This is a guest blog entry by Roy Povarchik.
Building a community from scratch is a challenge every startup faces, but which not all startups fully understand.
Here’s what most people think a community manager’s life looks like:
“You wake up, hang out on Facebook all day long, answer some emails, say the word ‘Awesome,’ ‘Thank you’ and ‘Appreciate’ 200 times a day and send stickers. Send tons of stickers.”
While some of those action items do come into play, building a thriving community is much harder than you’d think.
Here’s a good way to try to grasp what building a community really feels like:
Imagine you have to engineer a person that will be persuasive, likable, able to throw a successful party, and can get people motivated.
Then you have to prove all these characteristics again and again. From scratch. All day, every day.
Being a community manager means you have to get people to gather, create conversations, participate, acknowledge and engage around your brand while maintaining a consistent voice, and even personality, for your community.
Here’s how Sprout Social details the workflow of a community manager:
- 40% having conversations with communities or prospects
- 20% building visibility and credibility as “Sprout Sarah” by attending Twitter chats and moderating #SproutChat
- 15% researching opportunities to connect with new people
- 15% blogging on external sites
- 10% analyzing efforts driving the most traffic
- 10% making friends with everyone in the office (social butterfly)
Doesn’t seem so easy now, right?
The biggest challenge to building a community is that most of the advice out there sounds great, but it actually isn’t that helpful when you’re just starting out – when no one is engaging with you or cares that you’re alive.
Here are a few top tips community managers shared on Buffer:
- “Everything you do as a community builder should be about the community. Everything.”
- “Engage and check in with your community often. Actions speak louder than words.”
- “You have to set your metrics for success. Social platforms are similar, but can be used for very different things.”
- “Relationships BETWEEN members. A space where people feel safe to contribute.”
Still, those are only things you can act on once you already have a community.
So how do you turn your communal online space from population YOU into a thriving community?
Here are 6 of my most actionable, hard-won tips to help you take the first steps into building a living, breathing, engaged and engaging community (and no one else is talking about them).
How To Start Your Very Own Thriving Community
1. Base your community on a need, not a product.
I will make this point as bluntly as possible so we can get it out of our way: Nobody cares about your product.
It’s that simple. Crazy, right?
People join groups or communities for one reason alone – to address their own needs.
If you were able to read your potential community members’ sub-conscious, they would say one of two things:
- Will joining this community make me better at what I want to be better at?
- Will joining this community help me achieve something I want to achieve?
The simple truth is that people only want to do things that serve their interests and empower them.
But don’t just take my word for it. Run a simple test.
For the sake of the test, let’s pretend that you are the CMO of a SaaS company with a platform that produces conversion rate optimization test results (so you don’t have to do the math yourself). Lets call it “Convertify.” In order to start a discussion with your target audience, you decide to create two Facebook groups to bring them all together.
Open two Facebook groups:
- Call the first one “Convertify”.
- Call the second one: ‘SaaS Conversion Optimization professionals’
Post a simple “hello” status update to welcome your new visitors and post 2-3 useful links in the following week.
What you’ll see in the next two weeks is that, even though you’ve been posting the same content on both groups, the second one will get more “add me” requests.
Why? because it hints at a true benefit.
The second group answers both internal questions clearly:
- Will joining this community make me better at what I want to be better at? Yes, I can learn from experts.
- Will joining this community help me achieve something I want to achieve? Yes, I want to be better at conversion optimization.
Target your communities around their needs. Not your product.
2. At the beginning, it’s all about one-on-one engagement
In his famous TED talk, Derek Sivers demonstrates how to start a movement through a video of a dancing guy in a music festival.
The thrust of the video (spoiler alert!) is that the most important member of a group is not the leader, but the first follower.
The first follower is the one that actually validates what the leader is doing, and seeds the beginning of a community.
Without the first follower, the leader isn’t a leader; he’s just a crazy guy talking to himself in a room.
This step is not about “engaging with your community members.”
It’s about choosing your first followers carefully and starting your conversation with them.
But how do you start?
If you’ve ever tried to build a community, you know that simply posting great content and asking questions doesn’t really do the trick.
You’ve been there: You invited people in, wrote a public status update and nothing happened.
Here’s the real secret no one is telling you:
You are not going to get your first significant follower just by trying to engage with everyone and hoping one will stick. No.
Do your research. Find target prospects you think will be beneficial to your community and start engaging with them on a one-on-one basis.
