25 Lessons from the First 25 Episodes of the Community Experience – Smart Passive Income



The first 25 episodes of The Community Experience Podcast have been an absolute whirlwind of inspiration and education. We set out to create a show that explored community from all of its edges—from new tech groups to religions, from on-the-ground organizers to academia, the societal and ethical implications, and much more.

Along the way, we centered on some key questions:

  • How does one build a truly meaningful community?
  • How does one do so sustainably?
  • How does one measure success in a community

We’ve learned a lot about all three of these major questions and much more. Read on for a mega recap of the most important lessons we learned after our first 25 episodes!

If you want to hear the extended version of this recap with me and Jillian, then give CX 031 a listen.

(And stick around till the end to learn about CX Day, a free event opportunity on March 23 where you can learn how to build deeper relationships with your true fans!)

Table of Contents

1. Facilitate discussion between participants to breed real connection

We can’t just throw people in a room and expect them to make meaningful relationships on their own. In The CX 001: Ending the Loneliness Epidemic with Jillian Richardson, we learned about the epidemic level of loneliness, and how to create activities that get people to open up to each other.

2. Don’t assume a crowded niche is full

In The CX 002: Unboxing Community in the Pokémon Card Niche with Pat Flynn, we learned how Pat broke into the insanely crowded world of Pokémon card YouTube channels by tapping into people’s readiness for something different. The point? Crowded spaces still have needs—and if you adopt the right mindset going in, you can still find a lot of success.

3. Tie your community to clear business objectives

In The CX 003: Navigating the Business of Belonging with David Spinks, David talked to us about his book, The Business of Belonging, and how he helps community managers justify continued and increased investment in their work by tying their efforts to tangible outcomes.

4. Don’t keep traditions set in stone if circumstances call for change 

Esther Lederman, our guest in The CX 004: So a Rabbi Walks Into a Pandemic, took us behind the scenes as her circle of Rabbinic leaders grappled with adapting millennia-old rituals to account for the impossibilities of COVID. 

Hear from SPI’s CX experts on how to build a successful online community in 2022.

5. Pandemic remote is not real remote

The pandemic sparked a massive shift toward remote work. In The CX 005: Pandemic Remote, Real Remote, and Rejecting Hustle Culture, Marissa Goldberg taught us the importance of creating a sense of place for your remote teams and ensuring everyone nurtures a strong identity outside of their team.

6. Design for each community member’s level of involvement

In The CX 006: MRR (Monthly Recurring Relationships), Rosie Sherry introduced us to the scaffolding model of community, where a community’s audience is broken into four main groups: observers, attendees, participants, and champions. Members at each level require their own kind of interaction and ways to move between them. 

7. Online summits aren’t conferences—and they’re here to stay

In The CX 007: The Unique Potential of Online Summits, we talked with HeySummit CEO Rob Gelb about why online summits can be powerful rallying points for your community, and how multiple formats throughout the year help create a rhythm to engagement.

8. Seek the balance between generosity and burnout

In The CX 008: Protecting Yourself with Boundaries and a Healthy Mindset, Espree Devora showed us how to listen for “spiritual notifications” that guide you when you want to give so much to community but also want to make sure you are taking care of yourself.

9. Lean into controversy with love

In The CX 009: TikTok and Troll-Wrangling, Keenya Kelly showed us how she handled a trolling situation with grace—and ended up creating some of her best material as a result. 

10. Sometimes your best role in a community is not to be its leader

After discussing the double-edged sword of anonymity as a leader in your community, Mat Sonnenberg told us in The CX 010: How Matt Sonnenberg Leads His Community (without Actually Leading It) how he learned to step back and cede leadership to the people who were best suited to take charge, so he could settle into a more supportive role that fit him better. 

11. Telephone calls and written letters are powerful Zoom-free connection tools

In The CX 011: Falling in Friendship and Analog Connection with Kat Vellos, we discussed how many people managed to forge deeper connections in the wake of the pandemic, and how the design constraints of not being able to meet in person led some to adopt more old-school methods of connection. Who doesn’t love to get a letter, right?

12. Make time to do something magical to remind you why you’re doing this

In The CX 012: Burnout Management for Community Leaders: a Roundtable Chat, we talked with our very own Jay Clouse and Matthew Gartland about how to identify and steer clear of the burnout danger zone. We also talk about the importance of filling up your cup: making time to do something in your community that nourishes you and reminds you of your purpose.

13. How you “center” your community has a large influence over who feels welcome

In The CX 013: Building More Inclusive Communities with Daniel Oppong, we looked at the subtle but critical signals that get sent in the imagery and language you use to advertise your community. While you might implicitly want to have a community that is inclusive, explicitly demonstrating it will go a long way to attract folks from a wide array of backgrounds.

