The technological frameworks that power our ecosystem are beyond powerful and built by some of the most brilliant minds on the planet. The inherent power of this technology to change the social, economic and power structures of our collective human adventure should not be underestimated. But there’s a huge element the web3 ecosystem, as a whole, is failing to accommodate for as they build-- the human layer of the community.

At this year’s MCON2 in Denver, I attended talks by some of the leading builders and thinkers in the DAO ecosystem and almost every person on stage mentioned their DAO had failed to anticipate and build for the human interactions at scale in their organizations. I was stunned at this universal thread running through every presentation, but after a bit of reflection, the miscalculation became completely logical.

Blockchain builders and founders have created some of the most powerful technology to emerge in decades. This same group also attempted to build communities power their missions using technological tools. A completely logical route to take for many who spend their day building with code. But code often lacks compassion or the ability to understand the many nuances of our humanity. And when the complicated task of managing human interactions at scale and in virtual containers is outsourced to technological tools that lack the ability to interact based upon compassion and empathy, an entirely new level of dysfunction emerges.

Conversations abound in a chai walla in Dharmsala, India. Image by cstreet 2006

I began working in blockchain organizations as a community builder in 2017 and I’ve seen a multitude of communities scale and collapse. I have witnessed DAOs completely implode and I have seen organizations create massive movements that seep into the entire ecosystem and push the needle towards systemic change in society through technology. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve noticed several themes in these diverse community structures.

We must begin building our communities from a “human-first” premise. We must flip the dependence upon bots and technology to control the human layers in our organizations and create frameworks that support humans with empathy, compassion and deliberation. One simple starting point to build for humans first is probably the most important place to begin cultivating resilience in our communities— a collective mission.

Missions Over Memes

Missions over memes seems to be a logical starting point for a conversation about resilient community building. I wish to avoid a debate about the power of memes, for they do serve a role in our ecosystem. But a trend I’ve noticed is that communities who emerged based solely on a meme, are imploding under the pressure of the current bear market. Why? Because a meme lacks the passion to compel one to fight through the piles of shit in our ecosystem and show up on a daily basis to move a community forward.

What element is powerful enough to support human coordination and a forward movement in the face of collapse and despair? A mission.

A mission is a cohesive thread that, when strong enough, will bind people together and allow them to justify the sacrifices necessary to build in a market filled with volatility and destruction. A mission gives people a reason to fight for one another and to ensure that humanity remains intact so everyone on the team can keep building.

Memes are a lovely way to connect people and rally them around a collective thought or belief. Memes are not strong enough to justify sacrificing time and energy to fight for a cause. And at the end of the day, no matter what your community is building or creating, we are fighting for the lifeblood of our ecosystem. We are fighting to protect the technology we build upon from illogical regulations, greedy billionaires seeking to horde wealth through centralization and a mainstream media who has disregarded one of the most powerful technological advances in decades because they refuse to look past the garbage and see what’s possible.

Protesters link hands at a march in D.C. in 2018. | Image by cstreet

Language, Tone & Empathy

I float through a multitude of servers on any given day. Sometimes at the request of founders seeking to resurrect their community and other times out of curiosity to see how a community is structured or what their communications are built upon. I can immediately gauge the health of a community based on the flow of conversation in their general channel. When I see an overwhelming amount of “bros, wen moons, ser, where’s my token” or monetization questions with little to no moderation in place, I know the community is probably based solely on memes, PFPs or pump and dump tokenomics.

The language and presence of the mods in the general channel is a clear indicator of the thought and deliberation the core team placed in how they built their community. When I hop into a community who is building an app or protocol and the general channel is overwhelmed with tech support with chaotic or frantic moderation from the team, I can tell that the founders failed to create a flow of information and communication that would allow for a logical engagement structure, or they are simply overwhelmed and under resourced.

The tone of the language employed by the moderators is also a key indicator of the intention and compassion the core founders built into their infrastructure from the start. Does the core moderator posses an elitist and derogatory tone towards those coming into the community and belittle their genuine questions with answers framed from a place of superiority? That’s a massive red flag and I have seen that repeatedly. Just because someone has volunteered to be a moderator, doesn’t mean they should be given free range to denigrate those seeking help and guidance. Ensuring that your moderators manage dialogue with a degree of empathy and compassion is a key component in building a resilient community.

