What does community building mean? At its core it is to create a space where people feel valued, respected and able to make contributions.
Kofi Annan, Former United Nations Secretary General, said once, “Sport is a universal language. At its best it can bring people together, no matter what their origin, background, religious beliefs or economic status.”
Being a sports organisation means you already have access to a “language” that will keep members engaged. Here are some ways to help you build a great community with deep connections that goes beyond just a sports activity.
Learn to listen
There are two ways to go about community building, either do what Steve Jobs of Apple did, which was to make a product to his exact specifications (that would be the iPhone) and bet that people will love it. This is the crazy way to do it, and is the exception rather than the rule. Rather, most sure-footed way to build a community however is to listen to what people in your community have to say about it.
For LaLiga, the Spanish football association, that meant listening to their community when they said they wanted to make the games more family-friendly. This meant making sure there was no violence, cleaning up the match-fixing, and inappropriate behavior.
“We listen to the fan clubs. I have a good relationship with them where we talk every week, ” shared Eduard Castell from LaLiga Hong Kong, “The end goal is to show that we are here. LaLiga, despite being such a big brand, is like really familiar with you in a friendly way.”
Don’t guess what your members want. Instead, just ask them, and find ways to get them involved with shaping and driving their community.
Run more events
A community is not successful if it is just those community managers talking to the rest of its members. Rather, it is successful when members are actively reaching out to each other, gathering, building relationships and supporting on another.
One of the simplest ways to get members to engage with each other more is to run more and better events. And don’t even think about running events without using event software of one form or another. Good event technology takes away the hassle of running events, allowing you to run them more frequently.
Events mean that members have a reason to gather together. With sports, it is easy to provide a physical, mental, and sensory experience. Moreover, providing a great experience at events doesn’t just appeal to existing members of the community — it can also draw the interest of entirely new audiences as well. Another great way for events to grow a community is when you design events specifically with newcomers in mind.
Welcome new members
New members bring new life to any community. No group of friends is diminished by new friends joining in and adding to the whole. Helping new members to the community learn the ropes and get along with the existing community is an essential aspect of community building.
Oftentimes, newcomers need to be engaged quite frequently to be encouraged to join again. There is an art to being welcoming without seeming creepily earnest. Nevertheless email and messaging are non-invasive ways to talk to newcomers. Directing newcomers to a blog or social media page about your sports association can be a great way for them to familiarize with the community.
Never forget to run introductory games, training or play sessions just for the sake of outreach and welcoming those who might only be just getting started in your sport.
Make Community leaders
Every community has members that are more passionate and active than others. These key active community members form the cornerstone of every organization. They are the ones who start discussions or come up with new ideas.
Empower active members to help with community building by appointing them officially or unofficially to be community leaders and ambassadors. Give them the task to show new members the ropes. Don’t miss a chance to partner these leaders with those newcomers at your welcome events.
Communities are healthier when they have high degrees of leadership participation and a commitment to feedback. They’re also very attentive to the needs of new community members.
Recognizing leaders shows your community members that they can be recognized for their contributions, motivating them to do more. Find your key active community members and thank them for being an active and contributing part of the community.
Another way to empower and recognize leaders within the community of course it to their story to celebrate them.
Create and share stories
People are naturally tuned in to narratives and stories. That is what makes movies and novels so compelling. Tell amazing stories about your community members to show that you value them and don’t take them for granted. Then find a way to share those stories, whether it’s through social media like Nike does through Instagram, or through email newsletters.
As Wes Warfield from Nike explained, “We started realizing that people wanted to share the story of their athletic journey with Nike. By making this a part of our overall content and customer service strategy, we were able to increase shares on social media.”
Stories appeal to more and more people who are looking for a shared experience. Tying all these great stories together with a unique hashtag can be a great way to get the community ownership of its own stories. Sport England‘s #thisgirlcan is a hugely successful example.
Building a community helps you gain two incredible things, the community itself which supports and sustains your sport, and an army of advocates who can communicate your sports club or association’s values and brand to new audiences, and maybe even inspiring them to join in as well.
So what are you waiting for? Get right to it!