Building meaningful communities in a digital world, an interview with Zvi Band, Founder of Camp Social
I see so many misguided attempts at building communities in Web3. Simply having a Discord server doesn’t mean you’ll have a lasting, meaningful community. I wanted to interview Zvi Band, Founder of Camp Social after reading his research on the challenges of building community - “The Challenges of Community and Culture in DAOs”. Zvi’s research identifies the core challenges DAOs face while building community, such as: the lack of clear direction, the "Crowded bar" effect, limits of tools and low barriers to entry. In my interview we talk about some of these challenges and how Camp Social aims to help solve these issues.
What is Camp Social and why did you build it?
We’re building a social infrastructure for DAOs, Web3 communities, and communities in general that recognizes and rewards members for hosting activities that bring the community together. Communities are built on strong interpersonal relationships, and that’s really hard to do, especially in an online context. We’re building out the underlying mechanics to enable and incentivize those real relationships to form.
What were you doing before this, and how did you arrive at Camp Social?
I sold my last company, a SaaS CRM platform called Contactually, back in 2019. As I was exploring what I wanted to do next, I focused on the problem space of human connection. I believe that the two big problems of our time are climate change and loneliness. I’d been doing all sorts of research into product principles of religion and cults, and where I landed was that humans rely on relationships and communal bonds in order to survive. And we need to create stronger shared experiences that bring us together.
I arrived at two ideas. One, we need to be in community to feel like we belong. Two, incentives drive behavior. Therefore, what we need to do is build better incentive systems that bring us together.
When you think about communities and incentive structure, it’s hard not to think about what we have in Web3. We have DAOs, these crypto native community organizations. And we have tokenomics, where instead of there being a silly point system, you could actually have real, tangible recognition awards.
What are the fundamental elements of a strong community, digital or otherwise?
To become an active and retained member of a community, we need a sense of belonging, a sense that I fit in here. There’s an epic amount of research on this. Churches have found that if they help members gain six friends within the first seven months, then the retention rate shoots up. It doesn’t matter how good the food is or how good the sermon is. On the corporate side, Google has found that the highest-performing teams are ones with a sense of psychological safety: I fit in here, I belong here, I’m trusted.
What makes people make friends? It sounds like a silly question, but it’s a fundamental part of this.
There’s reciprocal support: I lend you a cup of sugar, you lend me a cup of sugar. There’s mutual trust. There’s depth of knowledge and understanding of each other. The most important element is shared experience. A shared experience can be months long telegram conversation, it can be a late night campfire chat, it can be multiple coffee meetings, it can be seeing each other every Sunday at church. The highest fidelity exchange, as we all know, is in person.
Church communities have a shared interest in religion, a Web3 community might come together around a NFT, and in traditional online communities, you might have forums around bodybuilding or Porsche cars. How strong does that initial, core reason for coming together need to be? What types of themes create a strong community?
For communities to maintain long-term viability, they need a reason to exist. Religious organizations exist because we want to live good lives, we want to not go to hell, and we go there to find our sense of belonging.
This translates pretty well into Web3 communities. There’s always going to be another token that’s hotter, but once we buy into a NFT community, the reason we stay is that there’s status and value in us retaining our membership. We’re incentivized to make the price of the NFT go up, and you do that by making demand go up. What causes demand for an organization to go up? People want to be in it and get something from it.
If I lose that sense of value in a community — and this is what you and I are likely to see over the coming months — that community will just evaporate.
Coming back to Camp Social, you talked about incentives driving community behaviors. What are the behaviors and incentives here?
In order for me to want to remain a member of a community, I need to feel like I belong and I need to have interpersonal relationships. The big gap that we’re seeing right now in Web3 is that there’s an idea of creating a communal sense, but then I drop into a Discord and it’s 2,000 people shouting at each other and asking when the token goes up. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t made too many real friendships through large Discords.
We’re building incentives for members of a community who host and participate in activities where people get to meet each other. If five people decide to meet on a video call, that’s great. If I decide to go to a coffee shop down the street and invite a few local people, fantastic. That’s building a sense of belonging, and it’s an act of service to the community.
We’re building a system where the work I’m doing to support the community gets recognized on-chain, as well as a reward mechanism. If the community decides that its value is in part reliant on relationships getting built, then we want to reward and incentivize the people that are doing it.
What are the core challenges that DAOs are facing as they build these communities?
One is a lack of clear direction: Let’s bring together a bunch of really cool people and figure it out. A big one that we all encounter is the crowded bar effect. Because it’s so easy to join communities these days — all I have to do is click on the Discord link in the Twitter bio — it creates a large group of people with a lot of noise. I’m not sure if I belong or how I connect with other people. Another challenge in Web3 is that because we’re trying to “be decentralized” and not have a hierarchy dictating how we interact, it’s unclear what my responsibility as a member is.
You said that loneliness is one of the two big problems facing us. Why is that, and what led to this situation?
For the last 50-60 years, we have, for very good reasons, dropped our allegiance to institutions. The Pew Institute has put out research showing that institutional trust is at an all-time low. We don’t trust the government, churches, schools, or authority. That creates a very individualistic society.
The problem is, if I spend all my time championing me versus championing us, that creates a disconnect with others. That’s only been hypercharged by social media. It’s very easy to throw social media under the bus, but it’s designed to make people very individualistic. We’re geared around what’s going to make us look good, rather than what is going to connect us to a community. Obviously there’s been a bevy of research around how social media is affecting our mental health.
As for Covid, the best line I’ve heard is that it’s a receding tide that reveals the rocks that were already there. There’s already been an incredible amount of research around how lonely and disconnected we are. It’s just now become more obvious to us.
I think that many people building DAOs have no meaningful understanding of what community means. It feels like many of them will fall apart because people will wonder what they’re doing in that Discord server when there’s nothing holding them there.
It’s exciting to be in this primordial ooze of finding new ways to connect online and share property. There’s a lot of misguided belief that community is just getting a bunch of people into a Discord server and hoping that works out, so there’s also going to be a lot more emphasis on helping people build real community relationships. It’s going to take time to figure out, but it’s still early.
Hi, I’m Andrew Chang - I created the Web3 Roundup to share what I’m learning in this space. I’ve spent my career at the forefront of the technology industry in areas such as crypto/blockchain (Former COO @ Paxos, co-founding partner of Liberty City Ventures), video and adtech. I learn by meeting with founders, investors and other thought leaders and approach Web3 with the same enthusiasm – and skepticism – I had about crypto/blockchain technologies 10 years ago.