It’s a late afternoon, and I’m once more hearing the most common question I get asked by fellow Community Managers. While the snow outside is slowly covering up our Berlin coworking space, I’m trying to ‘uncover’ our community management practices to one of my peers.
Have you also programmed community events with the highest expectations, to only find yourself munching the prepared snacks all by yourself? Then this post might be for you. In it, I’ll look back across the past years of running our Creative Space for impact entrepreneurs in the heart of Berlin, to extract our learnings about how not to build a community.
That famous Dutch saying
In Dutch, we say ‘een goed begin is het halve werk’ (a good start is half the work) and this couldn’t be more true for building communities. Understanding who your community members are, what they value and what they need is essential at the start of any successful community-building journey. Tools like the community canvas are a great way to make this orderly and visual.
The four community event creation biases
Knowing your community sounds like common sense. You wouldn’t organise a ‘Raising Series A Funding’ event for your ideation phase startups, or a ‘Make your own pasta’ workshop for your gluten-intolerant friends, right?
Now these are of course extreme examples, but on a smaller scale, this is often what happens. Even with the best intentions, we tend to get trapped in one of the following biases:
- The Personal Bias (“I love this concept. I’m sure they will too.“)
- The Legacy Bias (“Last year this worked well…”)
- The Generalisation Bias (“Member X said this would be great, so the entire community will love it.”)
- or The Hype Bias (“This topic is totally hot right now – success is guaranteed!”)
Oh yes, we’ve been there.
Every Monday, we host one of our most popular community events: ‘Kaffee & Kuchen’ (or Coffee & Cake) – a quick 30-minute check-in during which we bring our community together to share updates, needs, offers, and to personally welcome any fresh faces to our Berlin coworking space. A different member supplies a homemade cake each week, the community mingles, and we apply some engineered serendipity for members to meet. Call it magic.
When Covid-19 hit – “this will still work,” we thought. Digital was the new physical, Zoom – our new best friend, and our first attempt at a virtual ‘Kaffee & Kuchen’ event – a flop. Classic Legacy Bias.
It’s not like we hadn’t already learnt this lesson many times over. About a year ago, one of our members was looking for legal support for their business. We invited a legal expert in our network to host a workshop on the matter. And received exactly one sign-up. You can guess who. Generalisation Bias strikes again.
The importance of two-way conversation
To make your community programming hit the mark, you have to go into dialogue. Listen. Understand. Collect your members’ needs, and follow up on them with actionable steps. When you’re starting out, this can happen in a cozy kitchen co-creation session, with the core of your new tight-knit community. But when your community grows (as ours has over the past six years), you’d have to possess a damn large kitchen table to host them all.
An easy solution? Bring in the good old survey
What gets measured, as they say, gets managed. Every February, we launch a member survey across the entire network of Impact Hubs around the world. As well as informing our Global Impact Report, it also gathers very specific local insights that become the cornerstones of our community strategy. Gathering results from your entire community gives you an idea of whether a specific suggestion is a shared need or not, and whether your current formats are still relevant.
Were you aiming for an ‘atmosphere satisfaction’ score of 100%, but only hit 80%? Well before you start painting the walls and ordering a year’s supply of scented candles, dive into that dialogue and understand what an ideal atmosphere actually means to your community, to understand better how you can bridge that 20%.
Ask for suggestions. Learn. And then: co-create
In last year’s survey results, a returning topic among Impact Hub Berlin members was the need for more call booths, so we repurposed an office that was underused since the start of Covid-19 restrictions, turning it into an additional private call space. There was also a wish for more peer-to-peer support on professional topics, and so our ‘feed-forward’ event format was born, to encourage members to tap into their collective creativity and collaborate on challenges.
And – in one of our favourite survey outcomes – we also uncovered a shared desire for a larger social event beyond the Impact Hub opening hours. So, alongside some enthusiastic community members, we co-created the first ever Impact Hub Berlin nature retreat – a full weekend of activity out in the woods in Brandenburg.
Sharing is caring
Survey outcomes might not be the most appealing piece of information to share (unless you’re a lover of spreadsheet data). My suggestion: it pays off to share them, but only in an accessible format. Not only is this a sign of appreciation and transparency towards those who take the time to respond, it also serves as a base for common understanding and open communication.
Proper statistical analysis will give a clearer picture of whether that one specific ‘Tea-Leaf-Reading for Financial Success’ event suggestion is likely to be a priority. (Ok, we made that one up).
It’s important to remember that even when you’re building your community event formats based on frequent feedback and data, there will always be outcomes that flop. But hey, then you learn. You don’t have to hit all home runs. (And an accidentally intimate-sized event once in a while just means more snacks per attendee.) Community management is learning by doing and being comfortable with changing demands – constantly. So go out, exchange, listen, and have fun.
Maaike is Head of Community at Impact Hub Berlin, and has many more famous Dutch sayings to share. Interested in becoming a member? Find out more or join us for a coworking trial day.
This year we have launched many partnerships with different ambassadors to create our Tribe concept, which is a platform for thought leaders and topic specific community members to run workshops, talks, meet-ups and consulting sessions from our Impact Hub Berlin space. Today we’d like you to meet our members Dr. Anabel Ternès von Hattburg and Astrid Salomon who run the Health & Digitization Tribe!
