Community is all the buzz in the marketing world right now. WeWork, a community built around coworking space, is valued at 10 billion dollars. Airbnb’s successful growth is tied to their community of hosts worldwide resulting in a $25 billion valuation. Lyft, Airbnb, Udemy, Etsy and are all multimillion dollar companies whose success is derived from their strong communities. Whether you have an experienced community manager on your team or not, community building has become a central piece of the marketing mix.
If communities are such a metric for success, then how do you build one? I’ve built several communities in both the non-profit world and startup world, each of which are valuable assets for their organizations, but provide value in distinctly different ways. Students volunteering at Tools for Tolerance, Morocco (PDF) created and contributed to a content strategy that tripled donations towards their volunteer work in a few months, and trainers at Vint, a fitness technology startup, helped recruit and onboard other trainers growing the trainer network. Currently, I help people own their digital footprint with Keepsafe, which allows them to organize, track, and secure their digital media.
From Morocco to San Francisco, these are the steps I use, without fail, to launch a relevant and engaged community:
1. Identify Your Community’s Value Proposition for Your Company
These are the things you imagine to be happening in the future when you know that your community is working.
Why do you want to build a community? Is your goal to address key business metrics like churn and customer lifetime value? Is it to harness the power of community to help you grow by increasing the number of customers who evangelize your product for customer referrals? Are you trying to develop a community-driven content strategy and increase your brand trust? There are numerous ways your community can add value to your company, so start by identifying and focusing on three key areas.
2. Identify Your Community’s Value Proposition for Its Members
This is the reason why members will join your community.
Why would anyone want to join your community? What motivates them to participate in your community? Write down how that participation would take shape.
How does your community solve a problem for them that they may already be trying to solve in other ways? Write down those other ways. Write down how your community does it in ways that are better or worse. What are those other ways?
When a member describes the value of your community to a friend, what do they say? When you answer these questions, you have your community’s value-proposition.
3. Start Small, Start Special
This is how you get started with actual members.
Write down all the people you know who would find your community immensely valuable. Create a spreadsheet and organize the list with the people who would value it the most at the top. Reach out to each of these people in a way that cannot possibly scale.
Invite them out to 1-1 coffees or send them a handwritten note. Run your ideas past them, get feedback, and ask them to think of three people each who would also find the community valuable. If you start with 10, you will soon have 30. If start with 50, you will soon have 150 members.
4. Empower Your Community to Help You Grow
This is how you go from 20 or 50 to hundreds or thousands.
Listen to your community and when people are keen to give feedback, ask them to become more involved. Give them critical roles such as helping you shape the engagement of your community. Work with them to develop the tradition of welcoming a new member, give them the opportunity to take on this role (or divide it amongst a few people), and be consistent in delivering that experience to new members. As you identify leaders, work with them to figure out the ways they would like to contribute to building the community and shape roles for them around their strengths and interests.
5. Create a Community Health Dashboard
Quantify Your Community’s Growth and Success
Whether you’re building a community from scratch from within a company or as part of entirely new endeavor, you want to be able to measure the health of your community’s growth. The this will allow you to quantifiably show your community’s growth and potential for growth to department heads who determine your budget, or potential investors. It also gives you a good pulse as to whether your community is succeeding. If it isn’t, go back to your community value propositions and see if they are truly reflective of your goals and the interests of your community.
In the early stages, start by measuring something simple like the number of members in your community, their retention (how long they stay), and the number of referrals they bring as new members to your community. I’ll be writing another article next on how to create your own community health dashboard. Make sure you subscribe to Social Studies to get that next post.
The most important thing to remember when starting to build your community is that you should always give more than you take from your community, and it will deliver great returns.