[Musings of a Game Store Owner] Art of Building Pt 2- What IS Community

Building community is a long scale endeavor, without any real defined end point. You can't just open your doors and expect things to happen, and you are never "done", either.  You have to have some kind of plan.  I talked about general aspects of the process in my last post (sorry for the two week RL interruption, folks) and sketched out some things I intend to discuss further. 

First among the thoughts and premises I brought up was the meaning of community overall.


Or this?

What is community?

For this one, I'm going back to my trusty dictionary. I love words enough that figuring out what they are supposed to mean is fun. I love comparing the "facts" to reality and figuring out where the discrepancies lie.

Community is defined as-

: a unified body of individuals: as
a : state, commonwealth
b : the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly : the area itself <the problems of a large community>
c : an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location
d : a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society <a community of retired persons>
e : a group linked by a common policy
f : a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests <the international community>
g : a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society <the academic community>

Even within the definition of community, there are different layers and levels of description, intent and effectiveness in describing what we mention as "community".  Not all of the definitions are appropriate for our purposes- and that's ok. That's the point of the discussion, and I enjoy the deeper looks very much.

Out of all of the choices here, I like the definition given in G the most. While our interests aren't professional, you could easily insert "hobby", "crafting", "sporting", "equine" or any number of various past times into the sentence and get a definition that fits what we're discussing.

So now we know that there's a large group of persons with common and especially hobby interests scattered through the larger society- but those people aren't necessarily unified.

It's my belief that you build a community through finding all the people who share a similar interest and finding a way to bring them together; to unify them. This concept is easier discussed than done. It's been alluded to several times in the comment section here, it comes up in personal conversations, and I've talked to other FLGS owners about it in round about ways off and on many times. It all comes down to finding something-anything- that gives our wacky lot a semblance of unity.

At first blush, that's not so hard. We all love games, right? What else do we need?

Our love of games and gaming is our common interest, but it's something else that unifies us. We have to have something more than just a love of games that brings us together. Because for real, how else are a librarian, pet store manager, electrician, engineer,  banker, academic lecturer and a tax dude all going to hang out together and feel comfortable?

It's the people that identify with and enjoy a particular place, setting or environment that make up the community. It's the folks that are engaged and active that help shape it, and those that are invested that help build it beyond "just a place".

So how do you get them to show up? How do you get the people you're actively seeking to appear inside your virtual/real walls? what makes someone pick up their stuff and head to your place?

1) Have A Definition

Know what community you intend to house. Whether it's competitive Magic: the Gathering or "Fluff Bunnies FTW", know you are hoping to attract to your business. Your stock, staff and events should reflect those that are welcome and encouraged to attend.

If you are a miniatures oriented store, make sure you have staffers that are on point in at least two minis games- maybe three. You could possibly have a person with more knowledge of WarMachine and then a Wyrd specialist, if that's your preference- but have depth and wisdom. Make sure the folks you are hoping to attract have similarly minded people to talk to when they finally show up.

2) Fake It Till You Make It

This is entirely language oriented; but tell folks what they want to hear. If you are growing your WarMachines/Hordes community, tell customers that while your community is still small, it's vibrant and passionate. Having events for the community you intend to draw on a regular basis gives people the chance to come check you out and possibly bring friends. By talking positively and passionately about the environment and scope of your community, you can attract people that want something like what you want to build.

Make sure that you're encouraging what you want in your community in words and in action, even when you're just starting out.  Just because you haven't built your community fully yet doesn't mean you won't.

3) Keep Talking/Advertising 

Don't stop talking about your X community/environment. Mention it - a lot. To everyone, in a casual and non-obnoxious way. you are your own best advertising. you are building a brand and you can't afford NOT to talk to folks about what you offer. Make sure you have a two sentence elevator pitch that is welcoming to your intended audience and offers an invitation.  Put this in the hands of anyone that can help you build your business- your staff, your customers, your website, your Facebook page, anywhere and everywhere.

4) Self Correct

Sometimes things go sideways. You end up with something that isn't quite what you anticipated. You look at your community and see something isn't working. Fix it. Don't let things stagnate too long or you wind up with a community that doesn't care and isn't interested in helping you.

For a viable community to grow, standards, expectations and limits need to be in place (and enforced), or your individual members won't feel valued and "check out". The buy in process happens more than once, and if you want people to value what you offer, you have to value it enough to fix it when it's broken/not working/headed in the wrong direction.

These points are generic- while I have used these and will continue to do so, they are not specific. They don't talk about how MY store works and why the things I am doing are working (or aren't). They don't address my local community and don't help me solve problems endemic to my situation.

I hope to talk a little about what I'm doing at my store, how and why- but not so much that other people in other stores/communities and locales can't use my knowledge to help their own environments thrive.  See you next week!

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