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.