Hands raised if you’re cruising through the pandemic by the grace of your new plant babies.
(I see you, I know it’s not just me.)
The more we make our homes an oasis from plague-riddled public spaces, the more we delight in filling our surroundings with living things that won’t try to kill us. I’ve got my multiple golden pothos, a snake plant, a venus fly trap I gifted Husburrito, a succulent on the window sill above the sink – suffice it to say, I LOVE my plants. I love nurturing them, ensuring an environment where they can flourish, and I absolutely delight in new growth.
And I know I’m late to the party on this one, but holy cats, propagating plants is SO COOL. Using trimmings to nurture more growth, to share plants with others, or to fill out a scraggly little pothos?
Yes, thank you, count me in. A tiny clipping can flourish, with the right cultivation and curation.
And in a not-so-subtle segue, this is a perfect parallel for how to build online communities.
Building an authentic community online consists of careful curation and cultivation (this blog post brought to you by the letter “c”).
You can learn more about what an authentic community is here, but a quick overview of authentic communities:
1. They set expectations then meet or exceed them.
Folks aren’t left wondering what’s what or how things work in that corner of the internet. Everyone understands the guidelines and expectations and honors them.
2. They operate with honesty and transparency.
Everyone makes mistakes, and online communities are no exception; truly authentic communities are led with transparency and integrity, and the members of said community trust that wrongs will be righted in that same manner of transparency and integrity.
3. They offer support freely.
Members of a truly authentic community feel effortlessly supported by other folks in the community, and likewise offer support with no caveats or conditions on worthiness.
So how do you get that glorious connection? Through what I’m naming The Propagation Process for Nurturing Authentic Community Online (aka The Propagation Process), you can properly prime your people for connection and build a flourishing community.
A quick recap of what plant propagation looks like:
First, curate: taking a cutting of a plant at the node, ensuring root growth;
Then, cultivate: ensure conditions for growth by placing the cutting in a glass of water with plenty of light to allow new roots to grow.
For nurturing an authentic online community this looks like:
Curate: strategically selecting what content to share;
Cultivate: developing an environment that facilitates engagement and growth.
In broad strokes, this curation & cultivation for online communities happens in 3 areas that all feed into each other:
1 – content buckets;
2 – conversation;
3 – consistency.
It’s not a perfect one to one, but with these steps in mind, let’s dive into The Propagation Process for Nurturing Authentic Community Online.
Cu·rate | verb
select, organize, and present (online content, merchandise, information, etc.), typically using professional or expert knowledge.
Curation is the expert act of selection.
You are the professional! You are the expert! And it is your responsibility to select, organize, and present the knowledge you see fit to share in a manner that nurtures the type of audience and community you want. In so many ways, this is what folks are actually getting at when they talk about niching your content. What they’re asking you to do is curate what you share and who you share it with to facilitate the highest engagement.
Creating specific topics of discussion for your social media presence, your emails, your blog articles – that specificity is what breeds connection. Content buckets are the way to structure that specificity into your marketing plan.
If you’re unsure of where to start or how specific to go, use the following to help develop your initial buckets:
- What do you do → on a macro and micro level, there’s so much to dig into, this could honestly be 2 or 3 buckets; if you’re overwhelmed, start with the big picture (impact you aim to make) and fill in with the day to day details of what that looks like for you;
- Why do you do it → y’all know I love a good values-based approach, and digging into the core values of your business and why they matter to you is a prime bucket;
- Highlight your faves → what makes your day to day just a little bit better? Highlight favorite clients/customers/products, give a shout to an important part of your workday on the regular – use one of your buckets to establish the humanity of your brand and presence.
The strongest communities on the internet are the ones in which ideas are exchanged freely. Curating your content facilitates dialogue which is a necessity of engagement.
Because you’re creating boundaries around what you post (aka content buckets) you can facilitate conversations as you want. Use that content to ask questions of your audience, take to IG stories to ask them directly, invite a reply to every email you send out (and then ACTUALLY engage with every reply you get!) – invite a conversation between you and an individual.
You’re not asking for conversation and engagement in order to get your numbers up – you’re asking because you’re invested in the conversations that happen when you do. The numbers are just a perk.
And if you’re not actually engaged in the questions you’re asking, time to re-evaluate why you’re expecting your audience to care.
Cul·ti·vate | verb
raise or grow (plants); try to win the friendship or favor of (someone).
Cultivating is creating the conditions for growth.
Cultivation with an online community, especially on social media, is a constant give and take. It requires listening to who’s showing up, what their perspectives are, and circling back to curation as necessary. The dialogue you curate is also what cultivates connection.
People want to feel heard.
We want to feel seen and listened to.
We want a sense of belonging.
By creating boundaries around the types of conversations you have in your online space, and how folks can engage in those conversations, you are cultivating a sense of trust and brand loyalty through dialogue.
You are establishing the humanity of your online presence.
And that right there is prime cultivation.
Finally, in selecting what to share and how to engage with others around that conversation, the final key element of the curation/cultivation cycle is consistency.
Set the expectation.
Then meet or exceed it.
No, the algorithm doesn’t hate you.
No, a new email service isn’t going to spike your open rates.
No, you don’t need to hire a 1:1 SEO expert.
What you need is a Human First schedule that you can stick to.
If you’re nailing all the other elements, folks don’t care if you’re posting once a day or once a week or once a month so long as they know when to expect you.
And if you’re not stoked about who’s showing up? It’s back to curation, to ensure your messaging is inviting that niche in with clarity and directness.
The Propagation Process is really just a cheeky name for community care. All well-resourced communities are in a constant state of curation and cultivation because that act of nurturing connection begets a sense of belonging.
By alternating between curating and cultivating, you can create the conditions for authentic community that flourishes effortlessly.