How to Leverage Passion to Scale Your Community: Lessons from TED, Levo League, HuffPo and Spark Capital

Lauren Cucinotta
April 14, 2014
May 3, 2024

When people ask me how TEDx events went from zero to over 9000 events in five years (the program just turned five in March), I tell them my honest opinion - passion. Passion can be a fluffy word that’s easy to throw around, but it can also create massive business opportunities when really understood.

Assuming you’ve truly created something of value, your product can create an emotional reaction in people that inspires them to take physical action, whether it is to buy something, to share your idea, or to host an event.

This passionate action can be leveraged for big growth and big opportunities in your business - especially if you take the time to uncover, support, and nurture the community of people passionate about your brand.

We’ve been extremely fortunate to have such a passionate community at TED, which served as the foundation for the success of TEDx. Today it’s the thousands of event hosts all over the world who have made TEDx such a success, but that scale didn’t just happen automatically.

I’ve spoken to some experienced community builders about how passion has helped to scale their communities, and coupled with my own experience, have come up with three ways that passion can be leveraged for community growth:

1. Define what your community is passionate about

There are many ways to do it, but figuring out what’s most important to your community is the base for any action you might take in your business. If you don’t truly understand your community, how can you help them?

For Maxie McCoy, Director of Local Levo at Levo League, their community solves a very particular kind of need for the modern career woman:

“We give her the tools, technology and community she needs to elevate her career, and we do it in a way that acknowledges that she is already enough. She already has everything inside of her to be successful, it is up to us to hold up that mirror and pull it out of her. Our community has a fierce growth mindset, and we speak, act, and serve to them in a way that respects that mindset."

"We, as a brand, are her mentor, sponsor, friend, and ultimately her swift kick in the butt to remind her that she can do this."

"Our community of women appreciates that about Levo and remains so passionate about the brand.”How should you go about figuring out what’s important to your community? Danya Cheskis-Gold, formerly of Skillshare and now Director of Community at Spark Capital, believes in the direct approach when uncovering your community’s raison d’être:

“Ask them! In person, surveys, and on an ongoing basis. Before diving into building a community around your brand, find out why your brand advocates care about what you're doing, what your brand is doing for them emotionally that no other brand is, and then how you can build off of that passion, i.e., do things that give them more of the same good vibes.”

2. Build a team that understands and serves your community’s passion

To foster a healthy community that will serve your business, it takes a team of people listening to your community’s needs and desires, and then building things to really serve that passion well.

At TED, the TEDx team is 15 people strong and a key part to the team’s success is that we’re all community managers – we all answer email questions that relate to our expertise (strategy, tech, applications, editorial, post event). We all meet with or call with community members to hear their issues and needs around our expertise, and then either adjust our process and bubble these up to the communications team to convey changes, or put it toward the tech team to build features to serve these asks.J

ordan Reeves, Community Manager at TED Ed, the education focused arm of TED, explains how they focused on building a team with strong knowledge in the education vertical. They’d listen to the needs and challenges of the community then leveraged their knowledge to create a massive library of content to help teachers learn and overcome those challenges:

“The first year of our existence was all about content creation.  We gathered a team of smart, talented people that understood education (everyone on our original team has teaching experience)."

"It was important to build a team that was great at listening!"

"We created a library of 365 pieces of content that highlighted content teachers were excited to use.  Now our team is in its second year, and this year is all about listening to the people that use that content.  We're committed to building the tool that's useful for teachers and students when they need it!”

But you can only truly foster that passion within community when your team is completely invested in supporting it. Maxie McCoy of Levo League knows that a passionate community also means big expectations from a team:“

Wherever there is a fiery passion for a brand, there is just as much expectation for excellence from the community. It is up our team to support that passion day in and day out and live up to that excellence, which can only be done if you fully understand the community at the foundation of your brand. At Levo, we have a team that not only intimately understands the product we're building for the Levo community, but who the women are that make up that larger group. At a local level, having a local team made up of our most passionate community members allows us to keep the pulse on our brand, understanding how the community is growing with our product and vice versa. We have over 50 local leaders that run our offline communities and with that daily, intimate feedback loop, we can continue propagating the Levo passion by being loud listeners and even stauncher supporters of them.”

3. Give your community ample opportunities to tap into their passion

Passion is rarely directed at one avenue, and once it is tapped, it’s difficult to control. The best you can do is direct this passion into various mediums across your company, in a way that benefits your greater business goals.

At TED, we invite TEDx organizers to join us at a bi-yearly workshop before the official TED conference every year - they get a chance to spend the whole day with other TEDx event organizers and TED staff (often TED Curator Chris Anderson addresses and thanks the group) and then experience the rest of the conference together. Often many projects, ideas and connections are sparked from that week, and our inbox is full of these new ideas and connections.

Inspired by these TED-organized workshops, TEDx organizers have also taken it upon themselves to replicate the connections and learnings they experience –through self-organized workshops. The very first was a community-catalyzed endeavor of Asian organizers at the Great Wall of China. Since then, there have been independently organized workshops in South Korea, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Morocco, Egypt, one for European organizer’s at CERN, and next, the whole Mediterranean region in Barcelona. These are all organized by people in the region, and are attended remotely or in-person by a TED staff member. All we do is put out a set of guidelines for how these can be done, and word of mouth of the fun and connections made at these self-organized endeavors inspire others to host workshops in their own region.

All of these gatherings serve to improve the quality of TEDx events on both a local and global level, as well as foster the in-person connections that are so important for people to continue to feel passionate about a company, and an idea.

Danya from Spark Capital believes empowering people that love your company is the best way to scale a community:“Empower your community to scale for you. The most genuine and viral way to spread passion is through word of mouth."

"Empower your community to not only share their passion in association with your brand, but to do so in their own words and ways."

"Help them personalize and take ownership of their passion under the umbrella of your brand."

Tim McDonald, Director of Community at The Huffington Post says the best way to replicate passion is with other passionate people:

“Ask them who they know who should be part of the community. It may sound simple, and it is, but it's the most under utilized tactic community managers have at their disposal already. Passionate people know other passionate people.”

Communities are built on passion. People dedicate their time, resources and knowledge to your community because it’s important. To grow your community, figure out what your community is truly passionate about, build a team that truly cares about fostering that passion then identify channels for your community to express that passion.

--Photo Cred: Bret Hartman

Lauren Cucinotta
April 14, 2014
May 3, 2024

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