COVID-19 has literally changed the way we’re doing so many things. Heck, even meeting up for a simple coffee is a thought of the past. In my eyes, this is only a chance to innovate, I’ve been thinking more and more about the adage “crisis breeds innovation” throughout this whole midst.

And I’ve been reflecting more and more on a Virtual Mall created with Marco Marandiz for Elliot, and thinking about how it all worked. I wrote about the reasons we went for a Virtual Mall in a Medium post that can be read here, however, I think the root of this all lies in community engagement.

Breaking down the science; audience v. community

There’s a lot of talk on the internet nowadays regarding how to learn about your audience and online communities, but the reality is: if you’re thinking in terms of an audience only, you’re often thinking about being a megaphone. You’re shouting out to the audience, hoping that someone will respond.

This is one of the reasons that I hate the term “audience engagement”. It’s one-sided. You’re essentially yelling out on the internet and blindly hoping that someone responds. Ever been in a classroom setting with that one annoying kid that will not shut up? That’s essentially what’s happening. You’re favoring those who speak up over those who have something to actually add to the conversation.

Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, attributes one of the largest ways a gathering can succeed is by creating a temporarily alternative world and by priming people with what you want them to do. While these seem like two heavy lifts to complete, I’d argue they’re easier than we all realize. And, these are the two tenets that made this virtual mall a real success.

Creating your online community

First off, be human. Find your niche, and understand what you want to achieve. Dog lovers for more cake? great, wonderful. There’s a reason that TikTok docs took off — they’re specific, focused on one thing, and people know what to expect when watching.

Priya Parker outlined the rules to creating a good gathering in her book, and just because these gatherings have moved online, doesn’t mean the rules have changed:

  • Decide why you’re really gathering
  • Close the door
  • Don’t be a chill host
  • Create alternate worlds
  • Never start a funeral with logistics
  • Keep your best self out
  • Cause good controversy
  • Accept that there is an end

Follow these steps and you’ll be primed for success in creating better gatherings. But be aware, due to COVID-19, there’s more people than ever on the internet, and you’ll be fighting for screentime just alongside everyone else (think of the 72,000 Instagram Live videos we’re seeing throughout the days.)

Put down the megaphone, extend a hand

Don’t worry so much about getting 10,000 views, focus on 10 people you really want to reach. Focus on the little niche ones, they’ll continue to grow. Consistency is key.

Try something new, ask someone what they want to see, try an idea that seems completely crazy. If people respond positively, then do it again.

The end conclusion

Get wild. We’re in uncharted territory, so do something that hasn’t been done before. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Just do it with authenticity, and by thinking community first, not audience first.

Too many times, we get hung up on dismissing an idea before it’s even out in the world, without throwing something at the wall and seeing if it sticks. Or we’re so concerned about what’s in it for us that we don’t even take time to consider an opportunity. It’s time we knock that shit off.

Put down the megaphone, extend a hand. And create your own crazy idea.