it insured a welcoming environment as the site grew.
Language learning app Duolingo‘s Laura Nestler similarly advocated for testing new ideas even if they don’t scale. Being smart and conservative about how they used resources made it possible for Duolingo to grow to host over 500 events a week for language learners around the globe.
The Best Laid Plans…
The Mighty founder Mike Porath shared his companies planned building blocks… and how they promptly threw them away in the face of real life challenges. Duolingo’s team make the most basic viable products, and only invest time and resources in the ones that show the most promise. Time and again, we heard from successful companies that weren’t afraid to cut ideas that weren’t working and head in a new direction.
Want a more diverse community? Go out and make one!
We were really inspired by the panel on diversity and inclusion, moderated by Tiffany Yu of Diversibility, with Olatunde Sobomehin of StreetCode Academy, Hannah Levy of Tech Ladies, and Wayne Sutton of Change Catalyst and Tech Inclusion. They talked about the best practices for creating and enforcing a community code of conduct that nurtures a safe and welcoming environment, “Strong Spaces” where members can open up and be their best selves.
Wayne ended the session with some common sense advice: You want more people of color, more LGBTQ participants, more underrepresented members? Go out and meet them! He encouraged all of us in the audience to go out and meet people, engage on social media with those we want to hear more from.
We came away from the conference excited and more convinced than ever that we’re taking Next for Me down the right path.
From the beginning, we’ve opted to grow the Next for Me audience slowly. It’s important to us that we get it right, and address the concerns that are important to you. Surveys, focus groups, and face to face in-person events help us better understand you and constantly evolve.
Our team takes a similar tack with the development of our partner offerings, pivoting when it makes sense to change course. We’re doing all of this on a lean startup budget, so of course we’re inspired by talks like the one titled “3 Million Registered Users. Zero Marketing Dollars”!
The common thread running through all the panels and talks was that despite the technology powering the biggest communities, the best of them inspire the people driving the content to reach out, get off their computers and mobile devices, and make a real life connection.