Will Robots Build Communities?
The Pros and Cons of Artificial Intelligence and How Community Builders Can Use it Today
Welcome to the 102 community builders who joined since last week’s newsletter! If you’re new here, hit reply and tell me a bit about you and your community.
We crossed a big milestone a few days ago. Truly grateful for all of you who have decided to come along for the ride.
Today, I want to talk about a topic that is on the minds of many people this week: artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on community.
As AI becomes more advanced and widely used, it's important for us as community builders to understand the implications of this technology and how we can use it to support and enhance our communities.
In this post I will:
explore the potential benefits and challenges of using AI in this context
walk through an example of using a bot to build community
offer some practical tips for community builders who are interested in incorporating AI into their work
Buckle up, because this post is going to be a wild ride (or at least as wild as a post about AI can be).
Let's dive in and take a closer look at AI and community!
Ok so that intro was written by ChatGPT, an AI bot that launched this week and has already amassed over 1 million users. I input my previous posts so it would be written in my voice. Not bad eh?
The rest of this article is all me. Or is it? It is…
Or is it? 👀
Take a second to subscribe to all future posts written by me, a human.
Will it Replace Us?
Let’s get right into the first big question everyone in my network has been asking:
Will communities be built by robots?
The answer, in my opinion, is yes.
The typical arguments against this possibility are things like, “People always know when they’re talking to a bot”, “People don’t don’t want to talk to a bot”, and “Bots can’t build relationships.”
The claim that a bot can’t sound like a human is becoming increasingly false.
It’s even becoming possible for a bot to sound like a specific person. Just look at that intro! It even included the “let’s dive in” thing I tend to do too much.
Keep in mind, as good as this technology is today, it will become 10x better in the next few years. Maybe even in the next few months as more people use and train the AI.
The next assumption is that someone doesn’t want to talk to a bot.
I don’t want to be yet another person referring to the movie “Her” this week, but it provided us with the ability to imagine a world where people choose bots as companions. As Sam Altman said, AI is one thing sci-fi got right.
And is it really all that hard to believe? In a world where humans are becoming increasingly lonely and AI is becoming increasingly human-like, why wouldn’t we start to turn to robots for emotional connection?
Imagine a friend who has no ego, who always listens, who puts your feelings first, and who will always be there for you. A friend who has access to all of the knowledge in the world including coaching and therapy techniques and the entire script of “I Love You, Man”. A friend who knows every detail about you. Hell, bots might end up being better at building relationships than humans.
Of course, it will always feel like something is missing. Some texture. Just the knowledge that you’re talking to a bot might create a deeper emptiness inside of you. It’s the messiness of human relationships that makes them so special, right? There will be a counter-culture movement of people who refuse to form relationships with bots. “Humans only” communities will form.
Ok, enough Black Mirror. But you get the point.
Humans generally do what’s easiest and most efficient in the short run, not what’s best for us in the long run. If bots are good at forming relationships, we will form relationships.
So will bots build communities?
Absolutely. Whether morally or not, there will be communities started and run by bots.
And we’re not too far from it happening. As an exercise, I’ll try designing a community using ChatGPT live while I write this newsletter.
Building a Community with AI
Let’s see. How about a community where everyone pretends to be a tree and speaks an invented language I’ll call “Forish”. First step, let’s invite some members…
Ok that’s pretty good. Now if someone joins, we’ll need to welcome them…
Jesus… “never be a sap”?! That’s brilliant.
Now to engage our new members…
Wait… I think I actually want to be a part of this community. These questions are deep. I love it.
To drive even more engagement, let’s find some creators and influencers we can invite to do a Q&A in the community…
This is so good! How did I not know about these people before?
What about events? This sounds like a perfect community for a big global gathering.
brb, about to become a certified tree climber. I think this is my dream community.
Of course, when we start getting into in-person events, bots will be limited in how much they can do. Perhaps the bot could recruit a conference organizer and invite community members to self-organize events.
It’s a bad example, but I can’t help but think of the protests that were organized in the US during the 2016 election by remote Russian groups. They’d create Facebook events and invite people to show up. That’s obviously not going to result in a meaningful community. But if a bot were able to do a better job of setting up leadership at the event and providing thoughtful agendas and guidelines, I don’t see why it couldn’t work.
Ok let’s keep going…
Uh oh, our community has it’s first troll! How will the bot handle this one?
This stuff is pretty mindblowing. ChatGPT is able to strike the right kind of tone in a delicate situation. It takes years to develop these kinds of skills. Hell, it might even do a better job than I can at moderation because it will never take what a troll says personally. It will never feel like it has to defend itself. It will be able to maintain a moderator’s greatest asset: objectivity.
We could keep going but hopefully at this point it’s clear that a bot *could* in fact build a community. Using the 7P’s of Community Design framework, a bot can effectively design People, Purpose, Place, Participation, Policy, Performance, and Promotion in a matter of minutes.