Or worse, has the Discord expert deployed a web of bots to place multiple layers between them and the actual human engaging in the server? Or is the on-boarding process completely controlled by complex bot structures that remove the humanity of a simple welcoming conversation in the general channel?

Empathy is not a skill that can be taught, it must be cultivated and a degree of inherent empathy must already exist in the person that founders have tapped to run their communities. Soft skills are often not natural for technical founders, but they must recognize, understand and celebrate those who possess such skills and ensure that those engaging with the community have a strong grasp on soft skills.

Soft skills are not a metric or KPI that can be quantified at a weekly standup. Soft skills are created and strengthened by individuals who possess skills most technical founders don’t understand or do not know how to vet when hiring. Yes, a community manager should have a technical grounding in web3, but they must also have a deep background in working with humans IRL and in multitude of situations.

Slow Growth & Space for Compassion

Embracing slow growth is not something we talk about often in the tech world or in web3 community building. But I’d like to just give everyone reading this permission to NOT scale at speed. Slow, deliberate and organic growth is a beautiful thing when building resilient communities and it is perfectly fine to build slowly with healthy human connections as a growth metric, rather than volume of members.

While this might not be a universal approach for all communities, I believe that many would benefit greatly from growing slowly at the beginning of their journey. Token gating or using an application form is also completely acceptable at the beginning and even middle stages of the growth process. Being mindful of who is allowed into a community will help ensure that there is plenty of space for engagement and that the core team can handle the growth as they slowly scale. Gating a community will also keep the bots and scammers out of the server and protect the community from those who wish to simply take advantage of unsuspecting new comers to crypto.

Our collective role in community building, at the end of the day, is to ensure the health of the people in our containers are protected to the best of our ability. If moderators are overwhelmed by volume and are not able to identify nefarious actors because there are simply too many people flooding into a server, then the toxicity will become apparent-- and fast.

In taking a slow growth approach, we are also allowing space for compassion to grow at the roots of a community which will ensure the group is grounded in humanity from the beginning. I get how esoteric that sounds, but bear with me for a second.

When a server has space for conversations to flow naturally, everyone engaging in conversation has the space to wander outside of the “technical questions and FAQs” often flooding the general chat channels and people can connect on a human level. They can find personal interests with people just entering, cultivate the space for exploring the humanity in one another through casual conversation and then connect on a human-to-human level.

Why does this matter? If we are able to connect with one another on a human level, when volatility or conflict does arise, hopefully the heated conversations will remain civil because at some point a human connection was made prior to the tumultuous event. How many times have we engaged in an online debate that turned controversial and we failed to act with compassion because there was a computer monitor between us and we have no direct connection to the human on the receiving end of our anger? We see this at scale every day on all the social media platforms.

When space exists for conversations to flow and connections to be made on a personal level, we are also able to rally around our mission with more ease and motivation. Such space allows for the core team to connect with the greater community in a mindful way that is not overwhelming and creates space for the core to spread the energy behind the mission to the members of the community. In a healthy community ecosystem, the community members will also rally to defend the collective if people do enter a server and begin attacking the team or the technology itself. The community is invested and feels responsible for the health of the collective and that’s a sure sign of positive and resilient community growth.

And when space exists for conversation and connection, new members in a community feel empowered and able to step into active roles to help move the mission forward. They can also become intricate members of the community ready to take action and contribute on more than just a casual lurker level. Once they enter that phase of their journey in a community, the opportunity to become a core member arises and the connection to the mission is strong-- and personal. Such participation is much harder when a community is at scale or when the users are overwhelmed by conversations, memes and wen moon boys.

Moving Forward

As we move through the tumultuous waters of web3 right now, let us take some time to better understand the how and the why of our community building approach. We can lean into the quieter times in our servers and do some gentle restructuring to place our collective humanity at the forefront of our community growth strategy. We can also ensure that our mission is cohesive, clear and supported by our community.

By taking the time now to better understand and ground our communities, we will ensure that our organizations are resilient in the uncertainty of this bear market. We will also be well prepared for the next bull market and ready to ride the waves of resources and abundance that such markets provide for those who muddled through the chaos.

Embracing mission, empathy, compassion and slow growth will help our communities ground into our collective humanity and together, we’ll move our ecosystem forward and change society through decentralization and code that was grounded in and built with compassion.