Jephtah Abu shares his advice on how to build diverse and inclusive communities – and details what success looks like.
Is building a community a good idea for a dynamically growing business? Prosperous communities can unlock improved customer engagement and loyalty, increased word-of-mouth marketing, and deeper insights into customer needs and desires. However, a crucial element that could easily be overlooked is the diversity and inclusiveness of the community.
Jephtah is a Community Manager at AhoyConnect, an author, a public speaker, and a DEI advocate. He joined the What’s Possible Community sessions to talk about how to build diverse and inclusive communities – and what success looks like.
Jephtah argues that businesses should create communities, as successful communities offer various advantages to organizations. He says the benefits of belonging to a community are many, but one of the most rewarding is the sense of pride and ownership that members feel. They are proud to promote their community and wear their membership as a badge of honour.
“Investing in a community is less expensive than marketing. From your community, you get real-time feedback. You have real-time advocates. Your community will go to lengths to promote you free of charge. You might be spending so much money on marketing and influencers, but your members are your influencers, your advocates, your superusers, your beta-testers – everything-in-one,” he said.
As the media landscape becomes increasingly fragmented, building a community could help remedy falling engagement on social channels for brands.
“Social media is mono-directional. In the community it’s bidirectional. There’s a conversation happening. It has a different flow to it compared to social media. People want that sense of belonging,” Jephtah said.
If you’re looking to create a community that offers true value to its members, he has an easy-to-remember rule of thumb of what communities should strive to be:
Jephtah is based in Lagos, Nigeria, but has extensive experience working with businesses and building online communities in other countries. He makes sure to represent the cultural side of Nigeria in the community he builds.
Africans naturally have a collaborative mindset, Jephtah explains. He says that communities can learn from the popular African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.
Building a diverse and inclusive community is important, so no one feels left out of the conversation, and they see the community as a safe space to express themselves. Communities will be strengthened by the plethora of perspectives gained from a diverse membership.
“Everyone wants a sense of belonging. Everyone wants to feel safe. They go to communities to meet like-minded people. You go there to discuss your passion. You don’t think, ‘I’m a black man in America, or I’m a white man in South Africa’, you just want to meet people,” he says.
Jephtah has left some communities due to a lack of diversity and warns others might do the same. He says a lot of communities will try to appear diverse, and brag about how inclusive they are, but members can sense the community is inauthentic and is just an exercise in box-ticking.
“Diversity in the actual sense is having marginalised groups actually contribute to your community. Having them as a panellist in a conversation, and freely engaging with the community. The importance of diversity cannot be overemphasised,” he said.
Building communities is a fairly new area that some businesses have yet to develop. Creating and maintaining a successful community requires a significant investment of time and resources. Businesses may be unable to justify this investment without a clear understanding of how it will impact their bottom line.
Jephtah cautions businesses not to rely on membership numbers as a metric when starting out with a community. He prefers to look at engagement metrics for success.
“An active community does not necessarily have to be a large community. An active community is one where everyone is engaged, everyone is talking, everyone is contributing to ideas,” he said.
Nonetheless, businesses will set critical KPIs to help them measure and improve their community’s performance. ah encourages business to define their goals and measure against them. If sign-up numbers are a metric a business wants to measure success by, the community manager must work to ensure they meet the business’ expectations.
If you are looking to set up your own community soon, Jephtah has published a community builders guide ebook with co-authors Jay Elango and Ronald Williams, that can serve as a great resource.