A Go to Guide to Run a Community
Communities are an integral component of the tech industry. Communities put out these amazing meetups and conferences where you get to meet people, collaborate, share ideas and inspire and get inspired. I have been running tech communities in Chennai for the past 3 years. I actively run Build2learn and WomenTechMakers Chennai.
Every job come with its own set of complexities, and leading a community is no less. It is a tough craft, tougher than being a software engineer.
A community helps many people, and as a lead, it is your job to keep the community alive and motivated. But, recently I went through burnout, nothing bad but I could not keep the communities alive. I took a step back from the communities and became more of an observer over a contributor.
You won’t master a skill if you keep at it, at one point you need to take a step back and strategize. For the past 4 months I gave myself that space to think strategize. So when we planned our August meetup for womentechmakers, everything just fell in the right place.
In the rest of the blog, I will share the strategies, hacks, and approaches you can follow to run your community seamlessly.
No Audience? No Problem!
When you are brand new community, you will have nothing to start with. You won’t know whom to reach out for the venue, speakers, participants etc.,
Don't let this uncertainity demotivate you. This is the opportunity to paint the empty canvas with your brightest picture.
Just announce a meetup and do it. I still remember the first Womentechmakers(WTM) Chennai meetup where I was a speaker, 2 organizers, and 1 attendee. Yes, a 4 member meetup. Our last event had 60 participants, 7 volunteers.
Things will get better. Word of mouth is powerful; it will do the job. Just focus on delivering quality. Rest will fall in its place over time.
Do it Yourself
Communities associated with brands like Google, Facebook, etc., will draw a lot of attention immediately after its launch. You can look at Google Developer Group(GDG) and Facebook Developer Circle(FDC) and WTM to some extent faced this challenge. There will be people who would want to volunteer for you. There was a time in WTM when the number of people who wanted to help us was more than the number of attendees.
As ambassadors, we decided to keep them at bay.We had to master the craft of running a meetup before sharing work. Though doing it all by yourself is kind of overkill, you will understand all the parts involved in running a community, creating connections, logistics, sponsors, speakers and so on.
While you are at doing everything by yourself, It is important to keep a log of everything that you do. Even the tiniest things like "Is the projector working?", "Are the refreshments in?". After our August meetup, I listed down all the tasks we did together and I have a list of 25 items. Interesting ones are “Sitting near the laptop and switching slides, keeping track of the time.” These logs will come in handy when you later want to delegate tasks.
Every meetup involves 1-5 repeated tasks. Most of them involves a lot of writing emails. With logs in place, you will have a lot to work upon. For example, I created a bunch of templates to use for speaker invites, venue requests, social media posts, etc., This is a great time saver and comes in handy when you plan an event. You can use that time to focus on the strategic side of things.
Automate Wherever Possible
Getting a venue, Getting speakers, registrations, email, huff... These things can tire you especially if you are a techie like me and hate logistics, but here is where you let your technical juices flow in.
Bring in your automation skills where ever possible. Write a sheets script to send emails to all your registrants. Use IFTTT to send out those social media posts. Find tools that will make your job easier. Spending time on finding the right tools will save you often when you are running the show.
This is not a strategy but an important attribute of any community. A new community never gets its audience on its first meetup. As I already mentioned, Build2learn’s first audience set was 10, WTM Chennai’s 1st meetup was of 4 people but today we get a solid 100+ registration. Be consistent and organize meetups every month. People will soon start seeing your mission and join on that path.
Bringing in those helping hands
You figured out what works or doesn’t work for the community. You know the integral parts required to put together an event. Make sure you have enough clarity on the tasks you are doing. This is where the logs come in handy. Reach out to the forerunners of your community or people who have a similar vision as yours and ask for help. Bring in those volunteers.
Let me repeat this one more time, It is important to have a plan and framework for the volunteers to operate on before bringing them in. If not things can become messy.
For our WTM august meetup, I brought in 4 volunteers from Hindustan University. They are running women coding club and I don’t think we would find a better fit and to be honest they changed the standard of the event.
Everything has a learning curve, an email that takes you 10 minutes to write may take your volunteers two days. Keeping that in mind will come handy when estimating your work.
The second thing I realized is, it might look optimal to use people for their strongest skills. But remember, you are not running a company. A community is the only place where you would explore a different skill set. For the August meetup, I intentionally made the best host and blogger do social media and made the other volunteer a speaker.
It’s not a company to optimize on skills, it is a community for people to learn, explore and evolve. Let them explore the world they are not comfortable with. I promise it will bring a different personality out of them.
On the go decision
Despite having a framework, despite automating this and important thing to keep in mind is there will always be an “on the go decision”, E.g., When we announced the WTM meet up, a lot of men started registering to make us unable to accommodate women into the meetup.
What to do in such a case was not in any of my logs. That’s when you need to jump in and strategize on what’s best for the community. These are the things your volunteers need to learn from you “Your thought process”.
Speakers have the power to make or break an event, and some communities struggle to get new speakers. This is when you operate with what you have in hand. Start with your peers, convince them to give a talk. Tell them there is always a first time. Attend other meetups and poach the speakers. Ask your participants whether they want to give a talk in future events. For WTM, we put a field in registration form asking if they can speak at our event and we have 30 speakers lined up for our future events.
Quality > Quantity
Like I said, initially it is hard for people to understand your work. Always keep up on delivering quality to attain your mission and people will make time to consume it. Word of mouth is powerful, you want your audience to be telling their peers “they learned something new; they got inspired; and motivated”. They should be a part of a big community and so on.
Create a network
Putting out an event is a major component of a community but the by-product of it is a network of people helping each other, sharing knowledge, appreciating on success, sharing information. As a community leader, you need to create that network of people.
Any job that deals with people is really tough. Unlike programs, human beings are impossible to predict and even satisfy. As a community organizer it might get tiring sometimes but after signing off the event, realizing you impacted so many people’s lives is the best feeling in the world. Kudos to everyone who is doing that. I hope this blog comes in handy to help you in various aspects. Remember, your people are superheroes.