30 August, 2011

10 steps to building a local community

I've had the question a few times: how do I build a community [here]? With here being in a variety of countries and places. As I speak to quite a few people who lead local communities, I decided to put together a presentation with 10 steps. Feedback on this is obviously welcome, such a thing is never complete! The presentation can be found here and the notes have far more that what I put below.

Step 1: just start!

Start organizing meetings around the subject of your passion! That's all it takes. Pick an interesting subject, find yourself a speaker and get going. Start small: invite friends and collegues. A first meeting with 5 people is fine!
  • find a free venue, small is OK. Meeting room at company is always nice, but universities and schools often have something too
  • pick a time after work. 7-9PM works usually fine.
  • Make sure you have coffee, tea, cake. Not full catering or dinner but basics
  • try to offer this for free (see Step 5: sponsorship)

Step 2: Get interesting stuff to attract visitors

People come out of interest. So, you have to have interesting meetings. For that, speaker quality is crucial.
  • Get a good speaker to talk about an interesting subject! Someone who KNOWS HIS STUFF, preferably not a marketing person... but an engineer or so.
  • meet them before the session to get to know them
  • make sure they have a good presentation (eg avoid death-by-powerpoint etc), help them to improve if needed
  • maintain a good relation with speakers - you might want to invite them again!

Step 3: Make sure they stay

Make people feel welcome! A few tips:
  • make sure you talk to new people and introduce them to others. And introduce them shortly to the group before the talks!
  • if your group grows bigger, pick someone to do the introduction for you: appoint a 'director of communication'!

Step 4: Advertise

Getting the word out is important.
  • set up a nice website with info on the upcoming meetings (something blog-like is fine!)
  • write short reports on the meetings
  • use social media: facebook, twitter/identi.ca etcetera. Be sure to automate as much as you can, often you can link those sites to your blog.
  • provide a place to talk online. Forum, mailinglist, comments on your blogs...

Step 5: Find sponsors

To pay for the coffee and tea it helps to have sponsors.
  • try to find local sponsors and don't stop at one so you don't overtax that one sponsor
  • ask in the meeting if people know potential sponsors
  • don't ask too little money.If you ask $250 you might get 3 sponsors and if you ask $1000 you might only get 1 but - well, do the math... You must realize that $250 or $1000 is almost the same for a company, considering how much trouble they have to go through!
  • Let sponsors pay for things directly to save yourself the tax trouble; or use American Express gift cheques
  • reward the sponsors: put their name on your web site, talk to them about what you do, invite them, let them know they matter!

Step 6: Bring friends

Encourage your visitors to talk to others and bring friends. Reward them with some goodie if they do!

Step 7: Reward creativity

Often, people come up with interesting, fun, weird, creative stuff. They create a nice logo for your local community, postcards with the logo, want to give a origami course to fold it, stuff like that.
SUPPORT IT. Creativity is good; it's fun and showing the love! Talk about it, give people a chance to show what they did. It's good teambuilding!

Step 8: Find minions

You need to off-load work at some point. Find people to help you!
  • give responsibility, don't micro-manage. Mistakes are OK, be patient!
  • value all contributions, no matter how small, it always helps
  • give credit where credit is due. If someone takes care of something for a while, give them a title. Nothing's wrong with being Coffee Master!

Step 9: Be ready for bad weather

Keep the community healthy and fun. That means also to take action when the harmony is threatened.
  • set up a simple code-of-conduct on your site. Nothing complex, just "behave or you're not welcome"
  • if someone mis-behaves, take them apart, talk to them. If they persist, tell them they can't come for a while. Don't argue: it's YOUR event, YOU make the rules
  • if a public apology is warranted, do it yourself. Be non-specific, just say "something not OK happened, I'm sorry. The person(s) involved are sorry and won't do it again."
  • if the people involved don't learn, they're not welcome anymore, period. If you let it drag too long to keep that single person in the group you can loose the whole community! Nobody is worth that, even if they do a lot of work and don't mean it that badly.

Step 10: Have fun!

With all the tips and ideas in here, you would almost miss the most crucial and important point. If YOU don't have fun, you'll be burned out quickly. So make sure it's fun for yourself.


And bonus openSUSE tips

For openSUSE and other communities which have a connection to a global community, I have an additional tip: stay connected!
  • Follow the international news site(s), blogs and mailinglists. Blog yourself about the events, let people know your community exists.
  • And the other way around: discuss the international news in your local community. A 30 min "what happened this week/month" can be fun and interesting.
  • Make sure you invite people from the international community to big events in your country; let the team know and let them meet with the international community members!
    use the materials the international community creates:
    • translate articles or discuss the topics in there;
    • ask for goodies, DVD's to hand out, other materials!
    • use the travel sponsorship where needed to go with your team to events!
    • use the materials on the marketing wiki, talking points, release announce information and other stuff to make sure you say the right things!
    • and use the graphics, folders, flyers and other things created by the international team!
  • have a release party around releases!
  • come to the openSUSE conference to talk with other leaders of local communities and learn!


  1. Great start Jos, thanks for this! IMHO, this is a great way to enable contributors to set goals (also dreams) to realize while maintaining the true community spirit of bottom up leadership. If more local people are enabled with responsibility it will most definitely make the community as a whole stronger, and in turn, the ecosystem stronger. I believe firmly in that a greater whole is only as strong as the sum of its parts.

    That said, it is not as easy as it looks and takes quite a commitment, experience and knowledge to accomplish this great task. This is not to discourage anyone from starting this process, but more to demonstrate that these local people will need sustained support from those with experience and knowledge.I am sure I can help out with this, along with a few others ;-)

    Overall, I think this would be a good topic to focus on and would think that a series of events with workshops that cover the parts you outlined would be a great kickoff. Let's see if we can't talk to those interested in both initiating and supporting this whilst at the oSC. Sound like a plan?

  2. Alot of communities in the UK have a Galaday where the local council pay for a funday for all the people who stay in the village/town. They have all different things for examplr inflatable slides and othe such activites. It a great way to keep a health community.


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