A DAO community is the group of people who vote in, contribute to, and work on the DAO.
DAO community can be defined in different scopes: either a wide group (everyone who’s interested in your project) or a narrow one (only those who work on the project itself).
For example, for some organizations DAO community means everyone who holds the DAO’s token and participates in governance. For others it means everyone who has a stake—whether financial, emotional, or intellectual—in the DAO’s future.
DAO community can sound like a nebulous topic. But, once you set clear and actionable constraints around your community and what you want it to be, you’ll no longer be in the dark on what your community should do or how it can provide value to the organization.
Web2 startups and dot-com-era businesses weren’t too worried about building a community, so why should you build one for your DAO or web3 project?
Community can be the moat, or distinguishing factor, that separates you from competitors in web3.
Community as a competitive edge might sound foreign. The reality of web3 is that many of the moats of web2—such as closed source product development and restrictive Intellectual Property—are basically non-existent in web3, making revenue-generating models and organization sustainability extremely hard.
There are three key reasons community is a moat in web3:
These three factors, the inevitability of your product being forked due to open-source code, the importance of social consensus when forking does happen, and how ecosystem integrations and business development can lead to growth for a product or protocol, all lead to community being a critical factor in your web3 project.
A healthy community is a subjective term by default. What is healthy to a social DAO is likely unhealthy to an investment DAO, and vice versa. Establishing your own measures of health early will help you determine how to build your community.
Here are a couple measures of health gathered from around the ecosystem.
One measure of an effective community is one that has a purpose to guide it, with the community members actively working to fulfill that purpose.
Alima, community manager with experience building communities such as A0KIVERSE and CryptoTechWomen, said that “going towards a common purpose” is one of the top ways to measure the health of a community.
This shared purpose is what guides the DAO, so it’s what communities need to use to guide their work. This is not too different from the purpose-led organizations from the web2 world. For example, Patagonia is an organization committed to fighting climate change, and the community around Patagonia—such as buyers and fans—all likely agrees with at least some of that purpose.
Web3 turns shared purpose up a notch by getting the community directly involved with the purpose rather than watching from the sidelines.
So, one measure of health for your community could be: does my organization have a clearly defined purpose? If so, are people in the community working toward achieving it together? An unhealthy or ineffective community is one that is fragmenting in a million different directions to achieve different purposes, often driven by ego. A healthy community is when people can put aside their personal opinions and work toward the organization’s true purpose together.
Do people want to be in the community you’ve built? Are new people joining and sticking around?
Patrick Woods, in an article for Future, wrote “a ‘high gravity’ community is one that excels at attracting and retaining community members.” They pull people into their gravity well without needing to go above and beyond to do so.
A high-gravity community is a good analogy for a place people want to be: it pulls them in, and as it gets bigger it has more and more gravity, and then it grows so that everything near it gets sucked in.
Create a place designed directly for the type of people you’re looking to attract. If it’s a good fit, more of those people will spend time in your community.
There’s no reason to recruit members just for the sake of recruiting members. It’s best to have members who are engaged and highly mission-aligned, rather than members who join for one day and then disappear.
So, a healthy community is one with high engagement, although it doesn’t have to be high growth.
Emile Kormienko, experienced community builder in both web2 and web3, said that community managers should focus on engagement over growth when measuring the health of their community.
“I think engagement is the best metric to track, not growth. Growth is definitely important, but would you rather be part of a huge community where barely anyone talks or a smaller group with dynamic conversations and infectious energy?” she said.
Idkcrypto, community builder of WGMI and formerly Mycelium, said that a small but active community is much better than a large, inactive one. “Just because you have 10,000 members does not mean all 10,000 are true community members. I would rather have 1,000 members with 900 participating every week.”
The connection between community members can be make-or-break for your community. Often called the Vibes in web3, if the vibes are off, the community is probably off, too.
While keeping people engaged is great, you can take it one step further by ensuring those engagements are meaningful.
