Deep Thoughts

3 lessons on community building from the world of NFT art

Since early 2021, my twitter feed has been slowly blowing up the concept of NFT art on my feed. Particularly of apes (what is with all the apes people?).

At first I thought this was some weird lockdown driven crazy where people were trying to find more inventive ways to occupy their mind through months of lockdown. Yet, over a year later, I sit here watching images of apes, cats, bears and any other creature that can be animated being sold for thousands and in some cases millions.

I’m not here to debate the relevance or morality of NFT art. I’ll leave that up to your own mind. However, what has been intriguing to me is the scale of and the speed at which these art projects can build, sustain and engage a community.

As part of the learning industry where a lot of my work involves building and engaging lots of communities, my eyebrow raised in curiosity in how quickly people were connecting over these unique digital art pieces.

Now yes, some people obviously jump into these communities and contribute in the hopes of landing the next big money making ape collection. But, for many others, motivations are different.

And for many of us those motivations are connection. We want to feel part of something, we want to be part of the tribe. And this is something which many of these NFT projects have become good at. Even if you can right click and save an image, community is what’s driving these things.

So, I let my curiosity drive me and I decided to do a bit of research. 

For the last few weeks, I’ve been diving into these communities. Not so I can get my own confused looking animated creature image, but to understand how these communities are structured, what people are doing here and how the owners are keeping them engaged.

There’s no better place in the NFT world to experience all of these communities than Discord. If you’re wondering what that is… it’s basically like a version of slack for Gamers and now NFT projects to build communities.

Here’s 3 things I learned about these communities through discord and Twitter:

#1: People want to share more than just the thing you want them to share

What struck me from the get go, was just how many of these communities are not focused on solely talking about the art for sale. 

I’ve seen this across all the Discord servers that I’ve joined so far.

Yes, you’ll find plenty of people who only want to talk about how much money they think they’ll make from the latest jpeg release, but you’ll find plenty more who just want to chat about, well, anything.

I suppose in some ways this is a sign of the loneliness which we often forget can occur in a world that’s never been so connected. Not many relationships and conversations in our daily lives are meaningful. Yet, in a community that’s come together under one common thing, people feel like they are sharing with like minded humans.

I think that’s something which can be applied to any field in which you want to create a community.

#2: Encourage idea sharing and content creation

So another thing these communities do well is to inspire its members to share their ideas on the projects and show off their own content creation skills.

I often found that projects wanted people to give their own spin on the art being sold and encouraged this by offering premium rewards for the best stuff. Similar to getting members to use their skills to build content which other members could benefit from.

These communities are giving people the space, encouragement and confidence to express their talents with fellow humans.

Not only this, they’re rewarding people for their contribution and engagement with the community.

This has always been a major priority for me when creating workplace learning communities. I do not want to be the owner of a learning community. Instead, I want it to thrive on its own through the engagement and contributions of the people involved.

And NFT communities on Discord seem to have cracked this code.

They encourage, promote and celebrate creativity, ideas and sharing with others. Isn’t this what all the social learning craze was about back in the day?

#3: Leveraging FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and being clear on the WHY

Two components that I see corporate and higher educational establishments fail at is getting people so excited about the output they’ll get from learning that they will kill to get it! (well hopefully not literally but you know what I mean!).

And on top of this, being crystal clear on why people should care about learning at all. Now you’d think this is obvious but it seems not to many.

Now these NFT communities do this really, really well! Like so well, I think we should be doing marketing and people engagement case studies on them. 

For these communities the drivers are clear:

  • I want to own a pixelated animal because it will give me status, money, 15 mins of fame etc in today’s world (FOMO).
  • I want to be part of a tribe where people appreciate, recognise and celebrate me, my thoughts and how I live (WHY).

When we look underneath it all, what we truly want is to be recognised and feel part of something. This is what makes these communities so successful. Whether on Discord or through Twitter (another popular NFT hangout).

What we can learn from this

We should consider, how can we get people so excited about learning that they’re scared to miss out? How can we be clear on WHY people should be part of our learning communities and share their most precious resource of time here?

So, what now?

Take time to reflect on what I’ve shared with you here.

These are just a few things I’ve noticed which can support any company, team or individual in building a community. I’m not saying this is the right way! Just sharing some ideas from my research which could help you too.

No matter your view of this expanding world of digital collectibles. We cannot ignore the scale at which communities are being built in this world around a common theme in such a  short space of time.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this? (P.s. No I don’t want to buy your strange looking ape jpeg before you ask).

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