There is a science to building belonging. Here’s what I have learnt from my own experience building peer groups and communities.
Do you have a tribe? Does your brand have a tribe? Are you looking to create a tribe?
This is my tribe. In this photo are dozens of experience creators and facilitators who I nominated to join my community, PEAK-XP. It feels like I have known them for ages.
A tribe is defined as a close group of humans who share a concern for each other’s welfare. A tribe is a little bit more extreme than a community. A tribe stands for something. A community may just exist around a shared activity, whereas a tribe has a purpose and identity.
My tribe is a group of thrill-seekers who value health, personal growth, and playfulness. My community PEAK-XP is a platform for me to interconnect my tribe and offer them value. It’s located on Slack.
Travelling the world studying the science of social bonding and immersing myself in different tribes taught me that there is a science to engineering belonging.
In this article, I want to share the 20% that got me 80% of the results. I hope the lessons help you create your own tribe, strengthen your brand’s tribe, or inspire you to improve the tribes to which you belong.
I think that building tribes and connecting humans to one another is one of the greatest acts of generosity. Helping others by connecting them with others is not often compared to buying gifts for someone or taking them out for dinner. But it is more powerful!
I believe tribe-building is a form of giving, and so I implement these principles in my day-to-day life.
Cultivate shared purpose and values.
Again, again, and again, I read about the importance of purpose and values. The specificity of who is in your tribe delimits the belonging that can be experienced within the tribe. If the purpose is not thought out, your tribe will suffer the ‘everything and nothing effect’ whereby members of your tribe do not know why the tribe exists and who the tribe is for.
The purpose of your tribe is the shared outcome that everyone is working toward. Is it personal growth, cooking expertise, animal ethics, or marriage improvement?
Reflecting on the purpose of your tribe and the values that underlie this purpose is essential to building a self-sustaining tribe. That is… one that operates regardless of whether you are there fueling it.
All of this ties into the mistake of overinclusion. With diversity and inclusion as the new focus for many leaders, the importance of exclusion has been lost. Your tribe is not for everyone, so do not include everyone.
For years, I included everyone in my community. Finally, I drafted some core values and started being selective about who I let into my tribe. This is one of my sign up forms for my community. You can see that joining my tribe is not for everyone.
Stories were the medium for transmission of cultural information before the invention of writing and computers. In copywriting, story-telling is one of the most powerful ways to sell a product. The same applies to tribe-building. Humans are wired to resonate with others’ experiences. We are empathetic beings and can’t help it.
Stories relating to the origin and values of your tribe will stimulate interest in the tribe and also strengthen your shared purpose and values. Stories inspire people to live the tribe’s values. Stories also inspire people to join the tribe.
Stories, of course, contain a protagonist. This is the main character who goes on a journey to overcome a particular challenge. This challenge is significant. Resonance with the protagonist in the story what attracts more tribe members, especially if the purpose of your tribe is to address said challenge.
Here’s an example of a story.
One of my tribe’s core values is Thrill. We define it as openness to new experiences, seeking the excitement of new experiences and connections.
During my workshops, I like to tell the story of arriving in NYC for the first time. I did not know anyone, but regardless I decided to attend a high-profile networking event in a high-rise. I showed up alone and introduced myself in front of fifty people as a party scientist. Everyone laughed. Then, given a last-minute opportunity, I decided to lead a session during the event on the science of bringing people together. It went well.
My courageous networking and leadership led me to make some awesome connections. I met the leaders of massive communities in the city and was invited to a private event for facilitators and event producers.
At that event, I did not shy away from the opportunity to lead. With the 20 people I wanted to connect with, I led a group sit—which erupted in a cheer at the end. Then, multiple people wanted to talk to me.
My embodiment of thrill led me to build a network of friends and collaborators in NYC, in less than a week.
My tribe members resonate with the challenge of building belonging in a new environment, meeting new people, and facing the fear of embarrassment.
Focus on the first impression and the last impression.
A pivotal moment in building your tribe is when someone joins the tribe or arrives at one of your gatherings. Research on memory has shown that humans remember the beginning, peaks, and ends of experiences. This means it is important to begin a relationship on a strong note.
