I'm David Spinks - I've fostered communities for 10+ years & wrote The Business of Belonging. AMA ๐Ÿ“–

David Spinks
46 replies
Hi everyone! For over 10 years I've worked at the intersection of community and business. I cofounded CMX which hosts a network of over 20K community-oriented professionals that we support with training, events, and research. CMX was acquired by Bevy, a platform that powers all of your virtual and in-person community events, where I am now the VP of Community. I also recently published my new book, "The Business of Belonging" where I share over a decade of knowledge on what a winning community strategy looks like, from metrics to techniques. I'm happy to share my experiences and answer any questions you may have on how to successfully build community, host events, measuring community business value, and building startups.


Tim Carambat
Hey David, first off I am reading your book right now "The business of belonging" while taking notes on how to more purposefully build a community and I have gleaned some really good information from it so far! My question right now is this - When building a social app the network effect seems to be critical, but to get to the point where that network effect can compound is hard. Is marketing the application or community via traditional methods at the start ever worth it or should one do more direct link building? Right now I have a passive side project that is all about people exchanging positive voice memos with others they may or may not know, its randomly matched. The thing is we are onboarding people that are 1 to 2 degrees of freedom from others so that people are exchanging with people they are at least familiar with. Do you think just reaching out and trying to get as many people onboard as possible is a better approach. More users == More connections? I know we cannot be a community for everyone and we should niche down to something, but was wondering also how you approach growth on a new community initially.
David Spinks
@tim_carambat thanks so much for reading the book Tim! WRT growth for communities and social apps, what I've learned is that it's really important to constrain the group you're focusing on at first to increase the odds that you'll get the critical mass required for people to experience the value of the app Airbnb started just in NY. Facebook started just in one college. Reddit started as one front page that primarily targeted developers. You can get more specific by location, interests, demographics, etc... By constraining the group, you can then experiment much more efficiently and affordably until you find community-market fit. When I ran community at a company called Zaarly, I think a big mistake we made was launching in too many cities at once. We spent millions on marketing but we had a "leaky bucket" and so our community wasn't being retained. If we wanted to try something new, it was hard, because we'd have to do it across all the cities we were in. Small is an advantage. While you're small, you can make the experience more intimate and personalized, you can learn a lot more, and build something that feels really special for your founding members. Once you find community-market fit with that constrained group, then you can start pumping marketing dollars into growing it.
Tim Carambat
@davidspinks It makes so much sense when you put it that way. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond! I really appreciate that!
Hi David, thanks for doing the AMA! A lot of makers & communities start off with great ideas & products but when new users join, it can be daunting for them to participate right way. I'm curious to hear what successful practices you've seen & experience to encourage new user participation.
David Spinks
@gabe__perez one concept I share in the book is called the "Community Commitment Curve". I learned about this tool from Douglas Atkin who ran global community at Meetup, and then Airbnb. When he was at Meetup, he was faced with a challenge where they wanted more members to host meetups. But when he went over the community member journey, he found that they were asking people to host meetups right after they signed up for platform. They were making too big of an ask, too quickly. The members weren't committed enough yet to make such a big contribution to the community. So he used the commitment curve to map out how over time, as a member's commitment goes up, they could make greater and greater asks. Simply put: start off by making small asks that are easy for the member to say yes to (ie. fill out your profile, introduce yourself, read a post, etc.) Then over time, you can make greater and greater asks. You can learn more about the commitment curve in this blog post: https://cmxhub.com/the-cmx-socia...
@davidspinks makes total sense, thanks so much for answering! Also, the blog is clutch. Going to share the Social Identity Cycle here for the community to take advantage of as well. ยท Identification. The person identifies with the community and is attracted to the social identity of the group. ยท Participation. The person takes some sort of action to participate in the community experience. ยท Validation. Participation is rewarded, making the person feel good about their participation and strengthening their sense of shared identity.