How AI will Change Community Building
What I think is most likely to happen in the next 3-5 years is AI will be used by humans to build better, more scalable communities. We’ll all be “cyborg community builders”. AI won’t replace us, it will enhance us.
What’s most exciting to me is to think about what a tool like ChatGPT can do when it starts pulling in data and insights from within a community.
Plug something like ChatGPT into a community and it could:
know the perfect person to answer a question based on their activity history and tag them in
find the perfect piece of content from the community’s history to share with a member who asks a similar question again
know which two members to introduce to each other based on their activity data
customize onboarding experiences for each member based on their unique needs
create a fully searchable (via chat) database of a community’s content
effectively identify and invite potential members based on the profile of existing members
convert community discussions into articles and content
AI can do many of the things that a human community builder can’t because we just can’t hold all of that information in our heads, even with a great data tool. AI will always be better at making data actionable than a human.
It’s why communities are so hard to scale. AI removes that barrier. It overcomes Dunbar’s Number.
I’m also excited to see how AI will help alleviate the emotional labor that goes into community building. It takes a lot of emotional work to figure out how to respond to a troll, or how to respond to a community member who shares that they’re self-harming. The ultimate work of managing that relationship is still going to be up to us humans, but AI can give us the right words when they’re most difficult to find.
It will help community professionals internally as well. Most community professionals have trouble getting buy-in for community. They don’t like to sell. What if AI could help you become a better seller?
That’s good, but as a people pleaser, I tend to use soft language and add a lot of qualifiers to my emails. Can AI help me communicate more confidently?
Great! Now, I also tend to be a bit too verbose in my emails, and my boss is short on time. Let’s make it more concise.
It’s really cool to think about all of the ways AI can help us communicate in a way that doesn’t always come naturally to us. We can be more brief, more humorous, more eloquent, more confident, or more empathetic.
I’m not smart enough to know the ultimate implications of AI but this is clearly where things are headed. As we all start using it to enhance our work, we’ll be taking steps toward it just doing the work for us. It won’t replace us, but it will replace a lot of what we do today.
Like with all new technology there will be good actors and bad actors. I have no doubt there’s someone out there working to integrate ChatGPT with a Discord server right now to see if they can fully automate a community without disclosing it to members. Remember, Reddit started by pretending to be users to make the community look more active. I’m sure if they had access to technology like this, they would have used it. AI is 100% going to be used to make communities look more active than they are. The sad truth is that it will work.
One big downside of more people using AI is that a lot of content and community will start to look and feel more and more the same. Creativity has already become so standardized by algorithms, and I think this is going to take us even farther down this path.
And we didn’t even get into other forms of AI-generated content today like video and imagery:
Imagine being able to make a video for your community but never having to worry about your lighting, your background, or whether or not you’re wearing pants.
It’s going to be the wild west for a while.
There will need to be new systems of transparency and accountability. People will invent ways of determining if you’re talking to a bot or looking at a real video.
As the bot so aptly put it in my intro: Buckle up! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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Join my Talent Collective
Great news, I just heard that my Talent Collective has placed it’s first candidate!
I didn’t expect it to happen this fast. The first sale felt good, but seeing someone actually get a job through it feels so much better.
We’re now up to over 100 incredible community professionals in the collective, so if you’re hiring for your next community lead, get in there and start meeting candidates!
Candidates can apply to join here.
If you’re a creator thinking about building a community, Jay Clouse is probably the #1 person I’d recommend learning from, and his recent podcast interview is a gem.
Priya Parker wrote about how to consider your “gathering diet”. Related, I’ve been playing around with the idea of social nutrition. Maybe there’s something here.
Social networks are going much much smaller (aka communities).
Should you pay your community leaders? It’s a conversation I’ve been having more recently, and there aren’t many definitive answers for where the moral and legal line is between members volunteering and members getting paid for their contributions. I’d like to write about this soon. Let me know your thoughts.
Communities feel very different when there is no host. I rented a cabin with my family a couple weeks ago. Usually I see my family in our house or their house where one of is the host. In our cabin no one was “the host” and we were in a neutral space. It made the entire experience feel different. Everyone contributed by cooking, cleaning, coming up with ideas for things to do. It made it feel more collaborative. How can you, as the host, remove yourself, and let your community members take the lead?
That’s all for this week!
I’m still recovering from having just a couple beers at the Giants vs Commanders game yesterday. Which ended in a tie. A TIE 🤦♂️. Still, had a blast, and was reminded of how powerful sports are at bringing people together.
We are just one month away from our baby’s due date so if you suddenly stop getting this newsletter, you’ll know why.
Otherwise, hope you all have a wonderful week. As always, drop a comment or reply with your thoughts on this week’s newsletter. I love hearing from you!
Hey David, you nailed it with this post! Your examples and insights about how to use ChatGPI for community building are so inspiring - this has been your best post yet! Thanks for the great ideas!
Hi David, thanks so much for this. I shared this internally with folks too. Interesting to see how we can layer the "community manager" role with AI! Much appreciated