I have recently been following Racheal Cook of the Yogipreneur and her ♥ Your Community Blog Tour. The purpose of this tour was to offer heart-centered entrepreneurs across the blogosphere an opportunity to chime in with different perspectives on how to build an online community. I was interested in this conversation for several reasons.
- I got to read all about what works and what doesn’t work as far as online community building goes from other conscious entrepreneurs around the web. I have a soft spot for learning how different businesses work.
- I got to “meet” other conscious entrepreneurs from around the blogosphere, who I then connected with if their work resonated with me on a personal level. This blog tour made my networking easier because it lumped a bunch of people I’d like to meet all in one place.
- It got me thinking about community and how I want to build my community here at Ashley Josephine Wellness.
How the Yoga Community Model Translates Online
I learned a ton from reading others’ ideas on community building, but it got me thinking about how the yoga community can translate to an online space.
Good yoga communities are safehouses for being you. You can show up in a mess and someone will be there to comfort you. You can show up in the best mood in the world, and the teacher will have something to say to inspire you. In good yoga communities you feel safe, heard, seen, and known – if you want to be. If not, you can just as easily glide on through as you please and that’s just fine too.
In physical yoga spaces, everyone has a common goal – to feel good. You’re surrounded with like-minded people from all walks of life. Over time, a culture develops in which everyone contributes to the uniqueness of what you receive each and every time you sit down on your mat.
The walls of a shared space keep your inner secrets safe, just as they safeguard the person next to you. Everyone shares in this collective of safety, personal expression, freedom, and joy. This is community, whether you actively participate or not. There’s an energetic pull influenced by everything from the aesthetics to the individuals surrounding you.
But how do you translate that online and why would you want to?
Before the internet, the yoga studio’s walls were confined by geography. Now the wisdom of the practice can be shared by all, regardless of location.
Location alone need not be the limiting factor introducing us to other like-minded, yet very different, people.
Meet Your Goals Online
In fact, it’s this vision of openness and collaboration across cultures, aligned by one goal – to live well, be well, and feel well, that excites me personally. What does it mean to live well, be well, and feel well in Chicago vs. Tucson? What about London vs. Sydney? How can our combined experiences create a unique experience for each and every one of us to craft our own inner guide to living, being, and feeling well? And how much more can we learn from people with different ways of being?
We would never know if it weren’t for the incredible opportunity of community!
How to Participate in an Online Community
But how do you participate in a community that is not physical?
As a community member, there are rules of engagement just as much as their are best practices for community organizers to hold the space for others to be uniquely themselves.
I like to follow the yoga studio model closely because it serves as such a fabulous example for strong community.
A major difference though is that instead of dropping in for a class at noon and paying $5-$25, you can drop by anytime you want, any day of the week, and sample whatever you’d like from an online community, provided the community is organized for you in the right way.
There is no membership fee month-to-month, although, I think there are creative ways to make that happen in an online space.
Engagement comes in many different forms. You can chit-chat via social media, perhaps comment on a blog, or even converse via email. Eventually you might share a Skype conversation, and maybe someday you’ll even meet for tea in person. You can even be engaged if you’re reading, thinking, and processing the ideas of a community. You might not think you have much to add to the conversation, but by being there, you already have. You’ve changed your own perspective on things, and maybe that will lead to a new revelation down the road that inspires you to speak up elsewhere. There are direct and indirect benefits to being in any type of community, in any medium.
Why Participate in an Online Community?
Why would you want to participate in an online community at all when you have a perfectly capable, beautiful, wonderful, familiar space in your own town to provide what you need?
To gain new ideas, new perspectives, reminders, and inspiration. To get out of your rut, into a new groove and to make friends around the world who are seeking the exact same thing as you.
How cool to chat online with Susie from France. Rarely would you get that opportunity at Yoga on Main.
How do you participate in an online community if you can’t see faces, talk to people, and hear about their parents, kids, and spousal arguments day in and day out? Online, you get to know a different kind of personality. Most of the time it’s not so different from the person behind the screen, but there’s something about a metal machine that makes people more likely to share stories they wouldn’t utter in person. That is special.
How to Tell You Frequent a Thriving Community
Communities thrive best, both online and off, when there is a general agreement that everyone is on equal standing. The organizer deals with the design details and the marketing and makes sure you as the participant get the information you want to receive, but other then that, the organizer wants to know what you think just as much as you want to hear more from the organizer. A community is a two-way street called Sharing Lane.
Sharing doesn’t mean you have to bare all or make 27,000 new best friends – it just means you’re willing and committed to show up for yourself and others if they’re going to show up for you.
A thriving community is one in which consistent sharing happens whether it’s between members or between a member and the organizer. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a community is thriving or not, especially if there’s not much visible conversation happening. Yet, sometimes participants never know how many emails the organizer receives from readers who loved a particular piece. Participants only know how content changes their own lives. Unless they have direct conversations about it with others (which, hopefully, they do because that’s what great content inspires), it can be hard to feel the energy of a thriving online community.
At the end of the day, what matters to most entrepreneurs is that you did something with the information you gleaned from a blog post. You thought about it more, shared it with someone else, journaled about it or used it as a quote in your next yoga class. Those are special moments for entrepreneurs and it’s gems like those that infuse new energy into the organizer’s ability to continue creating for the community members. It’s invisible momentum that serves as the foundation of a thriving community, and you’ll feel it as the participant too.
But Who Has Time For Another Community?
People often dismiss the power of belonging to an online community because there they are short on time or they don’t see the immediate value.
Think of it this way: instead of wasting time on Facebook for 30 minutes, what if you were able to read some really great content from someone whom you respect and admire and whose community makes you feel seen, heard, respected, admired, and loved? What a better experience than spending 25 minutes feeling like crap about yourself because someone you know just won first place in the chocolate cake COMMUNITY bake-off.
Everyone has time for what matters most to them. If your goal is to live well, be well, and feel well, then get yourself into the communities that help you achieve those goals and offer you consistent support, online and off.
The funny thing about the word community is that you can break it down into two parts. I might be completely making this up because I don’t know the etymology of the word, but when I look at it I see communication and unity. Like-minded people coming together to communicate the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts, sometimes it’s hard, but that’s why you’ve got others around you to help get you through the tough times.
Baring it All
As the ♥ Your Community Blog Tour showed, building a community is no easy task and it looks different for every entrepreneur out there who tries to do it.
I myself don’t have the answers because I haven’t figured out the secret sauce. Behind that is my fear of really building what I want. And behind that is my fear of success. Crazy how that works, huh.
In Seth Godin’s most recent book, Icarus Deception, he talks about choosing yourself. Rather than wait to be picked or validated by someone else, instead choose yourself and find a community you can belong to. A community that will make you feel like you belong. A community of likeminded people sharing similar but DIFFERENT ideas. Do it for your own self-growth, and you’ll be amazed how much your life changes.
A yoga community becomes big because of the work the owner puts into it. This includes ensuring teachers and staff are really good at what they do, making people feel safe, meeting people where they’re at, asking for feedback, and getting out in the world around them rather then hiding on the yoga mat. It includes making mistakes, supporting others, and always communicating the truth, to both themselves, their staff, and their community.
If you love your community, in whatever form that takes, your community will love you. The real question is, what is holding you back from finding one that nourishes your soul?