How To Build A Community And Why It Matters


Building a community and keeping it thriving is certainly not a bed of roses. Janardan Revuru, Community Leader, JavaScript Meetup, talks from his experience the constant questions he receives and few important steps that many larger communities have followed.

The demand for communities is growing. Even if its start is small, the returns are quite compounding. I would compare it to an adventure in the deep woods. You can start with a lot of preparation but it’s better to be prepared to face the unknown. Technology and tools still continue to evolve, so you cannot rely on them completely. On your journey, you will find other fellow travelers who support. Be ready to deal with surprises yourself.

Many times, people fall into the trap of thinking a community is needed for problems to be addressed, or for support that people need. Even if these reasons are correct, the main core to build a thriving community entirely depends on you as a leader. Once this is clear, it is good to know the common mental blocks for people to start or join a community.

Four blockers

Why. It is a major question that people come up with as they see it as a contribution with no returns.

Awareness. There are a lot of communities that need a supporting hand and the lack of awareness among people to hit in the right direction remains.

Where to start. There are many who do not know where to start, despite having inclining thoughts and awareness.

How to start. People are unsure of what role they can play and where their contributions can be helpful.

A straight answer to these blockers is knowing the wide range of valuable skills that can be gained from technology, communication, influence, strategic thinking, and so on. It will be helpful to start discussions with the organisers as volunteers, note down your purpose, explore opportunities, connect with fellow teammates, contribute, and grow in your community.

Five steps to start and build a community

  1. Research for a common interest. The very first thing to do is research, which can be done in a day, week, or maximum a month, without much time being spent on it. Think of it as a need for a group to be formed—be it technical or non-technical. You can visit two places to figure out whether it would be valuable to start or not., where there are many communities worldwide, not just limited to location or technology. The second place would be Discord. Even though it initially started for gamers, it is vibrant for non-gamers also.
  2. Start small. Do not stop after the analysis. You could start a meet up with a little group. Be aware, for instance, that your first event registration may fall somewhere between 50 and 100, but the actual turnout would be 10 people. You might be disappointed with the turnout being less, even if there is a lot of interest in the forum. It is a pattern we see all through the ratios at different points of time. We have seen a ratio of one out of three people registered for an event turning up. Hence, do not judge too early. Conduct the sessions at least a couple of times before you decide on whether it is working or not. The net take away is putting thought in action and not just having an intention to build.
  3. Communicate for impact, participate for feedback. It is important to develop the skill of communication and participation. A good communicator will create an impact that leads to action. For instance, let’s say, you are writing an email for people to register; a lengthy email on the benefits of the topic and a small link for registration may not help. The start itself should be a big popup containing the link for registration, along with an agenda repeating the process. Also, when these emails are being sent, note the time of the day and day of the week that help you fetch more registrations. Though it does not guarantee people coming in, you will learn to be concise in your communications over a period of time.

Participation is yet another important thing. For example, in the first week, I asked people about the topics they would like to hear in the next three sessions. Even if there were a lot of ideas pouring in, in the next session we did not have the same set of people. People give feedback because you asked for it; it does not mean they are committed to being a part of it. As time passes, you will slowly see some regular people, assuring that probably 5-10% of them are more committed to the group.

4. Adapt to evolve. A big lesson where you have to be nimble and adaptive. When the pandemic hit, we were forced to shift from offline sessions to remote interactions. We looked at options like Zoom, Slack, and some other affordable options to sail through. So, it is important for you to keep an eye on where your set of community members spend most of their time. We may have a lot of social media platforms, but then you have to keep on adapting and trying. With trials on apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Telegram for our community, we figured our meet gained us approximately 9,500 registrations spanning across fifteen cities and eight countries. Similarly, in terms of adapting to groups, WhatsApp group is the most active after Discord. We have around 1,800 members where the maximum interaction happens.

5. Grow and expand for win-win. This is how you start thinking like an entrepreneur. You get an entry as a member of a credible community and run multiple meetups consistently every single month, say for three to five years. Then people start taking it seriously. Not only the community members, you may even have a good number of fans following and a great set of volunteers, which may get you sponsorship. Credibility comes with numbers and fetches you sponsors. That’s when you may get people who want to talk about hiring. Hence build and boost your numbers for others to talk about it.

If you want to expand your community beyond a certain range, you can think about spot leaders. As mentioned, you will see a few regular members attending your meetups and being active in various forums. It would be beneficial to make those volunteers the leaders, which helps when you cannot involve or dedicate to your role as a community leader. These spot leaders can help in events and keep the community thriving. Remember, the willingness of the person and volunteering is more important than their skill or expertise.

When you are gaining sponsors, you can think about the purpose of the community to decide on tie-ups. For example, in JavaSript we are tying with Reactindia. We have a couple of other groups to open up for hosting events. Such tie-up strategies would help you grow at a different scale, as long as your intentions are matching with the alliances. Hence, if you are building a community and have plans to expand, you should also imbibe skills of entrepreneurship. Understand your market, identify more places where you can attract people, boost your numbers, sell what you are doing, and create win-win scenarios.

What to expect as community leader

Community leaders are followed not only by the communities but also the corporates. Corporates like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are seeking community leaders for new positions and roles to influence their communities. You could either be directly associated with them as an employer or contractor, or have a tie-up to get sponsorships for your events. I see this scenario increasing in the next five to ten years, making it a reason to focus on full-time.

One simple thing to remember is that expectations may be different. I suggest not to think of only benefits, but how it can make us better in terms of strategic thinking and adapting to different situations. In spite of the highs and lows you may go through, you will have the backing of a community of, say, around 10,000 people.

There is no single route in the journey to community leadership as you would find things a little scattered and may have wrong assumptions. But remember, when you take action you are taking steps forward.

The article was compiled from a talk by Janardan Revuru, Community Leader, JavaScript Meetup in Open Source India 2021 Edition conducted by EFY. Speech transcribed and authored by Abbinaya Kuzhanthaivel.


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