1. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

A Community of Community Builders – Part 2

It’s not only what’s new — it’s the nuance.

As I posted previously, community building is a worthy calling — one I discovered in my days at Seybold Seminars. My next lesson in community building involved understanding how nuanced the language of an esoteric community can be. And by “language,” I mean all the ways you can invite and even provoke engagement. It’s everything you do to make your discrete audience part of a personalized community-building event. And there’s no faking it — If you don’t get it right, you’ll alienate them forever.

This may seem like SOP today, but this was back in the ‘90s and the challenge we embraced was earning mindshare with the wild west of software developers at Java ONE. No one had tried to attract them to an event and for good reason. They were notoriously independent – each preferring their own programming language, their own way of working, and their own sleep patterns.

All the research said that programmers held a deep distrust of marketing. They would only listen to messaging that felt authentic.  Authentic, for their purposes, came to mean activities programmers preferred when left to their own devices. So, every aspect of the show was created using that filter.

We started offering content at 8:30 a.m. but designed it with plenty of flexibility and alternative activities. And we engaged the entire San Francisco community in making it happen. With Java After Dark, we offered a huge, curated experience that extended after hours and throughout San Francisco to create a sort of a programmer heaven, scheduled to run straight through to 1:00 a.m., because that’s how programmers rolled. There was a music room, filled with garage band instruments.  There were bean bag chairs and foosball tables. We  hosted trivia sessions with Ben Stein, played for cash prizes. They could play hockey at the local arena. They had access to playrooms packed with Legos and Erector Sets. And sugary snacks were found everywhere — Mountain Dew, candy bars, munchies. It worked because as organizers we designed a fun, safe place for the nascent tribe of developers to play, network, and learn Java along the way.

Today Oracle, continues to host a Java community that is millions of members strong — a community we helped connect all those years ago. The takeaway? It’s not enough to have content that you know is relevant. It has to be served in such a tasty way — tasty to your audience — that they will eagerly devour it and ask for more.

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