To start, there are literally zero get-grow-quick schemes.
If someone is selling you that and you're buying? You're the fool.
Creating online community is a long game. If you want to play, have some patience.
It's important to recognize that everyone has valuable knowledge to share. Don't compare yourself to the people you idolize who are building community online. Not everyone is as far along on their journey as Greg Isenberg.
Community reframes your startup by starting with the people that you're bringing together — not the product prototype you're envisioning in your head. Think about the things you've learned on your journey that would be valuable to someone who is behind you on that same journey. That's where the magic is.
There are still plenty of misconceptions around community, especially in the earliest stages of community building. It’s a fuzzy concept with all sorts of different implementations, from running a series of events to starting a Slack group, to building a comments section into your site. And most founders consider community something to tack on as an afterthought, post-finding product/market fit.
When you start creating content to attract your initial few community members, know these three things:
1) Nobody will care about you
2) You will get ridiculed at some point
3) Somebody will say something mean to you
If you can get over those three things, you have thick enough skin to get started.
3) Create unique content that lets you own a micro-niche with very limited competition. I often refer to this as a "niche of one". (best way)
2) Solve your own problem (a better way)
1) Think of a product (terrible way)
There are several ways to think of an idea:
Nobody is doing this "perfectly". Everyone is figuring it out as they go. Why not you?
The people that win at this game are the people that get started and take action.
Think at a macro-level
Once you have your idea, it's important to create an audience of prospects that are likely to pay for your products or services.
The best way to create an audience is to choose. How do you do that ?
Running the cheapest test of all=an email campaign (Trends keep changing over time & so should your way of doing things)
Like most things in life, a community isn’t going to be huge on day one. The most successful communities often start as small email lists, newsletters, friendly dinners, forum threads, social media following on any platform etc.
They later grow into something significant as you learn more about its value, and as its members become autonomous ambassadors.
Starting small takes patience and doing things that don’t scale, but the effort pays off in the long-term.
Ryan Hoover started Product Hunt as a small email list for friends to share cool products they’ve found. After much market validation (positive feedback and word spreading), Ryan saw the opportunity for a real site and community.
In March of 2015, Product Hunt saw its 1,000,000th upvote and that email list of friends now has more than 43,000 subscribers.
Today, the email list tops 43,000 subscribers. “This may not sound like very much, but we think of it as being very dense, because the people we’re reaching are founders, entrepreneurs, VCs — every time an email goes out it has an impact because this ecosystem is so influential.”
Here's an example excerpt:
Ryan reached out to my good friend and designer/developer Nathan Bashaw to get his thoughts:
Yes! Eight days later, launched Product Hunt.
To get there, they talked to their community members (Ryan was kind enough to get on the phone with me when my product blew up overnight), hosted brunches, made incremental changes, and kept their members in the loop the entire time.
By starting small, testing, and iterating, you'll find ways to scale your community you would never see on day one. To illustrate, here’s my own experience.
The idea was just to validate the demand for a new direction we would go.
Action #1: Choose a handful of people to share your idea with. Get an email list going or create a Facebook group or Slack channel or Substack. Kick it off with a few conversation starters and see where it goes
So it’s imp to Run “community discovery” just like customer discovery.
For everyone who responds to your initial advertising email and expresses interest in the community, put them on a waiting list. A lot of companies go into waiting list mode and come out with the product like one year later, but with the advent of No-Code tools you have the luxury to come up with the first version of the product in one weekend by using platforms like Pensil
We all want to be the first to try something. We all want to be the first to talk about something new. Call us vain, but it’s fun introducing people to new things — to be an early adopter.
Action #2: Invite a small, exclusive group to join your community while you gain a better idea of what value your first community members see in it. Tell them that they’re the firsts and that you’re keeping it exclusive - communicate what’s in it for them, and who else is involved!
Mistake to avoid at this step: You’ve got to have founder involvement in the early days of your community efforts. Trying to outsource the community from day one is a big mistake. You need that buy-in and passion from the founders to build something that stands the test of time
Start with regular email reminders.
Send 2-3 emails a week alerting folks of new content updates or new members that were joining the community.
You should constantly be building the momentum.
Always prompt the reaction of, ‘Oh, wow another community member joined.
They must see something in this community, otherwise the leader at Credit Karma wouldn’t be there.’
It will help you build this continuing snowball of momentum, credibility, and desire.
The onboarding experience should be high-touch in the early days.
You would have to maybe personally onboarded the first 50 members.
Hop on a call for 30 minutes and I walk them through every single feature in the community and how to use it.
Use this opportunity to dive in deep with community members, with an eye towards later versions of the product.
Lead with curiosity on each of your onboarding calls
Ask questions like indirectly, because direct answers don’t always say the truth - “‘What’s your favorite feature, what would you cut out? What’s the one feature that would get you back in this community every single day? Let’s imagine in one year, this network ends up failing, why do you think it failed?’”
Read the book The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick
It is about finding those 10 people who just believed in the vision. It’s the same at any startup — you’re trying to find those first 10 beta customers or design partners. Community is no different
In the onboarding calls, take the efforts to explain your vision to build the community
You might find that the folks who really bought into this grander vision and wanted to be a part of it. Eventually, many of those community members may even become investors in the company.
Just get on base every day i.e. creating content each day and not trying to hit viral home runs.
Compound interest is what matters in community creation.
It's helpful to create an ecosystem of other relevant creators in your space.
Who else is aiming at your niche audience with a slightly different approach?