“Even if people aren’t sticking around for long, if you are interacting with them, listening, and helping them it is still beneficial” said Shawn, community builder at Aragon and formerly Index Coop. “It creates an imprint in their mind about the organization, which they will use when recommending the product or service in the future. Word of mouth is the strongest form of advertisement.”
A community engaged with meaningful interactions can become a sales team in disguise, which is more than a healthy community: it’s an effective community driving sales back to your DAO!
There’s a fine line to walk between community growth and customer acquisition, especially if your organization provides a product or service.
Community growth takes a long-term view, while customer acquisition focuses on short-term goals and driving people to purchase.
Community growth is more about creating a passionate, engaged group of people who will be your evangelist, while customer acquisition is more about getting new customers in the door.
It might be hard to distinguish these two workstreams because many customers become community members and many community members become customers. Identifying your ideal community member persona and then your ideal customer persona can help you figure out how to best reach those two separate but connected groups. We’ll talk more about how to identify that persona in the sections below.
Now that you know why you need a community and you have a baseline of what makes a healthy community, it’s time to go build one!
The three-step process of community building is rooted in bringing a group of people together to achieve a set of common goals. People might stick around a community for a long time because they feel a sense of belonging there. They might have strong relationships with other members of the community, and feel like they are a part of something larger than themselves. Additionally, the community might provide them with a sense of stability and routine that they appreciate.
But getting to that state of belonging, connection, and stability is not easy Let’s dive into how to approach the three steps of community building:
Why do you want to build a community? What are your goals? Be clear about your purpose from the start so that you can attract the right people and create a focused and meaningful community.
Define a purpose that is broad enough to be exciting but narrow enough to keep everyone focused on the same direction. A purpose statement can be a powerful thread binding each member of your community and helping you move together as one.
Examples from the ecosystem:
GitcoinDAO exists to power communities to fund their shared needs.
FlamingoDAO aims to explore emerging investment opportunities for ownable, blockchain-based assets.
KlimaDAO functions as a bridge between Web3 and the traditional carbon offset markets, enabling flows of capital to be directed to high-impact carbon projects, that have a tangible impact on our global carbon budgets.
The next step after setting your purpose is to get granular: think about key pillars of a community such as goals, mission, and values.
Flowscience, community manager for MedDAO and core team member for DAOPlanet, said that starting with mission and values can solve a lot of decision-making headache down the line. “Mission and values (MV) create guidelines for all future decisions and bring alignment to contributor actions. MV defines what the roles are, what the tech stack is going to be, who gets what permissions, how governance should work, and much more.”
To take it a step further, define operating principles. These are similar to values, but they inform the community how to work together. These are sometimes morphed into more inspiring documents called manifestos. For example, Google’s operating principles, 10 Things We Know to Be True, reads almost like a manifesto, similar to what you see from early DAO documents, like MolochDAO and YearnDAO.
Whatever you call them: operating principles, values, manifesto, or constitution, the same is true—they only carry meaning if the community buys into them.
Brie Wolfson, entrepreneur and writer, wrote in a blog on constitutional documents of organizations: “Getting your team to embrace these is just as important as getting the content right. If your team doesn’t fully wrap their arms around these and use them while the work is happening, they are ultimately not that useful.”
When writing the founding documents or principles of your DAO or web3 community, thinking about how you’ll get the community to embrace them is just as important as thinking about the content. How much should you involve the community in writing these? What will it take to get wide adoption in more than just alignment: in practice?
Emile stressed the importance of setting a plan in paper before you get started.
“I think the most important thing is to write out a strategy document that includes your community mission, member personas, onboarding and incentive designs, engagement ideas, and which metrics you’ll track. This will obviously evolve over time as your community grows, but I’m a firm believer that writing out your plan before starting helps you organize your thoughts and see holes in your structure which leads you to a better starting point.”
Use that plan to define how to find the people in your community.
