Objective: You will learn best practices to build genuine engagement and lifelong community, which are essential to raising funds on Backers and to your business’s success.
From our Choosing Your Community lesson, you now know who you’re looking to bring into your community. The next step is actually bringing them in and then keeping them there. Growing your community is critical to your success as a business and on Backers. Without an engaged, vibrant community, you’re just another product or service in the market – people won’t really care about your success, and won’t have many reasons to support you over other competitors. So, let’s grow your community, and let’s grow it so the people supporting you are genuinely engaged and interested in supporting you for life!
Before we move to how one can grow a community organically, let’s first understand why a potential member would join your community. Here are a few key factors:
- Joining the community should accomplish a well-defined purpose for the member.
- The member might perceive the community as an extension of their self (e.g., shared passion).
- The member should believe that the existing members will like the new joiner.
Once someone joins:
- The member should get onboarded via a well-defined framework.
- The member should get rewarded for their quality contributions to the community.
Especially when we’re starting a community from scratch, we must build these reasons for members to join and keep them engaged in the community.
This curve shows how a new member can start contributing in your community. These should start as low friction and simple action items that generate commitment momentum so that the member can gradually take up newer challenges, more complex tasks, and more invested roles. You should build a curve like this for your community, with one of the more middle tasks being buying/using your product/service and one of the higher up tasks being supporting your business on Backers.
Ok, so what are the actual steps to go from zero to a thriving community where members are actually making their way up that curve all the way to supporting you on Backers?
Start with the groundwork for the community.
You should start small with a select group of people who closely match your target community. These can be people you already know, current or past customers, people you interact with from other relevant online or physical-world communities, and more. Discuss with these people if it makes sense to them to join your community and what they would expect from your community. Ensure that you’re able to clearly define the value the members are expecting from the community.
Here are the steps to follow in this stage:
1. Finding members who would connect with the community
As a business, you are already aware of your target audience (Choosing Your Community lesson), your existing customers, and how they interact with your business. So, starting with that data try to see who you already know that might like to be a part of the community. This is a critical step since these early members will shape the community and their early feedback will influence your early decisions ー be sure they really are representative of your target community.
2. Gaining trust
We talked about this in the Building Trust from Your Community lesson! If you don’t remember, go back and review it! Here, it’s important to ensure that your dialogue with the prospective members is very inclusive. You want to make them feel that they are going to play an important role in building the community.
3. Initiating engagement
Since you have your small group of people who have bought into the idea of the community, now it’s time to start engaging with them and connecting them with each other. That’s when the trust they have placed in you as the person bringing them together transcends to become trust between them as well. You can do this in a variety of ways depending on the nature of your business, but an easy one that works for most would be making a group on a social media platform like Facebook.
4. Delivering value
You need to deliver valuable content to your community. These people should feel like they are benefitting from being part of your group. We talked about this at length in the Building Trust from Your Community lesson. Also, ensure that community members are getting rewarded for the contributions they make. In the beginning, members feel rewarded when you listen to their feedback, engage directly with them by responding, and show you are committed to improving your business. You can also consider creating loyalty or other reward programs that increase commitment from your community. The key to these sorts of programs is that they should incentivize continued loyalty from existing community members, while also encouraging community members to reach out and bring in new people. A case study you should check out is Public Mobile’s incredibly successful reward program.
5. Testing the repeatable framework
You have delivered value to your early community members, and now it is time to test if your community proposal is valuable enough for this existing small group to go and share the community with their networks. You want people to feel like they are really part of your community, and then to go out and bring other people into the community. So either ask them to do so or give them some sort of incentive to do so as discussed above. The incentive can even be something as small as a badge on their profile in your group – be creative so it doesn’t cost you too much, but so it enhances people feeling like they’re really part of the group.
If the above goes smoothly, you probably will have already started growing. Now you want to keep your original people engaged, loyal, and ready to bring in more people, while also creating the same feelings for your new members as they begin to commit more.
Depending on your business, continuing on with the social media platform you used above could be very effective. Some businesses might need to create their own community platform on their own website or through other means. Ultimately, what matters is that you have a community platform where the members can connect and perform the activities that you want as a brand. These actions include anything from sharing ideas to keeping members updated to collecting feedback to community members helping each other to community members buying/using your products/services to community members supporting you on Backers and more.
There are a few more steps you can take here that will help in the scaling process:
1. Invite the right people to the community in the early stages of scaling up, try to continue to invite small groups of people very much like the one you started with to ensure the tone of the community is set correctly. That’s going to inspire future members and help them get involved by following the examples set by the first group. Also, remember to keep seeding the community with valuable content to ensure that there are enough resources to keep discussion and engagement going.
2. Add an exclusivity layer into the community keeping certain aspects of the community exclusive and giving extra privileges to trusted members can help ensure quality while also motivating other members to engage more. One of the most common examples for brand communities is about building an exclusive group inside a community dedicated to super users of the community or power users of the product/service. You can manually identify these people, or you can create feedback systems where other people rate each other and the highest-rated gain exclusive access (or other community-led or automated systems could work too). For example, the community platform builder Tribe has a feature for ranking reputation where community members can give each other ratings.
3. Engage, improve participation, and rewardKeep the community filled with valuable and engaging content to ensure that there is always enough resources for the members to talk, engage, and explore. You can also gamify the whole participation via reputation score, badges, redeemable virtual currencies, competitions, etc. Empower community members to ask each other questions and to share their experiences and insights. Successful businesses are filled at their early stages with examples of manufacturing engagement. Eventually, in some cases, their community grows to such a size that they can shift to auto-pilot mode.
4. Tap into the referral network at this stage, you know that your members are motivated to participate in the community and are getting rewarded for their contributions. Perhaps they want to deliver the same value to people they already know. So, give them a way to invite their network.
If you follow all these steps, you should be able to grow an engaged lifelong community. It may take a while, but it’s worth it!
- Make a plan for how you will execute on steps 1-5 from the Groundwork section above. Depending on your business’s situation, you might be able to execute on these steps in 5 days or 30 – be sure your plan includes timelines. Be aware of where you are at, and understand that growing your community is not an instantaneous process.
- Right now, execute on step 1 of that plan.
- Write down a few preliminary ideas for steps 1-4 from the Scale section above. These will change as you engage with your community, but it’s good to get thinking early.