Make sure you interact with their content on a regular basis. Tether yourself to larger accounts and be active in their comments.
Once you have a solid foundation - let’s say five to ten people engaging regularly and clearly getting value from your community - it’s time to move on to next stage of building.
You are aware about the value your community adds to its members’ lives. You have an idea around what sparks engagement and what doesn’t. You’ve developed and distributed guidelines based on past behaviors and lessons learned.
And to give the community a jumpstart, ping the Community members you identify as power users and ask them to post an article or a resource — even going as far as to draft their posts for them to make their lives easier. When you finally get to a dozen engaged members who are posting over and over again, it actually ends up organically spurring that behavior from the rest of the community. Then you don’t have to prod people anymore — it just becomes an ingrained habit
Mistake to avoid at this step: “You can’t make a community for everyone, otherwise you end up making it for no one. Be very opinionated about having an incredibly high bar for who makes it into the community and who doesn’t, which will be critical to your long-term success. It's not for a platform that’s optimizing for breadth, like Reddit or Quora.”
Co-create your roadmap with the community.
Tap into your community members to help crystallize the roadmap for what comes next.
Conduct weekly feedback session with your members.
But just like any early product, that doesn’t mean every experiment at this stage will be a rousing success.
Mistake to avoid at this step. Testing is important, but given the effort required to ensure feature adoption, and the number of suggestions you'll be getting from your community members, you need to be thoughtful about how you execute. Develop a framework for prioritizing features and a process for testing, rather than trying to be everything for everybody.
Now it’s time to add some members and work your way to scaling. There are several ways to do this, and the most effective will depend on the type of community you run. There are, however, several best practices that have proven effective for many.
Experience – Placing the referral program in the main dashboard experience is a great way to increase visibility for any referral program. This approach passively catches the users’ eye all without taking away from the main product experience.
Another way Intercom tells their users about their referral program is in their daily digest email. Typically system and customer life-cycle emails are neglected as marketing channels.
Referrals are a way for members to share this cool thing they’re a part of while spreading word of your brand. The most effective referral programs reward referrers. Rewards might include swag, early access to exclusive features, event tickets, product discounts, partner discounts or freebies, etc.
Some referral programs use points systems. If your collective community has an ounce of gamer in them, they’ll get excited about a leaderboard. They might even get a healthy competition going, adding another layer of engagement.
Here’s an example of an influencer outreach email I’ve sent on behalf of a client inviting them to join a community (given, I knew the person, which helps).
Very casual and mentions a different topic we’d been discussing, but ultimately, effective.
Craft a short and compelling message communicating why their audience will want to get involved (a common theme here). There’s several tools available for identifying relevant outlets such as BuzzSumo, (for finding the most shared posts about a given topic) and ContentMarketer.io (for finding email addresses).
Design your social media profiles to capture people that are interested in your content.
If you talk about a niche topic, people should see images and copy on your profile pages that align with that.
Feature your work and website where possible and be very forward with what you write/Tweet/create about.
Your profile pages should be interesting enough to have people want to click the "follow" button.
When you are creating content, think about it this way:
1) What outcome are you shooting for? Purchases? Dopamine? Email subscribers? Know your end game.
2) Is your content laser-focused on bringing people to your outcome?
3) Are you writing/recording/creating interesting enough content to get people to stop and listen?
4) Are your opinions boring, vanilla, middle-of-the-road, or do you have something interesting to say? Are your opinions strong?
Note: If you're struggling to create content that resonates, build an audience, network with other creators, and find your tribe, We highly recommend my course, The LinkedIn Operating System. Right now, in 2022, LinkedIn is the easiest place to build a massive audience and business online. Find the LinkedIn Groups in which your prospects are active. Answer questions in the group. Pose your own questions and engage with those who respond.
Since you're already creating content for your community, why not start to drop that content in other places where people might be spending their time?
Every channel has its own algorithm and rules.
Validation phase: “This is all about tracking if people are attracted to your idea. What are the email open rate and the email response rate? What is the application rate? And what is the activation rate — are people even logging in after they create an account?” The funnel metrics he tracked included:
Email campaign open rate: Are folks opening the email advertising your community offering?
Email campaign response/opt-in rate: How many are indicating some written interest in joining? Quan then sent those folks an application form.
Community application rate: How many actually filled out the application?
Community acceptance rate: “This is important when you’re building a more exclusive community. Activation rate/first-week logins: Once green-lit to join the community, how many folks are actually logging in for the very first time?
The best process for moving through these 3 levels is called FIT:
One challenge of running a service business is how many manual tasks are required.
Make sure that you use low-cost, no-code(if you can't code) software tools to make your job easier
To end this, we borrow this quote from Adam Grant. “My personal philosophy as a founder is that the best way to build a lasting company is to create incredible value for everyone around you first. I don’t believe in transactional, tit-for-tat relationships. I believe you put a lot of goodwill and value out in the world for free, and it comes back to you in unpredictable, fortuitous ways. It’s something my former professor (and angel investor!) Adam Grant preaches. For me, community has been an easy way for me to generate a lot of value for others in a non-transactional way. I want every member to feel like they’re receiving an exclusive membership they’d pay $10,000 a year for - entirely for free,” he says.
Remember, brevity is your friend.
Make sure that the community is focused on solving one, big, problem your customers have talked to you about.
Ok, that's all for now. Hope this was helpful.
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A monthly round-up of the latest features, fixes, and finesse we’ve added to Pensil
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