Adam Madden
@davidspinks Firstly, thanks for doing the AMA, I think we can all agree, they're super valuable in so many ways.. so thank you for putting the time & energy into doing this. Wow. That response to that question was so spot on! I almost didn't read your response because I felt as if the question didn't pertain to me, but in all reality, your explanation was something that I had been needing for a long time. I want to say THANK YOU! You genuinely just changed my whole outlook on a big project that I'm working on right now! Thanks again, buddy! @gabe__perez - Bro, thanks for asking the question I didn't know how to ask but needed SOOOO BAD! I owe ya bud! You guys have a wonderful rest of the day - God BLESS! - Adam Madden Community Founder & Leader @ Side Hustle Discovery
Curio Revelio
Hi David, thanks for the AMA! I believe a community is about give-and-take. But when money gets involved the relationship between the community and its admins changes. What is your advice on monetizing a community? When should one consider it?
David Spinks
@curio_revelio this is a great question that sits at the heart of a challenge so many people are thinking through right now. It's why I titled the book "The Business of Belonging". I wanted to dive into that tension between commerce and community. It can feel icky to mix community and profit. But in my opinion and experience, it's critical that community builders are able to monetize their communities. I've seen way too many community builders pour their heart and soul, and countless hours, into building their community, just to find themselves totally burned out because they couldn't hire more people, and invest the resources they need to make the community successful. There are many different ways you can monetize, that generally fall into three buckets: - charge for membership (eg paid subscriptions) - sell a product to members (eg software) - sell access to your members (eg advertising) Community building is extremely hard, emotionally taxing, and time-consuming work. It's time we shifted the mindset away from community being something that should just be done for free. Pay your community builders. On a membership level, money changes things. People are motivated to participate in communities not because of financial incentives, but because they feel an intrinsic motivation to build connections, to help others, to learn, etc. In the book, I talk about how when money is introduced, you switch the community dynamics from a "social norm" to a "market norm". According to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, introducing financial incentives can replace the intrinsic motivation that made someone want to participate in the first place. He described a scenario where a friend asks you to help them move. Of course, you'll do it, because they're your friend and you want to help them out. But if that same friend then offered you $100 to help them move, you'll now start thinking about it in terms of "market norms". You'll wonder, "Is it worth $100 for my time and energy? Why don't they just pay a professional mover?" This has been proven out in experiments, like one where lawyers were asked to do pro bono work for free and a percentage of them said yes. Then, when another group of lawyers were asked to do the same job, and they were offered payment that was far less than their usual rates, a much smaller number said yes. So you do have to be careful about how money is introduced into community. But without capital and resources, you'll never be able to reach the full impact of your community. It's about finding the right balance.
Aaron O'Leary
Hi David! Thanks for doing this. What has been the most surprising learning from managing communities for so long?
Alex Brik
What is your advice on what you need to start building your first community?
David Spinks
@alex_brik start by talking to the members that you want to reach. Before you build anything. Just get on the phone with 10 people and you'll learn an incredible amount about what kind of community you can build.
Christopher Lowiec
Hey David! How you got your first investor?
David Spinks
@chrislovc for my first startup, we applied to 500 Startups and got into Batch 6. I'm a big fan of accelerators.
Ryan Hoover
Yo, Spinks! Community is such a buzzword now days. It seems like we need more nuanced, refined words to describe different types of communities. For example, a large public community with many sub-communities (e.g. Reddit) is very different than a small private community (e.g. a local sports team). Curious if you have any thoughts on this. And I realize, I'm getting into the weeds. ๐Ÿ˜…
David Spinks
@rrhoover I love getting into the weeds on this stuff, especially with you ;) Yeah our lack of language around different kinds of communities is definitely a cause for a lot of confusion and frustration these days. People are using the word "community" to describe everything from a small group of friends, to all of their customers, to entire countries... What's interesting is that community is used both as a descriptor of a group of people (a community of Marvel fans) and it's used to describe a sensation, or feeling, that people have (to feel a sense of community). So whenever people get into the weeds about trying to define a group as a community, or not a community, I try to divert the conversation from describing the group toward describing the emotion. Do people feel a sense of community in that group? Then to them, it is a community. Now, I do think an improved classification system for kinds of communities would be very useful. We have some terminology like: - online communities - internet communities - communities of practice - communities of passion - small groups - customer community - circles etc... These kinds of terms do lend a little more specificity to the kind of community that we're talking about. And language can still be invented. It wasn't too long ago we didn't have a word for a "meetup" until Meetup came along and coined it. Now when someone says they're hosting a "meetup", you get a much more clear idea of the kind of event they're hosting and how it's different from a conference, a meeting, or other kinds of events. Language will always be evolving. I'm sure we're going to see a lot of new words coined in the world of community in the coming years.
