How to build meaningful relationships with your community

I participated in a #bufferchat earlier this week and thoroughly enjoyed discussing community with, well, the bufferchat community. Aside from being immersed in positivity, encouragement, and great insight throughout the 1-hour Twitter chat, the experience got me thinking about the concept of community in whole new ways. (See, that’s why dialogue and conversations are so important.)

One of the interesting chat questions was about determining goals for community efforts, and my first response was: listen, align, then respond.

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But the further question is:

How should we respond?


I think we know quite well that how you say things matters as much as what you say. Perhaps even more. In fact, what you say could be totally lost on someone if you don’t say it the right way. As I was toying with this question in my mind, Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages popped into my mind.


Wait! Don’t run away!


What I’m discussing has nothing to do with romance and everything to do with interpersonal connection.

You can communicate with your community, and you can communicate with individuals that make up your community.

Consider what it’d be like if we took the additional step to communicate with someone in a way that they’re naturally receptive to. I think we can agree that the same action may not be perceived in exactly the same light by 2 people. That’s where a taxonomy like Chapman’s could come in handy. (This is just a framework. Suggest other alternatives in the comments below or on twitter!)


(Love Languages + Community Efforts) = ?

Chapman’s 5 Love Languages are basically the 5 ways that people typically express love and understand expressions of love:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

He claims that we subconsciously prefer some Love Languages over others and those are the ones we understand best.

Let’s substitute “express love” with “communication” or “dialogue”, and look at these Love Languages as ways to communicate with someone in the language they are most familiar with.

While Physical Touch may be a little, ahem, controversial for community efforts, the other 4 may inform a community manager in interesting ways:


Words of Affirmation

Ever had that warm, fuzzy feeling when someone compliments you or just says that you’re a great human being? That’s what Words of Affirmation are about. Some people favor this language so much more than, say, Acts of Service, that a simple “Thank you” or “I’m glad to have you in my life!” goes a longer way than cleaning their room for them. In community, communicating through Words of Affirmation would manifest in telling your community how much you appreciate them. It’s that simple. Just reaching out with a quick Thank You note can make someone feel really special and puts the both of you in a positive space.

Receiving Gifts

This one’s pretty clear. People whose primary language is Receiving Gifts value the thought behind the gift they are receiving. To them, the physical gift is a symbol and testament that you care about them. Better yet if the gift reveals that you’ve paid attention to something they mentioned in passing, or that you understand what matters to them.

When it comes to your community, this could come in the form of personalized notes (a combo with Words of Affirmation — pow pow!) or sending people some swag. Buffer is really really good at this, and it’s even better since you know it’s not automated. The Community Champions behind these gifts really put heart into sending them out and the gifts aren’t necessarily the same! Authenticity counts.

Acts of Service

Do you know anyone whose favourite platitude is, “Actions speak louder than words”? Well, her preferred language is probably Acts of Service. When you do something for someone like that, she knows that she means something to you and that you appreciate her. Better yet if your act is something she hates doing or can’t do!

Community Managers, this could be as simple as recommending services or products to your community even if there’s nothing in it for you, like Buffer does. Or organising networking events for them. Perhaps it could be empowering individual employees to be a community champion in their own right.

I recently had a personal matter to attend to and had to cancel a trip. Now I did what all diligent travellers are told to do and I purchased travel insurance ahead of time. (This is only the second time I’ve had to use it, thankfully!) To claim the cost of my airfare, though, the insurance company insisted that I produce written confirmation from the airline that they will not refund my fare. Unfortunately, the official customer service channels were unresponsive. I tried to reach out to them multiple times online to no avail, so I paid a visit to the Sales Counter at the airport to seek help. Now, I was there really really early — before the counter even opened — and this could have turned out badly. But it didn’t.

Instead of turning me away, a really pleasant Guest Service Assistant listened to my sob story and offered to send an internal e-mail to the head office on my behalf. And she did. She also followed up and kept me updated with developments. While the matter hasn’t been resolved yet, I really appreciated that this lady went out of her way to help me even though this wasn’t in her job scope. That’s some good community relations right there.


Quality Time

‘Being there’ for someone is what quality time is about. It’s about being present with the person and spending the time meaningfully with him. By ‘meaningfully’, I mean that it is evident that you want to be there with him, not some place else. Trust me, people know when you’re not really there with them.

With community, efforts that appeal to Quality Time may not be as obvious. In my opinion, this manifests as any initiative that shows you are listening attentively to your community and that their voices are what matter. This could come in several forms:

  • Attentive communication on Support forums (instead of leaving them hanging for hours before you get back to them) (e.g. WordPress Support forums)
  • Twitter chats where you respond and affirm your community members individually — this shows that you hear and value their responses (e.g. #cochat, #bufferchat, #hootchat, #sproutchat, #TnTechChat)
  • Community Meetups
  • Responsiveness and engagement on your Facebook page
  • Speedy, patient, and pleasant customer service/support responses


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Those are some examples off the top of my head, but I’m sure you can think of many more.


A great community strategy would benefit from a combination of the 4 languages to really connect with the different types that make up your community. This could complement the auditory-visual-kinesthetic preferences, which could also inform the kind of media employed. (Combination of podcasts, blog posts, webinars, and swag, anyone?)

It’s fascinating to think about this and doubly fascinating to pen this down in a post. Thank you to all the amazing community builders and managers, and customer service people that I’ve crossed paths with. I think people don’t thank and appreciate you guys nearly enough for the amount of effort that goes into your job.


  1. Really love the framework you used for this post, Stephanie! I’m so inspire by the 5 love languages and this so beautifully captures the ways to build and delight community!

    Thank you so much for joining in #bufferchat and for the amazing shoutout here!

    Keep up the incredible work! 🙂

    Nicole from Buffer

  2. Hi Nicole! Thanks for stopping by! I’m honoured that you took the time to read and comment. So happy to hear that this post was valuable to you!

    I’m so inspired by Buffer that this won’t be the first shoutout 🙂 See you at the next #bufferchat!

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