From Community Management to Network Design 

Rick Williams
November 13, 2023

Web3 is built around a trifecta of Product, Protocol and Participation.

The latter of these means more than just community management; it requires purpose and network design.

Which of the three Ps you should focus your flywheel on first is an essay for another day; it is the last ‘P’ that I want to focus on in this article. Participation underlies the support and belief in your project’s vision, and is the lifeblood of your endeavour through a ‘crypto winter’.

From Passive, to Participation

Traditional digital consumer participation has been a pretty passive affair. Brands garner ‘fans’ and ‘followers’ in the hope that a piece of their content can make it into their feed, with the end goal being liked, or better still shared

Community Management has evolved over the years from crisis management to organising a steady flow of content in order to stay relevant. It is an essential part of a brand’s online presence, nurturing, supporting and building trust within their customers.

From a customer perspective, it’s been greatly beneficial to hold brands to account more publicly, and across multiple channels. From the brand’s perspective, it’s brought down the number of costly telephone calls, and brought marketing, PR and customer services closer together. However we haven’t seen many brands leveraging these channels to foster meaningful community participation.

Therein lies the difference between a Community and a Network. Communities are focused on people; Networks are focused on tasks, actions and opportunities.

Communities are focused on people; Networks are focused on tasks, actions and opportunities.

The 4 Pillars of Community:

Build Trust: When a community is engaged, it sends a clear signal that the project is genuine and promising.

Provide Feedback: The community not only supports the project, but also provides feedback. This is key for identifying issues, and opportunities that may otherwise go overlooked.

Encourage Adoption: Community members are the best ambassadors for a project. They act as passionate advocates, promoting the project within their own networks, leading to greater adoption.

Create a Sense of Belonging: Communities give members the feeling of being part of something bigger than themselves. This strengthens their emotional connection to the project, and their commitment to its success.

How to create a more participatory network

We naturally organise into networks for many different reasons and an individual might be connected to many different ones at once, such as family networks, friend networks, professional networks, school networks, religious networks and online social networks, all within the wider community. Networks can be loose and unstructured, as most social networks are, or they can be formed to fulfil specific functions and advance a specific aim, like Impact Networks.

These networks can take three primary forms: 

Learning Networks are focused on connection and learning. They are formed to facilitate the flow of information or knowledge to advance collective learning on a particular issue.

Action Networks are focused on connection, learning and action. They are formed to facilitate connection and learning in the service of coordinated action.

Movement Networks link many other learning and action networks together, creating a network of networks.

The advent of decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs), which enable people to gather very quickly around a common purpose, has shifted the role of community from passive consumption to active participation and collective agency. A great example of an action network that came together in a very short period of time is Constitution DAO. The DAO was created in a matter of hours, and within 48hrs they had collectively put together a bid (one they sadly lost) to purchase an original copy of the United States’ Constitution. Ultimately, they refunded the donations and disbanded the DAO later that same month.

Brands tapping into networks to create impact

There is a huge mindset shift required to move from community management to network design, but it is possible and there are many examples, such as Food Lab At Google, run by Michiel Bakker, who has led a revolution in the workplace, first at Google, but then elsewhere through a network impact mindset, facilitated by a traditional hierarchical organisational model. You can find out more about the incredible work they’ve done on the podcast.

Building, orchestrating, nurturing and governing networks requires intention, strategy, and genuine care. More than anything though, they require common purpose which brings people together to act. As this more meaningful, actionable sense of collective agency proliferates, whether it be Yuga Labs, seeking to redefine culture, media and IP creation, or networks such as GitCoin, providing financial redistribution through community-led positive change, they all have this shift in common: 

Technology is enabling ‘community’ to shift from Passive → Active → Reciprocal. 

From Active, to Reciprocal

We are seeing the early green shoots of this reciprocal value being given back to the community, but I’m very excited to see where this will lead in the future and brands’ involvement in it. How the transition from product as 'fixed state', to product as 'flow state' will be realised and organised through network design is really exciting. For marketing managers who want to create a legacy, redefine their brand and differentiate themselves in a noisy ‘me too’ advertising industry, there’s no better time to be alive.

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