For the first few years of Soul & Surf the word community was almost taboo. It was whispered not spoken, like a secret elixir that might evaporate if exposed to the air. We didn’t talk about it on our website or social media, we didn’t mention it to our guests or team.
It just, well, happened.
Week after week.
Groups of fascinating people from all over the world put that world to rights over long lazy post-surf breakfasts, day after day.
Our original breakfast table in our tropical Keralan garden witnessed conversations, plans, opinions and concepts that the TED talks and Do Lectures would be jealous of.
And therefore bonds were formed between those breakfast table groups, relationships forged and inspiration shared. Communities were created. Short-term and evolving, but communities all the same.
The magic people took home with them was not so much related to the stuff they had paid for: the surf, the yoga, the food, the rooms, the location. It was instead to do with the community they were a part of for their stay. Where that took them, how it affected them, how it changed them.
And this was before companies were all told to create a community. These were IRL. Real people, sitting round a table, sharing experiences, talking about art/ life/love/business/humanity/growth/community.
We knew it was special, it was special for us, for our team and for our guests that became our friends. But we didn’t want to talk about it, to promise it, in case it didn’t happen. It’s not something you can guarantee is it? Some weeks the chemistry just doesn’t flow. So we just continued to talk about and focus on the ‘ingredients’ that bring these communities together. The things we actually charge for. Yoga, surf, massage, rooms, food, etc.
We knew that you can’t actually sell ‘community’ just like you can’t sell inspiration or transformation. Or rather you shouldn’t try to sell or commodify those things. It just ain’t right.
But after years and years, over multiple locations with different teams, different rooms, different waves, different sunsets, different teachers and different ingredients, the fact that more often than not these magic little temporary communities keep on popping up, and keep on being the magic that people take home with them has made us a little more bold in talking about it. Not quite promising it, definitely not selling it. But at the very least, mentioning how special our little Soul & Surf communities are.
Because these temporary communities, of guests and staff, are the lifeblood of Soul & Surf and they don’t just happen by themselves. We can’t make it happen, but we have worked out the ingredients to nurture it.
How to Build a Community
It’s 2021. If you sell stuff you have to have a community, don’t you? If you have a product you have to sell it to your community. Even if your product is a laxative you’re supposed to build a community around it. That’s what marketing is all about. Bowels not loose enough? Meet like-minded people online and chat about it.
OK, so not every brand or product should build communities, but it is important for those of us who provide products or services that bring like-minded people together.
So, how do you build a community? Well you could follow these 10 simple steps…
- Identify key stakeholders for the community.
- Define the purpose and goal.
- Select a community platform.
- Build a member profile.
- Develop rules and norms.
- Set up your community.
- Identify key stakeholders for the community.
- Promote your community.
- Yada yada
You could try the simple, organic, natural, fairtrade formula, the one we use at Soul & Surf.
- Think of a human need, one that you have and make a product/experience/offer that helps with or meets that need.
- Make the best product/experience/offer you can possibly make with the resources you have.
- Be clear about what you stand for (and what you stand against), what you believe in and what the point of your product/experience/offer is.
- Hire a team that has that same human need – and who has felt the positive benefits of your product/experience/offer.
- Find other people who would benefit from your product/experience/offer.
- Communicate honestly and with integrity to them about your product/experience/offer.
- Create the time and space for your customers to get together with each other and with your team over shared experiences.
- Under promise and over deliver.
- Be honest with your customers, even when things don’t go so well.
- Treat your customers as you would a friend, talk to them, spend time with them.
We’ve spent a lot of time doing the above and have been responsible for building thousands of mini communities. So finally we feel we can actually say the word out loud…. Community. There you go.
What we haven’t figured out yet is how best to translate our real world communities into online communities so that it doesn’t all have to stop when our guests get home. This last year, however, has forced us into looking a little deeper into that. We ran some life-affirming online retreat weekends called Pause back in Lockdown 1.0, we have our At Home yoga classes slowly, steadily building a following and have plans in Soul & Surf 2.0 of combining real world classes and retreats with an online element.
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