Idkcrypto said that interviewing founders and leaders can be a great way to understand who you should attract to your community. “If it’s a community that needs building from scratch, as a community manager I would need to understand the company or projects ethos and goals. Who do we want to attract? Why do we want to attract them? Personally, I would like to interview the founders and leaders before changing anything about a community.”
You can use that interview data to better understand who your community needs to be. Then, go find them online!
Where do your potential community members hang out online? What forums, websites, or social media platforms do they use? Go where your people are and start engaging with them. The more you understand your ideal community members, the more you’ll be able to design an experience that serves them well.
Community writer Emilie argues that focusing on the first 100 members is the most important way to build a lasting community because those first 100 “will overwhelmingly set the tone for the community and play a pivotal role in how it grows. The first 100 are the seeds of your community’s garden — how you plant them is very important.”
Some things that don’t scale that you should consider doing for the first 100 members:
Experimentation can also be a key component of onboarding those early members effectively. One community method not clicking? Try something else. The goal is to figure out what your community evangelists, or your community power users, will want. Do they want AMAs? IRL meet-ups? Ask them directly. Not only will you learn what they find valuable, but you'll also give them a sense of belonging.
While you might not want to experiment when you have a very large community to risk losing them, experimenting in the early days to nail down that coveted first 100 is incredibly important.
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. If you understand these types, you can design incentive mechanisms that attract the right contributors.
Examples of intrinsic motivation:
Examples of extrinsic motivation:
It’s common that contributors might enter a community for an extrinsic motivation, and then choose to stay for the intrinsic motivation. Or, they might enter the community for a combination of reasons.
Overuse of extrinsic motivations can backfire. For example, many web3 communities were formed by a governance token airdrop. The goal of the airdrop was typically to distribute governance evenly amongst early users of the project. However, this caused many users to simply sell the token on the market and forgo joining the community. The extrinsic motivation never turned intrinsic, and the communities struggled to hold onto followers.
Becoming overly-granular with bounties and roles can be an overuse of extrinsic motivations, too. For example, if the role is too specific, it can be difficult to get contributors to step into other areas and fill gaps that may not directly relate to their role. There’s a delicate balance between too much and too little extrinsic motivators.
If the planter for a tree is too small, the tree can’t grow to its potential. But if the planter is too large, the soil and water is too spread out and the tree will never be able to take root. The key is setting the right boundaries so the tree can flourish.
“Defining where the community stands gives members the freedom to move around unrestricted within that space,” said Flowscience. “Without clear boundaries, people won’t feel safe enough to move around. If they do, the uncertainty can and likely will create tension, preventing progress toward a common goal.”
Boundaries can include:
Imagine you’re making a sign that says “Happy Birthday.” You stare at the blank page, not sure how big to make the first H. You might pencil it in to test it out, but then you erase it and it smudges the paper. Once you get the H and A done, the rest comes easy, though. You have less page space to fill and more constraints, which actually makes it easier to right the last part, not harder. Constraints can be a beautiful thing! They can make the work easier and more productive, especially in a decentralized work environment.
Your community won’t flourish if you stay in text-only channels all day. It takes human-to-human connection by way of events, rituals, and discussions to light the flame of your community.
When you're planning an event, keep the community’s needs top of mind and think about ways to help people connect with each other. Small events can have a big impact, especially if you do them regularly and create a ritual out of them.
But in-person events can be the best way to solidify strong relationships between members. When your community members find themselves in a space where they can connect with each other, it makes the experience even more memorable and valuable.
Examples: from around the ecosystem:
Friends With Benefits hosts in-person events all over the world, often connected with crypto conferences.
BanklessDAO has a weekly community call every Friday at 11 am Eastern to discuss big topics and everything that happened that week in the DAO.
Boys Club frequently hosts events in New York and around crypto conferences for women in web3.