14. Look for ways to create a shared language

Everyone loves an inside joke—at least when they’re on the inside! In The CX 014: Online Communication in the Age of the Emoji with Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl), we talk about the cohesion that people feel when they adopt a shared language through funny and special moments. How can your community have its own special emoji, nicknames, gifs, memes?

Jillian Benbow and Pat Flynn share the stories and techniques we use to create engagement within our own community, SPI Pro.

15. People don’t necessarily know how to make friends

In The CX 015: An Evidence-Based Approach to the Loneliness Epidemic, Nathaan Demers, Psy.D. put some science behind what many of us community folks have intuited—that people don’t necessarily know how to make friends. They might not even realize the quality of the friendships they already have—but we can still help reduce loneliness with some basic education. 

16. Where there is stigma, there is opportunity

Kelly Roberts didn’t jibe with the running clubs she tried joining. When she built a run club that was more about the talking than the running, she struck a chord with other would-be runners who didn’t feel comfortable with the existing groups either. Listen to her story in The CX 016: Community First, Workout Second with Kelly Roberts of Badass Lady Gang.

17. Seek balance between openness and exclusivity

In The CX 017: Avatars, Safety, and the “Paradox Sandwich” of Community Building with Marianna Martinelli, we talked about the endless balancing act of putting up just the right kind of barriers to entry to ensure community members are qualified and value-aligned—without making it so hard to join that people just don’t bother. 

18. Support lurkers—but probably mostly leave them alone

In The CX 018: How Big Brands Approach Community with Jenny Weigle, we learned more about community management in a corporate context, and the value of lurkers—they are often happy exactly where they are, and they might just be doing you a favor by not overwhelming you with their vocal engagement. 

19. Design the community with marginalized folks in mind

In The CX 019: Codes of Conduct and Community Safety with Queer Design Club, John Hanawalt and Rebecca Brooker talked about the importance of proactively including people who might otherwise not feel comfortable participating in your community. That means not just being generically committed to inclusiveness, but calling out the ways you have anticipated and designed for their needs.

20. Onboard members into a transformational experience 

When you join a community, too often you find yourself simply dumped into a wide open space and left to fend for yourself. In The CX 020: Using Data to Design Sustainable Communities, we learned why Gina Bianchini so emphatically emphasizes onboarding that strongly aligns with the reason a member joins, and sets them on the right track right away. 

21. Refactor your community as it grows

In The CX 021: Let Your Members Steer Your Community with Danielle Maveal, we talked about how communities can be like cities—as they grow bigger, they form smaller circles of districts and neighborhoods that ensure there is always a small unit of people who know each other well. The more you design for this, the more cohesive your community can stay, even if it gets huge. 

22. Make the revolution irresistible! Social change can be fun

In The CX 022: Dismantling the System (and Having Fun!), Moira Were pulled no punches talking about her intentions to change the status quo. But she’s not (necessarily) saying you should go make lots of enemies—fighting concepts as opposed to people creates space for joyous work toward a better future. 

23. Unaddressed emotions never die

Customer service expert Nick Glimsdahl taught us critical communication skills in The CX 023: The Pandora’s Box of Customer Experience. A community is composed of humans, and humans get upset. By using what Nick calls “tactical empathy” we can consistently de-escalate tense situations, so people can process their feelings and move through them. 

24. Align your members based on the ways in which they want to grow

A thriving community is one in which people are clear about what they are there to change about themselves or the world around them. In The CX 024: Unlocking Exceptional Engagement through Self Inquiry with Phil and Krista Franks of Owl and Key, we looked at what happens when people think they have it all (but don’t)—and how community can help.

25. Build a team of “power users” in your community

In The CX 025: (Don’t) Do the Hustle: From Hospitalized to Sustainable Community, Tom Ross gave a powerful account of his experience with severe burnout, how he came back from it, and how he is doing things differently now—with the help of a carefully curated and nurtured group of super-members.

Listen to our “25 from 25” Conversation on March 15

These 25 insights represent far from everything we’ve learned during the journey of creating the show. To hear even more of our takeaways from the first 25 episodes of The Community Experience, check out CX 031.

And don’t forget to subscribe to The Community Experience on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen!

Ready to learn how to create an online community to power your membership?

Community building is quickly becoming the defining skill set of the creator economy. Learn to build deeper relationships with your true fans at CX Day on Wednesday, March 23.

At this online summit, you’ll learn from top experts and walk away with a clear roadmap for launching your own community.

Join us for CX Day on Wednesday, March 23 with workshops at 12 pm ET, 3 pm ET, and 7 pm ET.

It’s 100% free to join. Learn more and register at smartpassiveincome.com/cxday.


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