You can use email, Skype, Facebook Messenger, whatever you want. The initial nurturing of those first followers will probably take place in a private channel in one-on-one conversations.
Through personal engagement you will get a chance to really know them, bond over the real stuff and open a communication channel built on trust.
That personal connection is the only way to really know your audience and get them to genuinely care about your goal – your reason for building the community.
Now, you want to build that direct communication channel with as many relevant people as you can, but without sacrificing the quality of your conversations.
Let them in on your plans, decisions that need to be made etc. Really give them the VIP insiders treatment.
After a while, you can start asking them to Like, Upvote, help others or whatever it is your community will be about.
This is how you will get your initial community traction and encourage community ambassadors.
3. Help your community members to be successful
“People will join your community only if it will make them better at what they want to be better at.”
It goes much deeper than simply choosing a name for your community.
You want to reach out publicly and privately to your community members and help them out in any way they need.
If it’s by posting relevant content that answers hot topics in your niche, encourage people to ask questions and make sure you get them the help they need.
Try getting users to share their challenges (if they talk to you in private, recommend they post it publicly) and do your best to answer them. Even if it requires more research on your end.
The reason people do the same things over and over again is because they know it will get them an expected result.
If they’ll know that engaging with your community will help them overcome challenges, or solve a problem, they will start engaging with your community more often.
More than that, when people feel that a community is extremely helpful to them, they will feel the urge to give back more.
Which brings us to the next section.
4. Refer your community members to one another
In his book: “Tribes: we need you to lead us,” Seth Godin defines a tribe as:
“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
This last part, “a way to communicate,” is the key to developing a real thriving community.
For a community to go big, its community members have to be able to expand beyond what the community manager is doing, which they can do by engaging with each other directly.
If you are waiting for it to happen organically, it will either take a lot of time, or it won’t happen at all.
In the last section, I wrote about “helping your community.”
Helping your community, doesn’t always mean you are the one giving all of the answers. Sometimes, it’s about referring one community member to another.
By doing so, you encourage greater engagement within your group while empowering group members who will feel more valuable as the “experts” of the moment. People engage more where they feel valued.
You can do this just by letting someone know that another community member is really good at a certain topic and looping the other person in. You can refer to content they wrote or suggest they should talk, etc.
Once your community members engage with one another naturally, you will have a lot of conversations going on at once, and also a lot more initiatives that you didn’t initiate yourself.
Your job then becomes to moderate your highly functional group.
5. At first, hack user participation in early stages
Nothing ‘just happens’ right? It’s not how the world works.
Same goes for your community’s engagement growth.
This is where you combine all 4 previous sections.
To jump-start your community, you’re going to need to work behind the scenes to motivate your first followers to engage.
- This can be done by finding a good piece of content and asking them to share it instead of you.
- Or, perhaps someone asks a question that you can mention to another community member and privately ask them to reply.
- It can be by giving credit for things that community members are doing and emphasizing their work more than yours etc.
Then new members will feel like they are joining something that is already established. They’ll have role models to learn how the group works, and they will start mimicking and elaborating on what they see. Fake it ’til you make it.
All of this takes a lot of time and effort. That’s why it’s a full time job.
6. Rules and restrictions are the key to a happy quality community
Having rules is what sets apart noisy unhealthy communities from ones with meaning that thrive.
The reason people keep coming back to a specific community is because they know they will gain a specific value from it.
It’s the same as building a business: the more focused you are, the more high paying clients you’ll get.
If you don’t have any rules, you’ll see that your group will lose focus really fast – and with focus goes value.
This is how groups become full of spam, or become dominated by members who only promote their interests rather than engaging with others.
The right rules will keep these negative tendencies in check. Even if your members aren’t happy about them at the beginning, they will learn to appreciate them.
Rules will help you manage the conversation, expectations and quality of your group – which in turn, will help you create more valuable engagement. You know how to continue by now, right?
Here are some rules that I find helpful:
- You can introduce yourself, but not promote yourself
- Always be polite
- If you have any financial interests, always give full disclosure
- Repeating topics should be in their own, designated threads
- If you can help, then help
- No off-topics
It’s very simple, nothing too weird or harsh, but will deliver a more focused, higher quality, community engagement.
Building a community is a combination of being attentive to your audience, empowering them, finding the right niche, and promoting a lot of people’s skills.
Some might say that being a good community manager is something that can’t be taught.
I tend to agree.
But even if you have that quality in you, you will need the right tactics and time to build a thriving community.
Tell me: what kind of community are you trying to build?