Lisette in front of TriftgletscherI just got back from a week of hiking and climbing with friends in the Swiss alps. One of the hikes we did was up to the Trifthütte. The hike took about 7 hours, and when we arrived at the hut, we were warmly greeted by Irene and Talak with a glass of tea and a heart-shaped cookie.

There were only two other guests, and it didn’t take long for everyone to introduce themselves. The six of us sat outside, enjoyed our tea and cookies, and admired the view of the glaciers while we watched the sun go down (awesome!).

Inside, a single round table had been set up for dinner. We eat a great meal and easily continue the conversation. After dessert has been served, several of us volunteer to help clean up. Irene leads us into the kitchen which is warm from a wood-fueled stove cooking bread for the next day’s breakfast. When everything is clean, everyone is offered a drink as a token of appreciation. It doesn’t take long for sleepiness to sink in, sending us all to our beds.

The next morning, on the way down the mountain, I thought about what had created that special sense of community the previous evening. What had made everyone feel welcome and inspired to make a contribution? It was a lot of little things that added up:

  • The spectacular hike and the views at the top
  • The warm welcome by Irene and Talak
  • Sitting at a round table where we could all see and hear each other
  • Everyone spoke a common language
  • Sharing a delicious meal (thanks Talak!)
  • The warmth of the kitchen (and the smell of baked bread)
  • The experience of working on a project together (washing & drying dishes)
  • Being offered a drink as a token of appreciation

All of these factors can be distilled into 5 basic ingredients that can be applied to managing online communities:

  1. Welcome people in a personal way (tea and cookies)
  2. Create a conducive environment for communication (round table)
  3. Offer delicious/valuable content (nice meal and place to sleep)
  4. Organize shared experiences and invite people to participate (washing dishes together)
  5. Thank people for their contributions (drink)

Keep in mind, there are no guarantees when it comes to creating a sense of community. Sometimes it’s just not present, and there is no clear explanation as to why. However, as more ingredients are added to the mix, the likelihood of creating community increases. What can you do to build more community in your networks?