Blockchain was first coined as a term in 2008; however, more than 10 years later when people hear the word “Blockchain” they still respond with a variety of reactions. Some feel as though it’s a buzz word used by digital currency retail investors who act like the used car salesman of the tech industry, and others think of it as a future for the digital economy.
I’ll start by saying that I’m very much a believer in the latter. Blockchain can disrupt so many different industries, but the reality is that this technology is a padawan when everyone expects it to be a master. Like any shift in technology or innovation, there is going to be a long phase of trial and error. Unfortunately, this particular space is filled with bad actors funneling white paper ICO’s all over. Fortunately, not all of them are.
State of Blockchain
There are quite a few projects in the space that are gaining a lot of traction, improving their technology, and finding unique opportunities for scalable success in the future.
Open projects like Ethereum, which was produced by the Ethereum Foundation, and EOS, a product introduced by Block.one, have found a considerable level of success and are standing out from the crowd for a few crucial reasons. The first obvious solution is the speed and efficiency of their technology. Though Ethereum and EOS can claim a high level of transactions per second(TPS), it’s still incredibly expensive to run a decentralized application(DaPP) on their public blockchains. Why? Ethereum requires you to purchase its utility token and pay a transaction fee every time someone completes an action in your DaPP. The term coined for this is “Gas”. Similarly, the EOS public blockchain has an issue with the RAM cost of running on their blockchain. I won’t go down that rabbit hole, but if you’d like an easy to understand technical deep dive, Coinmonks published a great one here.
Regardless of these growing pains, both EOS and Ethereum have something more powerful than their technology pushing them into success: their communities.
What is a Community?
What is a community? Like the reaction to Blockchain, if you asked five random people you’d probably get five very different answers. Why? Because it’s probably one of the most misunderstood buzz words used in the tech field. To set the record straight, a community at its core is a collective group with likeminded views, ideas, or goals who self-identify as members. Wires often get crossed when people use the term “community” to describe people who simply use their product. If I purchased your software then that makes me a customer; if I evangelize, give feedback, and communicate with others on your product, then I’m a part of your community.
In the tech field, communities have the benefit of being built digitally. This means an Ethereum blockchain developer from Cape Town can engage with another in San Francisco, and from there they can exchange ideas on a project they both want to work on. This concept of a borderless community is so important to globalize a technology. You need multiple perspectives, and you need to learn how to foster those as an organization if you want to successfully grow your community and keep it engaged.
A great example of an organization that has successfully done this is Amazon Web Services(AWS). They have a suite of products that are used by individual users, small companies, and even large companies like Airbnb. But they’re not just users, they’re engaged participants in the technology. You can find groups that are focused on trading ideas for AWS Fargate, or testimonials from companies who love using AWS Lambda. AWS knows this is the key to their sustained growth and success so they put quite a bit of resource into the community that’s been built around their products.
Why Do I Need a Blockchain Community?
A community gives blockchain life and having an engaged community can give you a multitude of benefits. The first and most important benefit is a validation of your product. Often times companies create products with a lot of assumptions and it’s important to get feedback so that you can make improvements. If you don’t effectively do this then you’ll lose traction on your product.
It’s not just about validating the ideas you’ve contributed. Your organization will also benefit from filling the knowledge gap between your team. A community member could send out an idea that completely changes the trajectory of your project and it could be something nobody on your team had previously thought of. That is what gives people the catalyst for innovation and it’s something you really can’t overlook as a company.
Lastly, you’re building an evangelist network around your product which will act as a growth mechanism. The more people who are using and talking about your technology, the more popular it will become, thus generating more perspectives and giving you invaluable data to scale your company.
How Do I Build a Community?
The “why” tends to be something most organizations have a clear understanding of, but in most cases the “how” is where they need help. Typically people want to find a communication platform and then start spamming as many other similar communities to join it as possible. This seems like a good first step but, unfortunately, it typically leads to failure. That is essentially like trying to fly a plane before the engine has been built. Take a few steps back and hold strategy sessions where all of your stakeholders are present. Then ask yourself the following questions:
“Why am I building this”
Figure out a general purpose and vision for this community. Why do people want to jump on the plane? Where is it going? And why should they follow you?
“Who am I building this for”
Make a persona for the individuals who will be ideally joining your community. Not all blockchains are the same and you may want a unique type of developer learning to build on top of your technology.
“Where am I going to build it”
You need to really ask yourself where this community is going to live. Find a platform that makes the most sense for your ideal user and make sure you’re not excluding anyone who wouldn’t be able to access this platform. Currently, the most used platform in the blockchain space is Telegram, but that might not be the best choice for you and your organization.
“How will building this benefit others”
It’s not just about the value the community adds to your organization as a successful community must be a two-way street. What are you going to do to ensure that your community members are benefiting from spending their finite time engaging with you? Fortunately, there’s a lot of potential options for things to do.
For example, you can start by getting in front of the community directly by hosting strategic Meetups. Here, you can discuss your goals, ambitions, and listen to the feedback of those community members.
You can also host a hackathon and invite people to come and utilize your technology for a prize. This prize could be monetary or experiential, but either way if people see that you’re investing time and resources into creating fun and educational programming then they’re more likely to become involved. This creates a symbiotic relationship with you and your community by strengthening their network and giving them a platform to contribute.
“How will I maintain it”
Maintaining your community is arguably the most crucial and resource-heavy component to consider. Building up a list of followers or driving sign-ups to your platform means very little if there’s nothing going on inside the walls. Creating continual content that sparks discussion is critical. What that content looks like will be different for every company, so it’s important to think about how your marketing team or external partners will fit into that roadmap.
A good way to get started with this would be to initially create your community hub and assign someone to monitor it and become the voice of your organization. You’ll also need to start with some content sharing which could be a community newsletter that is sent out on a re-occurring basis. It could be weekly, monthly, or quarterly. It really depends on what your community wants and needs. It’s very important to learn how to improve that process based on those wants and needs.
While I hope these steps will be a helpful tool in building your blockchain community, it’s probably not going to be an end-all solution. Each blockchain company is extremely different and there may be some things that work and others that don't. But it’s important to start your market research early and, hopefully, this will get you through that first step.
Additionally, you could seek out an innovation and community partner like AngelHack who are experts in building developer communities for all types of organizations. Over the past seven years, the company has been able to successfully create its own community of 150,000+ engaged startups, developers, and entrepreneurs. AngelHack can consult with you on creating a full-strategy for building a community, programming that will enact growth once the infrastructure is set, and maintaining your community once it’s been initially built. Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The biggest takeaway to be had from this is that blockchain isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We need to collectively build communities around the different projects that are currently out there, as well as the projects that will inevitably emerge in the future. A community gives a technology life, and if we give life to blockchain then we’ll start seeing it truly change the way we see data forever.