1. Your Tribe in a nutshell: Health & Digitization informs about latest trends, discusses challenging topics and groundbreaking ideas as well as things which enriches our everyday life. Anabel and Astrid come from different poles, digitization and health, but share the same values, perspectives and the same idea, that the combination of digitization and health is groundbreaking for the humanity and how we proceed as humans in the digitalised world.
2. Your Tribe exists because… With our events, we want to provide impulses, stimulate discussions and talk about important information with exciting people for a broader public. When Anabel and Astrid first met, we discussed how digitization changes the daily life – how much we profitize from it and how much we have to take even more care about ourselves and our relationships. Digitization changes so much, every day and it‘s important from our perspective that you not only live digitization, but also understand the background, the further impact, what chances and challenges it contain for everyone.
3. What has been a particular highlight so far? The interest in participating in our events is great. We are currently organizing the next exciting events. Be curious!
4. What does Impact Hub mean to you? Impact Hub is a great one-of-a-kind platform and gathering place to network with like-minded people in order to be inspired, communicate, and grow together in conversation.
5. In three-and-a-half-years time your Tribe will be…. … well known for first insights into exciting innovations, for a good support to be even fitter, more relaxed and motivated in everyday life and as a platform to exchange ideas with exciting people. The human face of AI is there a topic as well as new AI products in Health, new food trends are there a topic as well as concepts on how to manage a mindful life. We organise interactive panel discussions about trend and discursive topics, live demonstrations with new groundbreaking products, live cooking with a wellbeing-cook, workshops on increasing employees health.
6. Sounds great! How can other innovators contribute to your Tribe? We welcome anyone who wants to bring in innovative, exciting, new ideas. We are always happy if someone wants to join us or cooperate with us!
Art can be many things and means different things to different people. One being that its creative approach to the world and its inhabitants can get people to pay attention and care. Cue photography, performance, text-based art, documentary, participatory installations and all else creative! Showing an audience a thing of beauty (or intrigue), something that stirs interest or tickles their funny bone, results in finding new eyes, ears and willingness to change behaviour that is crucial to social concerns.
At Impact Hub Berlin we took our first excursion into this idea of art as a social architect and can report back that there is something to it. At our Make Art, Not Waste WineDown last week we turned our co-working space into a pop-up exhibition to showcase photography, poetry, a collaborative installation, film and culinary delights by creatives who have made social change part of their practices. This time it was humanity’s untenable use of plastic and levels of waste that was being highlighted, as Impact Hub Berlin has been engaged in this particular SDG through the Dopper Changemaker Challenge, which is looking to award students who have made clean water and less plastic use the focus of their academic work.
Part of everything we do includes getting a wider public to pay attention and engage with complex issues of our time and we were delighted to see so many unfamiliar faces show up and truly engage with each other, the artists present and the issue at hand. To harness art in this way makes for a powerful alley in times of limited attention spans.
Whether it is photographs of piles of rubbish ruining a beachscape far away or learning from a chef how to turn near-waste into culinary delights, art triggers emotions and thus impacts how we engage with the world. It is powerful and a natural partner for anyone trying to get people to engage.
At Make Art, Not Waste the works that provided the base for an evening of engaged conversation and exchanging of hacks for plastic reduction were produced by:
- Phoebe Blackburn, who has been documenting garbage bins around the globe, resulting in a striking photo series that puts an object into perspective that is integral to the story of global waste.
- Caterina Rancho, who photographed the copious amounts of waste washed up on the shores of a Thai beach, in an effort to highlight how these man-made objects are morphing with nature’s paradises.
- Kyoko Takemura, who uses photo-based prints to highlight issues that though of universal concern beyond difference of language and origin, are too often ignored by the larger public.
- Mona Lüder, who approaches waste, hyper-consumption and the pull to purchase by focusing her camera lens on small details that to her symbolise these issues to her.
- Oscar Nuget, a poet who delighted with readings from his beautifully crafted texts that did justice to his own belief that a consciously crafted string of words can have meaning beyond their individual definition.
- Raw Paradise (Christian Rühlman & Moritz Wussow), a duo of industrial designers who created a machine for instantaneous recycling that provided a hands-on example of the workings of the circular economy.
- DingsDums Dumplings and the Real Junk Food Project who both utilise ingredients that would otherwise have gone to waste provided nibbles for our guests, while we screened A Journey into Plastic Awareness and In Search of the Changemaker, had a commitment to plastic reduction facilitated by Gülcan Nitsch of Recup Aktion and browsed up-cycled jewelry by Carolina Könitzer.
What we saw was an audience new to Impact Hub Berlin walk through our doors. The format was family-friendly and crucially open to all ages, resulting in an atmosphere, very different to our workshops, panel discussions and lectures. It was a joyful reminder that diversifying the event programming, actively designing a broad bandwidth of formats and collaborating with professionals who share our concerns but are not in our direct field of work strengthens our ongoing efforts to connect, inspire and enable whenever we host.
In this way art can and should be a strategic element employed to engage audiences in social causes. Impact Hub Berlin will continue to get consciously arty!