What can community leaders learn from dancing Sasquatch guy?

Earlier this summer at the Sasquatch Music Festival, someone captured the three minute video I’ve pasted below. One guy dancing to M.I.A. (we love her!) starts what becomes a massive dance mob by the end of the song. The video became an YouTube sensation, with over 2,000,000 views.

Many folks have written interesting posts analyzing the event (here are a few of my favorites) and at some point you’ve gotta stop analyzing and realize this man just needed to DANCE and maybe the rest of us do too. But before we do that, a couple of observations from the place where open source community-building intersects with Sasquatch guy dance mob-building.

Observation #1: Don’t stop dancing too soon

According to some reports, dancing Sasquatch guy had already been dancing for quite a while before someone turned a camera on him.  It sometimes takes a while for people to notice what you are doing, so be patient and stay true to your vision while the community is still growing.

Wikipedia has a nice history of open source that shows how the “dancing” started. Early dancers included Richard Stallman, who started the free software movement and the GNU project in 1983. Another key “dancer” was Linus Torvalds, who filled in a missing piece when he began the Linux kernel project in 1992. Red Hat was founded in 1993. The term “open source” wasn’t even coined until 1998– about 15 years after Stallman began the free software movement.

Observation #2: Dance with your earliest supporters

In the video, when the first guy shows up to join dancing Sasquatch guy 20 seconds into the video, the first thing dancing Sasquatch guy does is run up and pat him on the shoulder, then he starts dancing with him. In fact, if you watch closely, you’ll notice guy #2 starts doing a move with his hands, and dancing Sasquatch guy actually starts following his new recruit’s move.

Humbly embracing the ideas of your early community members is certainly a great way to gain their loyalty. Everyone wants their ideas to be heard. A vibrant community will be acting out a shared vision, and a founder often needs to collaborate with his community in order to truly get their support. If he tries too hard to impose his vision, new recruits may be turned off and leave.

Observation #3: Know when to get out of the way

Once guy number three shows up, almost one minute into the video, things start to change. Within seconds, a bunch more people join, and suddenly there is a movement. In fact, you even lose sight of dancing Sasquatch guy in the crowd.

I wonder what dancing Sasquatch guy was feeling at that moment. On one hand, he had created this instant dance party. On the other hand, a lot of the folks running up towards the end of the video don’t seem to have his passion, courage, and unique dancing vision.

The way community leaders handle these situations is fascinating to me. I’ve seen open source community projects where the founding members get very upset when their movement takes off, but then veers away from their original vision. Some community members embrace the progress and feel flattered to see what they’ve begun. Others get upset, start to exert control, and end up killing their movements in the process.

As a community leader, you should always attempt to influence rather than control the community you create. And if you feel like your community members are straying too far from your vision for the movement, well, maybe it’s not your movement anymore.

And when that happens, you have two choices. One, accept the change, and revel in what has been created. Or two, go start a new dance party somewhere else.

Thanks for the tips, dancing Sasquatch guy!

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.

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