Have you ever recounted a joke you thought was hilarious but… CRICKETS?!

Or poured your heart out on social media, day after day, post after post, and still not received the engagement you’d like?

Have you raked your brain and pushed yourself to your creative limits trying to build a community around a cause you’re passionate about and ended up with mediocre results at best?

The good news is that it’s not you, it’s them.

Let’s flip this around for a second. Think about your closest friends or your favorite characters in the movies. What drew you to them? Was it a shared experience? A character trait you admired? Their philosophy on life?

No matter what the specifics were, there’s probably a thread of commonality in each instance – you saw a bit of yourself in them, maybe in the familiar struggles that they too were dealing with or the aspirations they had for themselves that resonated with you as well.

How about your favorite brands? What leads you to choose one box of cereal over the next one? Is it the funny packaging? The exciting shapes? The ingredients they include or exclude?

In business and personal relationships alike, we tend to band with the people who are like us. The ones who speak our language, or share our opinion on things – big and small. We tend to look for the ones who will laugh at our jokes, and that’s the same way that you should approach your community building efforts.

The easiest, most reliable way to know exactly what your audience needs is to actually be one of them.

This is what Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia refers to as enlightened empathy, which he credits for the success of their industry disrupting company.

“We learnt early on to go meet the people, to go talk to the customers, to achieve what I would call ‘enlightened empathy,’ which is getting into the shoes of the customers as close as you possibly can to see the world through their eyes.”

It doesn’t mean that you should try and behave like the people that you’re trying to connect with. Rather look inward, decide what’s important to you, and then go out and find the people who agree with you. Pin down the one thing that bothers you without end, then find the people facing the same problem and help them solve it.

Building your community around an issue that you’re intimately familiar with means that you’ll automatically know how to express yourself and gain the trust of your audience by skillfully demonstrating that you understand their needs.

Like the founders of Airbnb who came up with the idea for their business after personally hosting a group of friends, being one of your customers will likewise give you tenacity as you work to build your community, because you are personally invested in the project, because helping them means that you’re helping yourself too, and that makes it easier for you to push through the highs and the lows alike.