My goal during these moments is to make newcomers feel accepted, valued, and included. I begin my gatherings very intentionally, with connection games and energizers. When new tribe members join my online community, I reach out to them personally to welcome them, and I nominate them to introduce themselves and ask for help.
For gatherings, the last impression is just as important as the first impression. Would people come back for more if the experience merely petered out? Or if it ended with a bang and a feeling of “I want more”? My favorite rituals for ending my classes are designed to produce this feeling. They include appreciation circles, inspirational speeches, and vulnerability sharing.
Create a platform to tighten the tribe.
In Tribes, Seth Godin says that leaders give people a platform for organizing around a purpose. This platform is one that enables intercommunication between tribe members. The easier it is for members to connect with one another, the more likely social bonds are to form. This means community leaders must be intentional about building a platform that enables members to connect with one another. And they must create an environment where engagement and reaching out is encouraged.
I have implemented a private platform for my tribe to connect with one another and for community engagement to be visible to everyone.
Ask for help.
I remember a quote from an article in the Harvard Business Review, written by Brenee Brown: “She found that asking for help was the #1 trust-building behavior in a survey of over 1,000 leaders.”
In my own tribe, I encourage people to ask for help because it is the basis for belonging. I role model the behavior and I also have created a digital message channel strictly for asking for help.
Here’s a summary of my principles: Be intentional. And exclude.
Remember: relationships are slow. Be patient. Belonging develops slowly, over repeated encounters. Rushing belonging is not the right approach.
Trust me, I have rushed for 70% of my life. And it has led to some below-average communities.
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This is the story of a different type of community. It’s a long, arduous, and emotional one.
Read this if you are passionate about In-Real-Life community building and bringing humans together in healthy ways. This is written for facilitators of human connection.
In this article, I chronicle my process for building and launching an online learning community in three months, scaling the community to 50 members and igniting a global value-based movement.
VYVE is a global human connection movement about empowering more humans to access the benefits of the elixir of life that is Community. Apply to join here.
In 2017, I started throwing sober parties and gained my craft in facilitation. In 2020, I started building conscious communities. It was in October 2020 that I woke up to the power of community building.
Building a community will scale my impact, raise my sense of purpose, and create passive recurring income.
Amidst the pandemic, my co-founders and I were scrambling. Our event model was being torn to shreds by the new restrictions in Vancouver, Canada. We had planned a bunch of dis-dance events with the goal of creating an outdoor health phenomenon called vyving.
We were crazy. Winter was coming. The pandemic was raging. Regardless, we dived in. Thanks to my biz partner’s courage, we believed we could make it happen. We believed we could popularize an intense biohacking practice based on the health benefits of human connection.
We were not wrong. But outdoor events became illegal. This led us to pivot.
After our final event, a secret mission on Halloween, we were back to the drawing board. When would we launch our vyving classes? When would events become legal again? What would we do in the meantime?
It was around this time that my self-doubt started to increase. One of my business partners decided to leave two weeks earlier. There was a lot of uncertainty in the air. Momentum was stalling.
Toper, my other business partner, and I spent the month of November in reflection and learning mode. We spent the month finalizing some key documentation about our movement and community. Toper was transitioning to a new job, so we had a lot of time to read, write, and synthesize our philosophies.
During this time, the bedrock of the VYVE manifesto was constructed. But also, the bedrock of the VYVE community. In November, we determined who our niche was and identified dozens of people who we wanted to enroll in our movement. This is before we saw VYVE as a community business. We still saw VYVE as a class-based model like CrossFit.
We used the template from Belong by Radha Agrawal to identify the core values of our community, the purpose, and the brand. In one epic brainstorm, Toper and I came up with the 5 V’s of VYVE. You can find them in the manifesto.
I totally geeked out and learnt all that I could about community-building. I read countless books and started to follow famous community builders. I joined Discords, discovered Circle, and started to play around with Slack. I read the Art Of Community and started writing an internal document called Community Infrastructure.
All my lessons I applied in a community I had started spontaneously for my friends in August of 2020. The Slack group had continued until it was shut down in December. This group was not intended to be the product. But it served as a learning ground for the launch of the VYVE movement.
