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Plant, Nurture, Harvest - an Analogy for Community Engagement

This beautiful garden with red flowers and a stone path is the perfect analogy for what it takes to start, nurture, and grow your online community engagement.

The image of a garden is my favorite analogy for thinking about community.

A lot of communities work like industrial agriculture, they plant all the corn at the beginning of summer, water and nurture the plants, and then all the corn is harvested at the same time in the fall.

Scale comes when you focus all of your energy on on part of the journey at a time.

But there’s another method used in small scale farming that could produce more consistent results for us as community builders. Instead of planting all of the seed at once, plant about 1/4 of your seeds this season. Next season you plant another 1/4, so on and so forth. (For the sake of the analogy, let’s pretend we are all in Hawaii where most things grow year round.)

Instead of putting all of the planting in the spring and harvest in the fall, you’re able to space out some of the work and some of the abundance throughout the year.

This is a great method for a home garden. Instead of getting stuck with 18 heads of lettuce the same week, plant 2 heads every week to get a consistent rhythmic harvest in the future.

In community, planting actions consists of the activities which initiate a new beginning, nurturing actions are all the things we do to build trust, and harvesting actions are the final prompts to create the outcomes of engagement and activity you wa

nt to see.

Here’s some examples.

Planting Activities for a Community Manager

  • The Onboarding Emails

  • A welcome call

  • A first 30-day challenge

  • A community re-launch

  • Reminding members of the programs available to them

  • Re-launching a program that needed some tweaking

Nurturing Activities for a Community Manager

  • Responding to requests and needs from members

  • Doing what you say you’re going to do

  • Facilitating new events

  • Enhancing your learning curriculum

  • Coaching members on how to resolve a conflict together

  • Clear and transparent communication

  • Equipping your community with new tools and resources

Harvesting Activities for a Community Manager

  • Requesting a testimonial

  • Posting a reward for anyone who refers a friend

  • Sending an email with an end of year survey

  • Launching a community champions program

  • Sending the email to renew or upgrade their membership

  • Inviting a member to RSVP for an event

  • Launching a new product to the community

I love this analogy because it reminds us that results are not immediate. We plant seeds tomorrow knowing the harvest won’t come until much later.

It also shows us that to see consistent engagement and activity in your community, you must be consistently planting and watering.

I found this analogy helpful to use with my team. When management was only concerned about harvesting activities, I could remind them that we need those, but to reap the best harvest possible, we first need to do the work of planting and watering.

How to use this analogy in your community building

You can easily put this mindset to practice by starting with a list of actions you hope your community members will take. Identify what will prompt them to take that final desired action. This is your list of harvesting activities.

Next, for each bullet, identify a way you can support members in taking that action long before you prompt them to do it. These are nurturing activities.

And finally, ask yourself how the onboarding experience members have in their first 30 days can lead them towards this action. It can be a super tiny seed, but start planting right away.

My last bit of advice is to take a look at the tasks you have for managing and growing your community this week. Just for fun, label them plant, nurture, or harvest (different colors makes it fun!)

Take a step back and look at the results. Are you heavier on one type of activity than the others?

Now you know which types of activities you naturally tend towards and which to focus on incorporating moving forward.

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