Rituals are another area to dive into when creating connection between members. Rituals are practices done repetitively in your community that give the community a sense of familiarity. In-person communities, like a religious group or a yoga class, are full of rituals. Think of a religious group beginning with a prayer or a yoga class beginning with a meditation. The familiar routine binds everyone.
An example of a web3 community ritual is saying gm to each other every morning or doing a quick icebreaker question at the beginning of every meeting. Rituals can be calming or energizing, quiet or chatty. They help members fully enter the space of their community.
Shawn recommended that community managers make sure to not just manage from the outside, but to “be a part of that community. The best way to understand the community you are trying to manage is to get in and engage with them. Only after doing this can you have meaningful interactions with them and encourage them to participate in your mission.”
So, don’t just create content or put events on the calendar – be involved in the conversation. Respond to comments genuinely, answer questions, and start discussions. The more active you are, the more engaged your community will be. Promote your community by taking part in Twitter Spaces and podcasts of other communities, writing articles and tweet threads, and participating in events hosted around the ecosystem. Attending conferences and networking in-person can be a huge unlock, too.
Alima said that “the realization of what the community needs are” is the most important thing to tackle first as a community builder. And what better way to realize those needs than go out and be part of the community yourself?
Joining other communities to see what works for them and collaborating with other community builders at this stage can be very helpful as well. Stephen, community builder at Metopia, said he would like to see more collaboration amongst community builders in the space. "The ethos of web3 is to build together, and to constantly work with folks in the space. . .sharing resources, thoughts, and more with other projects is essential."
How many times has someone repeated an idea that came up earlier in discussion? How often does the same question come up that you’ve already answered in a document somewhere? Having clear, central documentation for your community members is key to a healthy community during the growth phase.
Livefast9986, community manager of DAOpunks, stressed the importance of documenting all the good ideas that might come through a noisy Discord server:
“When a community has launched, there are going to be so many people talking that is will be necessary to document all the ideas, discussions, and topics. Having someone take notes during meetings, record meetings and upload them to youtube, and also just document all the discussions and ideas that are floated on discord/twitter/etc. is incredibly valuable to both the growth and health of a community.”
A community is not a leaderless entity. And you won’t always be able to rely on a core team to do the bulk of the community building work for you. So, spotting community leaders early on who can step up and fill those roles is critical. Your job as a community manager is to give space to those natural leaders and give them the agency and autonomy they need to step into these roles.
0xKepler, in an article on building and growing web3 communities, recommended to support emerging leaders with resources. “For example, provide templates, trainings, coachings, tutorials, wiki, checklists, best practices, FAQ, buddy people up, help networking, [and] offer funds.” These resources help the leader grow and develop into a trusted core team member of your DAO.
Leaders might be people who lead by example. Or people who make decisions and give guidance to others. They might be mentors full of knowledge or energetic members who are deeply mission-aligned. Community leadership can come in many forms, so don’t shy away from unique leadership styles.
The metrics you choose to measure will vary greatly based on the type of community you’re building. For example, if you have a community of people with mostly 9-5 jobs outside of web3, you’re unlikely to have super high Discord channel engagement.
But, if a vote goes up that will greatly alter the future of your DAO, you can hope that people will take time to read and vote. Livefast9986 said to not worry if Discord engagement drops significantly, as long as very important votes still get the attention they deserve, “It is important to remember that everyone has jobs and a life outside of your community, so while interactions on twitter and discord will drop off, people still finding time to vote on matters of importance show that the community is still active.”
Stephen shared a similar perspective, saying that consistency is one of the most important factors. "Having a consistent presence on social media is vital, and keeping the community engaged is essential," he said.
A few ideas for metrics to track as your community grows:
Finally, if your DAO does not yet have the capacity (or desire!) to manage its own treasury, there are a large number of tools built to take the effort and stress out of treasury management, from diversification to reporting to everything in between.
Special thanks to all the community builders who provided insight into their worlds. Emile, Shawn, Flowscience, Livefast9986, Alima, idkcrypto, and Stephen
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