Sharfunnisa Quadri
Is there a step by step how to guide on community building? where do you build communities? how do you find people that think like you? also why should an entrepreneur build communities? I have a few communities on facebook (groups) - i just do not like the toxicity and algorithm of the platform.
David Spinks
@sharfunnisa_quadri I will humbly recommend my new book! http://cmxhub.com/book I wrote it to answer these exact questions (=
What is your advice on what you need to start building your first community?
Younes Al Hyar
Hey David, I'm launching a platform to help Small Creators make money without Ads & Sponsors, simply by connecting with their Community. What niche should I address and how to convince them to use our Website ?
David Spinks
@younes_al most successful communities are built by people who were just solving their own problem. Start with the niche you have experience with.
Arun Kodaganti
I believe this is also sort of community building activity!! My question is to build a community there should be a string that attaches the people in the community of people to the organization and some sort of bond in b/w community members.. How could one can nurture those two in general?
What if we join existing communities, add a ton of value there, build our personal brand and then from there build our own community? Is it shortcut for building a community, fast?
David Spinks
@samandarco that's a great way to build community. For some people, they'll get much more value out of being an active member of an existing community than building up an entire community themselves.
Daniel Bustamante
Hey Dave, thanks so much for doing this ๐Ÿ™ My questions: what are the right metrics to look after and keep track of as community builders? Is there a quantifiable way to know whether or not you're doing a good job? I find it very hard to quantify things like belonging, affinity and engagement, which are essential to build a thriving community. I'd love to hear your thoughts!
David Spinks
@dbustac first, you have to know what your business objective is. Don't fall into the trap of just measuring community engagement without understanding how that engagement leads to business impact. A useful tool I share in the book for measuring the business value of community is called The Spaces Model. You can learn more about it here: https://cmxhub.com/the-spaces-mo... Then, when you get into community engagement and health measurement, I look at three things: 1. Are members consistently participating? 2. Are they getting the value they expected? 3. Do they feel safe and welcome in the community? For participation, we look at things like total posts, comments, likes, and stickiness (DAU/MAU). For 2 and 3, we use surveys and interviews. Here's how we run community health surveys: https://cmxhub.com/how-we-run-co...
Utkarsh Bhimte
Hey Dave, I went through your book and I really got good insights from it, My question is How do you think SaaS builders can encourage their users to engage in the community? also, should they try to encourage? I understand the benefits of community building for a products, but should it be an active effort or a passive? If it's active then I have a small follow up question: In what ways can you promote your community to increase activity there and make it more valuable for your users?
David Spinks
@utkarsh_bhimte It has to be active. "If you build it they will come" is never true in reality. You have to take a proactive approach to connecting with people, creating connections between members, facilitating discussions, hosting events, etc. For SaaS specifically, you have two options: - build community around your product (this only works if you have a lot of customers) - build community around the larger category Examples of building around the larger category are Hubspot's Inbound, Branch's Mobile Growth, Salesforce's Trailblazer community, etc. General rule: you can never force people to take actions. Figure out what they're intrinsically motivated to do, and make it as easy as possible for them to do that.
Abhishek Kejriwal
Hey David, love your tweets on community building. The question and challenge that I am facing is how to retain members in community? I have been able to achieve member acquisition for the community, but they just don't retain. It's a leaky bucket as you would put it. How should I think about making strategies on retaining them?
David Spinks
@abhishek_kejriwal i would recommend diving into the data to understand exactly where they're dropping off. Are people joining and then dropping off right away? Then you might have an onboarding problem. Are people joining and then dropping after a few months? Then you might need to work on the content in the community and kick off some new rituals to keep people engaged over time. Or start hosting regular events to bring people back. Are people joining and then dropping off after a year? Then you might need to create new ways for people to engage in the community and take on leadership positions.
Audrey Lo
Hi David! So great to see you on here! Thank you for taking the time to be a part of our AMA. I wanted to see if you could offer any case studies, stories of your own, resources, or advice on integrating gamification strategies around your community framework.