Key Lesson #1. Launch before you launch.
I had launched a community on Slack and used it as a testing ground for different apps and engagement strategies. This group, called the League of Revyvers, was where my introduction template, core channels, and central activities were invented. I learnt the hard lesson that community-building is a long-term game. Especially if you’re migrating your community off of the main platforms.
Also, the community has to be reallllyy good for people to stick around. Meaning, the signal-to-noise ratio must be verrryyy high.
Key Lesson #2. Maximize the signal-to-noise ratio.
In December, I ramped up my community-building efforts while my business partner started his new job. This is where I dug my heels in and wrote the first iteration of the VYVE manifesto. It came across as quite judgemental toward people with materialistic values.
I sent it to my most critical-thinking friends and received tons of feedback on the core philosophy and values. Before the critique, I was demonizing materialism and wealth. I soon realized I did not want to exclude people who like nice stuff. So I re-edited it. Largely thanks to Ashton Addison.
Thanks to Christopher Ravadilla, who had recently read Dancing in the Streets, the manifesto incorporated the history of community and ritual. Positive psychology was also emphasized in the manifesto, based on my revelations from reading Lost Connections, given to me by a good friend Brad Lancaster, a master community philosopher.
It was in December that I clarified the future of VYVE. This happened organically. As I learnt more and more about the exciting community-building space, I realized there was no reason VYVE could not be a global collective and identity. Plus, in 2019, I had returned from an international party research expedition and had met hundreds of international facilitators, such as Adam Wilder — who I regard as my greatest ally.
I had the network to make this happen! Given that our vyving class was not going to be possible until COVID was over, I made the decision to make the community the product, not the practice of vyving. This is after I learnt about the relationship between the people attending and the event experience.
Who shows up at your event dictates the quality of your event.
After deciding to start a global community for facilitators of human connection, I followed my instinct to reach out to people like that.
I remember a call with Adam where I pitched the idea to him. This is after I had drafted the first proposal of the community published on December 14. He was not too receptive. He gave me a lot of feedback. I implemented it and sent it back. Multiple times.
Get down a written proposal. Send it to people that its intended to serve.
The proposal that I had written was essential for communicating the value proposition of VYVE. It was my key collateral that I sent to my network. It is embarrassing to look back on it now.
Throughout December, this is what I did: I sent the proposal out to my community-builder/human connection friends and solicited feedback. I iterated the community proposal again, again, and again.
Over Christmas, I spent the days reflecting and cold-plunging. More importantly, I read Healthy at 100. And this reinforced the VYVE philosophy ten times. Excerpts from the book are now included in the manifesto, and I have considered sending all new members of VYVE the book. My greatest takeaway is encapsulated by this snippet.
In Okinawa, Hunza, Vilcabamba, and Abhkasia, there is a deep sense of human connection and social integrity. People continually help one another and believe in one another — John Robbins, Heatlhy at 100 (pg. 284)
With a renewed confidence in the VYVE philosophy and my purpose in life — to bring back the depth of community characterizing centenarian villages — I asked myself. What now?
— A founding member launch.
I had learnt about the founding member launch from a friend and mentor, Jan Keck, founder of Ask Deep Questions. He was in the middle of launching his own membership community for facilitators. He told me about Stu Mclaren, and I read the guide on tribehub.com.
After a wonderful NYE parade in the rain co-hosted with the supportive @Charlotte.rhythms, I started to plan my founding member launch.
Before this, I finalized a new proposal/invitation (likely the 20th version) and published the VYVE Community Code. All my community infrastructure had to be set up before I started recruiting members.
My community infrastructure included the following:
An onboarding procedure.
A community platform — core channels and apps for the slack community.
A code of conduct.
An application form.
An acceptance form.
I built the full customer experience and had my friends go through it. Thank you Pierre for the wonderful feedback.
The customer experience began with the letter of nomination. From there, readers clicked on the application form. They received an email from me which rationalized their application and conveyed exclusivity. Then, they received an acceptance form. The acceptance form contained expectations, standards of participation, and terms and conditions.
