Too many groups are rollercoaster rides — Photo by Matt Bowden on Unsplash

The community rollercoaster

I know sooo many groups that organize amazing experiences that they pour their heart and soul into. Everyone leaves excited and hungry to have more soon. And then you don’t hear anything from them for 8 months. One day they email you and say “hey, sorry for the silence, we’re back and we’re hosting an amazing experience”. And after that experience you don’t hear from them for 5 months. And on the rollercoaster ride goes.

This illustrates a simple community design principle that’s too often overlooked: humans need consistency and a stable rhythm to build long-term trust into a group and an organization.

To say it differently: for a community it matters more to have small things that happen regularly and consistently than to have big things happen sometimes.

Consistency matters, because it affects how members assess the future of the group.

A consistent rhythm creates trust in people that this group will still be around in three, five, maybe ten years from now. And if I believe that this group will still be around in five years from now, it’s worth investing myself fully into it now. We all are investing our most valuable resources — time and trust — when we engage deeply with a community and we want to make sure the investment will pay off. Most communities have little collective value in the short-term, but as the value of relationships and trust compounds, the community becomes really valuable. So it makes sense for members to assess the chances of the group surviving more than just an initial excitement.

On the flip side, we have all experienced groups that didn’t go very far. If the community is on and off in their offerings and activity levels, it’s natural to assume that it won’t last that long. And in that situation it makes sense for people to show up with a consumer mindset: let’s see what value I can get out of this in the short-term, and let’s see how it develops. That’s a dangerous dynamic for the wellbeing of the group.

Consistency can show up in a variety of places — for example:

  • How regular do events happen?
  • How regular do you email people?
  • How often are new people being added to the group?
  • Is there a calendar that looks months ahead or does everything happen last-minute?

Curious to hear what you think about this! This is related to the cheap & simple design principle.