Laís de Oliveira at CUAsia '18 Day 1

Community Hacking – Laís de Oliveira – CUAsia’18 Day 1

Laís de Oliveira, the Community Architect at, revealed the elements needed to attract, engage and retain a vibrant community, at the Day 1 of Coworking Unconference Asia – CUAsia 2018. The talk she gave was based on the insights she obtained from dozens of interviews, and she is also working on writing a book on the same topic.

Oliveira started off by stating the obvious; a community is not only limited to coworking. Even if you are working on your company’s organizational culture, or trying to grow a brand, or building a coworking space; you must build a community. She highlighted the Stanford marshmallow experiment; in which series of studies were conducted to test the effects of delayed gratification. The studies involved placing a marshmallow in front of a child and telling him/her that if he/she could hold on for fifteen minutes without eating it, he/she would get another one. Years later, it was seen that those children who chose to wait were more likely to succeed in life; in fields like career, academic and health. She stated, “Community building is not for marshmallow eaters.” It is not for someone who is only interested in getting fast results, after all, it is an ongoing process that takes a while to launch.

What do you get when you Google, ‘What is a community?’ A simple version of that would be, a community is nothing more than people sharing beliefs.“Beliefs are what brings people together,” said Oliveira. It is the foundation for values; which in turn helps us make decisions. To sum it up, decisions are based on values which are based on beliefs, and decisions lead to actions which is what we call culture. Mainly having a culture/community means spending less money on marketing. She defines community building as ‘the art of getting people to do stuff willingly.’ People assume that a community builder’s role is to bring individuals to excel as a collective or creating excuses to bring people together, but Oliveira says it is more than that. There is a scientific approach, to figuring out why ‘belonging’ matters, as in why people seek out communities.

It is going to easier for you to know what makes someone a successful community builder, once you understand why belonging matters. In a study conducted by a psychologist named Susan Pinker, she said: “It is a biological imperative to know that we belong.” The concept is, you do not choose to belong, you do not choose to be popular; belonging makes you feel safe. Therefore it is a need. About the study conducted by Susan, Oliveira shared a personal experience to back up some of the findings. Last year in December, she took her parents to Portugal for the first time. They visited the village her great-grandfather lived in, upon arriving they met an individual who knew of people with the same surname as her. Oliveira and her parents went to their relative’s house, who invited them to their homes and served them wine which they made themselves. She noticed an interesting fact while she was mingling with her relatives, one of them was a 100 years old, and another woman who was considered the youngest was in her 90s. What made these people live so long? Susan Pinker’s study was based on blue zones; blue zones are the areas where people live beyond 100 years, and it helped her derive certain indicators that pointed to longevity. The first indicator that you are going to survive is your community is based on your interactions with your neighbors and how much you feel safe in your neighborhood. The second indicator is your closest ties, like your mother, brother, familial. ‘Those interactions with your community are one of the strongest predictors of how long you’ll live.’ Oliveira summarized, “Belonging feels safe, safety feels good, belonging feels good.”

Technology has transformed how we interact; it has expanded our boundaries. We can stay mobile and connected; we have moved from being geographically or ethnically defined to having the freedom to choose, as in freedom to belong anywhere. Online interactions have significantly increased compared to offline ones. However, live partner interactions show higher engagement of brain areas that are associated with attention, social, intelligence and emotional reward.

Next Oliveira talked about the art of building communities and stated a joint concept between communities and sci-fi, fiction. Yuval Noah Harari, an author from Israel, wrote in his book, “Humans use their language not merely to describe reality, but also to create realities, fictional realities”  As long as everybody believes in fiction, we do things without people telling us to do it. The approach is to engineer trust through beliefs, thus changing the idea of community building from ‘I got you’ to ‘I got your back’; the bottom line is giving people what they want, which is safety and a sense of belonging.

Simon Sinek said, “The goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have; the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe.” The idea was to build a circle, called the golden circle, and go from the ‘why to the how to the what.’ What –  is just the coworking space. How – refers to when you go into the space where there is a lot of people; these people bring more people into the space. Why – leads you to be connected. For example, Hubud went from a coworking space to a major ecosystem developer. It is not about a desk; it is about being connected and being part of the natural ecosystem.

Each coworking space has a look that tells a story, and some people are interested in hearing those stories. For example, at Regus, they provide a community ‘tailored to your needs.’ Another example, Oliveira mentioned is Hubud, where they say ‘get remote{ivated}’; they are communicating to people’s position, the location is in Bali, and their ambiance is ‘chilled.’ Her examples where referring to a lesson she learned from Steve Munroe, who said, “the community will define itself if you are brave to allow it.” Thus, being self-selected is the best way to show sustainability; price and locations are the primary natural selectors. “When you price up or down, you select your community, stop trying to please everyone; and make sure your prices and location are aligned to the core of who you are,” said Oliveira.

How to go about connecting people? Great content can attract a self-selected base of customers who will define themselves as members. What brings us together is not necessarily what binds us together. The excuse that you use to bring people together is not necessarily the reason why they stay. Hugh Mason, one of the co-founders of JFDI in Singapore said, “Community building is just like the turkey in Thanksgiving. People get together because of it, but what matters are the conversations around the table.” Based on this idea, Oliveira went onto explain the three stages of belonging, attract, engage and stay.

                       The attraction stage refers to the first point of contact with your community. The least people are aware of your value, the more you have to work on your attraction. Attraction is a type of content which may not be related to what your space does; for example, let’s assume you are hosting a brunch for women founders, some will come because of the food while others will come to meet other founders.

                      Out of the 500 people that you attract, about 100 will get engaged. For example, the ladies that come to your space for brunch might see a calendar that represents all the events, you host. Few of them might be interested in those events, that is how they get engaged with your coworking space. It is all about giving them a reason to come back.

                     Once you attract people, you create reasons for them to come back, and then you make them stay by winning their hearts. This idea is approached by continuously improving your services. When people walk into your coworking space for a startup weekend, what elements do you have in place, that they can see and perceive as a reason to come back. Oliveira stated, “Cadence matters”; people want to rely on you, reliability is based on cadence. Therefore,  if you are doing workshops, make sure to do them weekly, monthly, consistently, keep it simple and don’t let them forget you.

Lastly, she talked about authenticity; she mentioned an author named Brene Brown, who explains how authenticity is about building efficiency. For example, Avis came up with this ad campaign, where they state that they are no.2 in renting car service, and they addressed the question as to why people should choose them, despite being second best. Their authentic approach was to say that they would provide the best service because they couldn’t ‘afford’ to disappoint their customers. No one can relate to perfection, Oliveira advises, “ Be yourself and build on your strengths and find a community that can belong to you. Don’t build your business as an ideal persona, show your flaws.”

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