Afterward, they received an email from me with the onboarding protocol. Back then, it was wayyyy too complicated. So it has been massively simplified since January.
Emphasis: The application form was an extremely important touchpoint. It went through five rounds of feedback. I designed the form such that it showed off the value of the community to the applicant. Why did I implement applications?
In December, I finished reading Priya Parker’s book called The Art of Gathering. In it, she introduces the idea of Inclusive Exclusivity.
Inclusive exclusivity is the act of excluding people who do not align with the purpose of your gathering for the sake of including those who do.
In other words, for your niche to feel fully included and authentic, you have to exclude people who would dilute that feeling. I often don’t feel like I can dance at fancy nightclubs. It’s because the people there are not my tribe. And they’re drunk, I’m sober. When the people there are not your tribe, it’s not easy to express yourself authentically.
Based on this, I decided early on that I wanted my community to be inclusively exclusive. This meant that I had them go through multiple application forms to get in. And then an onboarding procedure.
I even had them read the manifesto before applying.
BACK TO WHAT I WAS SAYING —
The acceptance form was just as important as the application form. When members were accepted, they were offered a position within VYVE. The acceptance form was conveyed as an offer and agreement. To accept their offer, applicants had to acknowledge the community code, the 5 Vs of VYVE, and the shared responsibilities of being in VYVE.
My network likely expanded 3X in January. After finalizing all the community infrastructure, I started identifying people in my network who I would want in VYVE. I had already a massive network from travelling the world.
My outreach approach was collaborative. I asked for feedback. I asked if they wanted to be involved in building the VYVE Alliance. I sent them the proposal letter and requested a meeting with them. What I found to be effective was meeting with them first, before even inviting them to be a part of VYVE.
Humans love other humans. Show off your human nature before pitching them.
A lot of the lead identification had already been done. For years I had been creating a network database containing people with my beliefs and passions. So, all I had to do was look at my excel sheet and reach out to them. Network management comes in handy.
I followed up ruthlessly. I recruited a bunch of high-profile movement builders such as Peter Sharp and Nicole Gibson. What I soon realized is that I recruited them. They did not organically choose to be in VYVE.
This was my greatest downfall in creating VYVE 1.0. People who didn’t want to be there, or who could not benefit from being involved in VYVE had been recruited into the community. More on this later.
By the end of January, I had 27 members of VYVE. They had all gone through the acceptance form. And they were all signed up for the opening ceremony.
How I designed the opening ceremony and the first month
I wanted the opening ceremony to show off the awesomeness within VYVE. So I drafted a presentation with one slide for each founding member. During the ceremony, I personally introduced each member with their slide and they followed a structured introduction to the group. Then they led a short activity to their favourite song for the entire group.
The intros went overtime because some people did not stop talking. So the second half of the opening ceremony, which focussed on public commitment to the mission and values of VYVE, was rushed. In this section, I explained the mission of VYVE and every member signed the slide digitally. There were numerous slides. This was the mission slide.
After the opening ceremony, VYVE kicked off with a weekly event. There were four types of events: learning discussions, human connection labs, peer support circles, and ask an expert Q&As.
In retrospect, there were way too many events.
With all my infrastructure in place, February was about getting as many members as possible to events. And collecting as much feedback as possible. Every week, there was a different event, at the same consistent time. This maximized attendance.
I spoke to members regularly. I scheduled an optional community infrastructure meeting. I setup committees. I solicited feedback. I prodded people. I sent voice messages.
It was very difficult to keep engagement high. In all this, I learnt that people are overwhelmed easily. So, I reduced the number of channels on Slack to the bare minimum. I set the expectation that events are the most important form of community participation.
It didn’t work. People did not show up at events.
Then, I had a really important call with Jan Keck.
If it’s not on their to do list, they won’t show up. — Jan Keck
This is when I realized that my events were not helping people make a livelihood. VYVE events were fun, but nonessential.
Near the end of February, I collected 20 feedback responses that reinforced this realization. One of the questions was about a fair price for the month of membership. Some of my best friends told me they had not received any value. Zero dollars. It really hurt. I took it personally.
