David Spinks: Building Community with Business (and Belonging) in Mind

Good morning yenizens!

I’ve been successfully ignoring a lot of the insanity that is the US Election by focusing on listening to educational podcasts and taking notes via these Makerpad Community breakdowns that many of you are enjoying.

Grateful, by the way, for the feedback and support! Our small newsletter here crossed 200 subscribers last week and it means a great deal that you would share it (or forward it) to your friends and colleagues!

To infinity & community,

— john

David Spinks is one of the more well-known leaders in the community space, writ large, and has seen quite a bit of community from the smallest forms into the biggest companies on the planet.

He’s someone that I have respected from afar and I try my best to listen to David any time he gets on video or podcast and today’s breakdown is full of nuggets that will make you think and challenge you to even think differently.

I appreciate what he’s done for the space and congrats on his newborn! 🍼

As usual, I’ve cherry-picked out the best and most-practical tidbits in easy-to-read, bulleted format!


David first starts out by sharing his extensive background in community and begins the conversation by sharing his personal philosophy on community as it relates to events:

Community, if you zoom out, is a set of experiences that people share over time. An event is one of those touch-point of an ongoing journey that a group of people have over time.

These touch-points are used to bring people together, to create connection, to share learning, and to create a shared sense of belonging.

David Spinks

The concept here is simple but profound — great communities manage to sequence these ongoing touch-points (or events) so that the journey doesn’t atrophy or die. He goes on to share that those touch-points can be both synchronous and asynchronous.

How Does One Keep The Energy Sustained?

A wonderful segue into a challenge that all community leaders know viscerally: Managing to keep the energy “high”, especially in the early-stages of a new and forming community.

David, of course, has a lot of experience here and I appreciate the useful analogy and metaphor:

Community is like music; think about a song that has a steady beat and repetitive (and recognizable) elements. A community is the same way; the rituals are the “chorus” — everyone knows how it goes, it happens at the same time, and everyone expects it.

David Spinks

The ritual(s) of a well-run community don’t have to be complex, but, they have to be discernible and easily-repeatable. I’ve seen too many folks over-complicate this part of the community-building process!

He goes on to share that larger events could be the “bass drop” — I literally laughed out loud.

There’s a bit of a live demo here with Bevy which is a virtual conference and event management system and platform — many of us have already experienced the platform and it is one of the very best options out there, especially for enterprise teams.

How can having “Chapters” scale community?

David drops the mic by stating plainly:

The only way to scale community is to distribute control; it’s empowering others to take on roles of leadership in order to grow.

David Spinks

Having “chapters” can help give structure of how distribution and growth can occur and a chapter-based program can help also align members with unique identities, something useful for new communities.

Building a playbook of how to operate a successful chapter is a continual process, a work-in-progress document that is continually updated with “best practices” and useful tips / tricks from the community itself.

How to Create a Great Onboarding Experience?

David shares this answer from a live member question for creating great onboarding experiences for new communities:

  1. Give them something simple to do in the beginning, like updating a user profile or introducing themselves. Don’t make this too “big” of an ask!
  2. Communicate your mission, vision, and values of the community. Make this explicit for new folks who are joining.
  3. Automation is great, but, not recommended in the early-stages — be more “hands on” so you can get to know your members. David recommends emailing folks personally, which is a well-worn strategy.

He boils it down to:

  1. Let them know who you are.
  2. Tell them clearly what you believe.
  3. Then, tell them what you all do.


Best Practices for Starting Conversations?

David drops the knowledge… here are the goods:

  1. First, you have to experiment. Listen intently about what folks are talking about.
  2. Show up daily. That’s for starters. You have to be the #1 most energetic person in the community in the early days.
  3. Pose questions and get answers. Use statements, instead of just questions (e.g. “Twitter is better for Facebook for engagement.“).
  4. Be transparent and authentic. Share, honestly, how things are going.
  5. But, be hopeful and positive.

How to Find Your First Members?

  1. Start hands-on. Super hands-on. Invite people individually. This is where the hustle comes in.
  2. Trust is everything. Building it is important. Figure out how to create it specifically for your members and community.
  3. Invite a small group only, keep it closed for a while. Get the “right” people first, instead of trying to go wide at first. Focus on quality.
  4. David is not a fan of the “waitlist” approach (a’la Clubhouse).

What’s a Good Approach to Speaker Outreach?

David’s currently studying and researching this space more-broadly at the moment and I’m curious about his conclusions (we should all follow him on Twitter). For everything else, it’s really just “hustle” — leverage your network and find the folks that you need. Don’t give up. Get them to say “Yes“.

Finally, David takes a few quick-fire questions:

  1. What do you disagree with on “Community Twitter”? He’s concerned about companies taking “community” as a buzzword and using it to drive growth instead of connecting with people.
  2. Keeping the bar high? Never get too comfortable, continue to experiment, if you’re stagnating, then, you’re not being nimble enough. Think like a startup.
  3. Where can we find your book? Learn more here (twitter thread)! You can sign-up as well for more details and early-release details.

Whew. Done.