The Joys of Community Building

March 2, 2016 by Nilanjana Dey

Did we tell you that we were marketing partners for the DrupalCon Asia 2016? Of course we did!

We just got back from the event and it was an absolute spectacle. There were people from across the globe coming together to celebrate their love for Drupal and the community.

1025 attendees from 32 countries, 82% first #DrupalCon, 81% attendees from India, 40% vegetarian! #DCAsia @DrupalConAsia

— webchick (@webchick) February 21, 2016

Drupal has taken community building to a whole new level. Everyone seems to have heard about everyone else. They say, in Drupal, you join for the code and stay for the community.

But what is it that binds the community together? How does Drupal have such a huge community in the first place?

The answer to these questions lies with the Drupal Association and their team of community and event managers who work tirelessly to make every Drupal event successful.

We got in touch with Rachel Friesen (Events Manager, Drupal Association) for a quick chat on community building and connecting people across the world. She also gives us some insights into hosting a global event without a hitch.
Q. The Drupal community has people from all over the world and is so engaging. This is community building at it’s very best. How do you go about creating such a community? Where do you start?

Ans: I think the way that we, the Drupal Association, help build a (large) community is by helping them find other community leaders who have done it before. The cool thing about Drupal is that there are these blossoming communities around the world.

For example, there may be a community starting in Bangalore or Jaipur, and they may have something in common with a community that’s starting in Paris or Austin, Texas. So, one thing that we do is try and connect people with others who have done similar things and just provide them the support and resources, and the information that we can.

Also, the Drupal Association likes to provide support in the form of fiscal sponsorships and provide guidance on how to financially run local camps. So there are a lot of different ways in which we like to support local communities, and really it’s just helping them help themselves.
Q. As a community manager, what is your role? How do you go about your job?

Ans: I think one of the main things that we have to do is be open to the local community, especially when you hold a DrupalCon. For example, when we were touring for places to hold DrupalCon Asia, one of the things that we learnt was that it was expected at Indian conferences to serve breakfast. That’s not something that we normally do at other DrupalCons, but we learnt that it’s something that would be culturally important here.

So that’s something we added into our budget to make sure it would be an authentic experience for the people that came for the conference.

It’s all about communicating with the community and being open to their feedback about what is important to them, and trying to make that happen.

The cool thing about Drupal is that it’s a global community. So even though DrupalCon Asia is happening in Mumbai, we have people from all over the world. So it’s kind of cool to see different cultures come together and people can share their experiences. I think that was really evident in all the keynotes and the prenote, all the cool things that have been happening at the Con, the artwork, the kite flying sessions. It’s great to see how much people want to share their culture and we want to find ways to make this happen.
Q. How hard is it to promote an event of this magnitude and, at the end of the day, how worthwhile is it?

Ans: It’s extremely worthwhile! I really love my job because (*joyous hooting in the background) I think that one of the things that we do best is help people organize. So the Drupal Association provides the framework for the project management, but really, it’s the community that’s selecting the sessions or making recommendations about social activities.

What we do is help bring to life the event that they are all imagining.

One of my favorite parts is I hear nuggets of advice or views from various people, and then my team and I can sit together and think, “Oh, what if we do it this way?” or “That’s great!” or “Nah, let’s do it a little bit differently”; and ultimately hope that we are giving everybody a really great DrupalCon experience.
Q. For any other enterprise that’s trying to start its own community, what would you say? How important is community building and how should they start off with it?

Ans: I would say that you have to be really open to iterative changes. One of the things that happens for each DrupalCon is that we have a process where we debrief the event. We find out what we could do differently at the next Con, what are the cool things that we learnt or heard from an attendee or a sponsor. One thing I love about the DrupalCons is that it’s not one final product; and that’ true for communities as well.  It’s going to keep growing and you have to be pretty dynamic and flexible (to keep up with it).

At some point you might be doing one small event every month or people might say, “We don’t have time every month and so let’s do one big event every year.” It’s about learning to adapt to the needs of your community. Also, when they know that you are open to feedback, they will come and tell you what they want. It’s a matter of listening to what they want and then helping them find that.
Q. How has your experience been while building the Drupal community and hosting the Cons?

Ans: I have had a great time. I have seen nothing but smiles. This has been a labor of love for me and my team. We have been working on it for well over a year, a lot of late nights and early mornings. And we are so thrilled that not only has DrupalCon happened but seems to be going really well. I keep hearing good feedback about sessions and keynotes; people are able to meet other people. I hope that everybody feels it’s been a great event.
After watching the Drupal community in action, all we can say is it’s an amazing and dynamic community dedicated to sharing knowledge and having loads of fun in the process.

We sure hope they get bigger and better with every DrupalCon.