There’s no denying that building a community is a lot more dynamic than it is pre-defined. Most things are not by the books and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that everyone can just replicate and capitalize on. This is also why communities evolved the way that they have. We went from answering questions on yahoo to building friendships with people we’d never met. There’s no playbook for building human connections and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.
But in the era of community-led growth, businesses are building human-first connections to drive growth which brings communities to the forefront of being treated as just another channel for revenue. When you build brand communities, you have to eventually bottle things down into impact metrics and it’s extremely difficult to put human connections into charts or sheets or numbers.
A dilemma, for sure, but there are certain things when it comes to building communities that you should definitely refrain from doing.
Community can be part of your marketing strategy but it shouldn’t become a channel for acquisition. If you’re wondering how is it different, well, if you’ve decided to nurture and grow a community, your goal should be to make members feel needed. Build a cadence of providing value regardless of whether or not is it advantageous to your business. Communities are safe spaces, their primary purpose is to foster a sense of belonging which cannot be manufactured but only organically grown.
What needs to be ensured is that after you’ve given your community a platform to grow and learn, it’s time to move out of the way and let advocacy lead to a self-sustaining flywheel that no longer relies on external nudges. On the contrary, if you start plugging and pushing your product on people, it wouldn’t take time for them to stop coming back.
Of course, there’s no harm in trying to drive revenue for your company but that shouldn’t cloud the way you look at the members.
Your community needs a home, no doubt, but you also have to be careful enough to not get carried away with expensive tech and flashy tools. The purpose of your community should remain pure and untainted by external factors. Think of it this way - if you were to host a meetup for your community, it shouldn’t matter if you’ve booked out a fancy bar or have simply asked everyone to come to the nearest park. The intrinsic value being created should be the same regardless.
Similarly, you shouldn’t go overboard by drawing too much attention with swag, rewards, influencer programs, etc., because it starts creating a sense of give-and-get in people’s minds. Gradually, the only reason why people become and stay a part of your community is that they expect something in return. It becomes a transaction, which is alright up to a certain extent but shouldn’t be the only reason why your community is alive.
Focus on creating value that’s one of a kind. Grow community engagement by getting people to organically drive conversation in the community. All you need is a simple platform like Slack or Discord to initiate a dialogue and see how it works wonders for your community.
Expecting revenue from building a community is not necessarily bad. In fact, some may even argue that it’s the only reason for focusing on community-led growth. But the whole idea of accounting for revenue comes in late i.e. it shouldn't be the entire reason why you started building a community in the first place.
For example - Threado’s community is a closed space for community builders. We’re trying to nurture community engagement by creating a space not just for discussing the product but for networking, sharing resources, learning, growing, and discussing community strategies with one another.
Preferably, a better goal to have with building a community is to position yourself better in the market. Focus on advocacy initiatives like Ambassador or Expert programs instead of only pushing for product adoption. It’s important to remember that it’s not just the product but also everything else you’re doing with it that compounds eventually. When you move the focus on the process and not just the goal, results become imminent.
The last thing you should do is define deadlines for community building. Again, it’s okay to have timelines and maintain a calendar, but you can’t expect high yields after rushing through the process. Building community engagement and community management in itself demand patience. It’s a time-consuming process to take things from 0 to 1 because you can neither force nor control human connections.
The very structure of communities stands on a foundation built on genuine value. There are no shortcuts, no secrets, and no concrete answers that can guarantee a thriving community. If anything, there will be more failed attempts than you can keep count of but that’s the beauty of building communities. If you try to control things that are not in your hands, they will never work out the way you want them to. Instead, focus on the things you can get hold of - nurturing community culture, offering value, gaining trust, creating opportunities, etc.
What’s better: having 500 engaged members in a 1000-member community or 100 engaged members in a 10,000-strong community? Numbers can be great, that’s true, but it shouldn't be at the forefront of your community-building strategy. A smaller community where like-minded people can discuss a common interest and learn from the experiences of others is what community is intrinsically all about. And if you have that, you’re already winning.
No one knows what’ll eventually work for you in your process. Something that has worked for us or for another community builder might not work for you, and that’s okay. You just have to keep experimenting with new ways of trying to achieve the same thing. As long as your priorities are straight and don’t think of community just as an engine for profit, you’ll be fine.
Build a haven where members feel at home. Communities are wonderful if you put your efforts in the right place and give it time. Focus on impacting lives and you can’t possibly imagine how the results will compound over time.
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