But it helped me come back to consciousness.
In March, I came to the uncomfortable realization.
I had convinced people to join who really did not want to be there, and who really could not benefit from being there. This was a difficult realization. Because people didn’t want to be there, it destroyed the sense of engagement in the community. I actually discovered that I had to restart.
Screen people for dedication, not expertise or followers.
After reviewing the feedback responses, I realized the importance of committedness. Community members will not experience any benefit from your product if they are not committed to trying it out. I had numerous community members who just didn’t have the commitment. They wouldn’t participate because they had no reason to.
If you have successfully targeted a niche, they will be naturally committed to trying your product.
I had invited people who were not my niche. They were not in a place to benefit from participating in my community.
So here came the great revival. I realized I needed to relaunch. I needed to remove the community members who didn’t care at all. I needed to build a program that actually got members to commit. So, I built the Try-VYVE program — a four-session program intended to showcase the benefits of peer accountability, learning, and support — the three pillars of VYVE value proposition.
In March, I took off the throttle on the actual community and refocussed on program development and outreach. A few community members were integral in building Try-VYVE. Melanie got me to simplify and crystallize the offering. Emily got me to use more inclusive language and practice more transparency.
New community infrastructure was built. The most important document was the welcome letter — this included a roadmap, a checklist, and some welcoming words. Every participant would receive it, and it would be their program guide.
To relaunch, I used Hunter.io to send out personalized ‘prelaunch invitations’ to my newsletter list and all the previous applicants to VYVE. I sent about 3000 personal emails. I made the recipient feel like the prelaunch was not public… and it wasn’t.
I designed new Typeforms for accepting and evaluating applicants. Both of which blatantly laid out the necessary commitments. I even turned on the ‘force to click all’ function.
I hired a virtual assistant to direct message people on Instagram, post on Facebook groups, and collect email addresses. This was likely one of the best investments of my life. It led to around 5 booked meetings with facilitators every week. These meetings went very well. I showed off my human nature before officially nominating them to join VYVE.
My goal was to onboard 50 members for the first cohort. From my pool of existing and new applicants, I got 57. In this process, I had numerous existing revyvers leave. It forced me to learn an important principle.
When people who are not your niche leave, it’s a positive signal.
Ever since learning this, I have made it very clear. VYVE is intended for facilitators of human connection who are building purpose-driven communities. It’s not for Instagram influencers who like selling things to their audience. It’s not for filmmakers. It’s not for actors.
I sent the new 57 member the welcome letter and the checklist that they must complete to be eligible for revyver status. How I framed the checklist is that joining VYVE must be earned; to become a revyver, you must complete the checklist in full. If you don’t, apply again and good luck.
I subtly communicated this over and over again: you have to earn your membership to VYVE. Unlike most communities, where you can just buy your way in, VYVE requires an application and commitment. Being an active participant is much more important than paying more, in my books. This is why the pricing of VYVE will accommodate lower income levels.
During onboarding, I set up phone calls with new members Lucy the self-declared Co-op Nerd and Marco the Authentic Relating Master. I got to know my new community members and found out the stage of their community-building they were at.
Before the opening celebration, I filmed special dance videos for all the new members. In the introduction template, it featured ‘favourite song.’ I took the song and filmed myself dancing to it. Then I posted it publicly in Slack.
Design of the Opening Celebration
Compared to the first opening event, this one got way more positive feedback. I designed it to maximize interactivity. So, I created speed vulnerability sessions — every participant would go through 5 five-minute sessions where they were paired up to pay a game called “If you really knew me, you’d know…”
Before the speed sessions started, I shared the story and passion I have for VYVE. I talked about the origins of VYVE in my experiences leading hundreds of sober parties.
I even made an April fool’s joke that Facebook and VYVE were entering a strategic partnership. It got everyone laughing.
After the speed-vulnerability sessions, we ratified various codes. We digitally signed the manifesto, core beliefs of VYVE, and the program expectations. Finally, participants were assigned to breakout rooms of three to complete their ‘hive check out.’ This is a ritual a part of VYVE where peer groups regularly share their goals and gratitudes.