It's true that community building is relationships but you have to question why people would want to build these relationships?
The biggest reason tends to be that there is some benefit to them in doing so. This means that there has to be a reason for both sides of the relationship to engage with each other. What makes this happen tends to fall into one of two categories:
A. They get some form of social capital as a result of participating in the community and/or
B. they get access to something(s)/someone(s) as a result of that community.
If you can crack how this applies to your community, you will have people banging down the doors to join.
I think this is correct but it's important to understand why this is the case.
If you say you want to be community first, what you are saying is that people need to buy into the greater thing that your product enables, likely before it's even available.
The only people that buy into the idea of something are early adopters. These are people that don’t need something tangible or even something perfect to be excited by it. Just the prospect of that something is exciting because it’s a must-have for them.
It follows then, that it’s easier to validate ideas and then sell into a group of people that are already excited about something than the other way around.
I discovered that growing a community is no different from growing a product.
Consider the AARRR funnel (aka the pirate metrics), one of the most popular frameworks used by startups. In a general sense, communities have the same basic funnel.
You still have to figure out how people will find out about your community (Acquisition), what their great first experience should be (Activation), how to get them to come back (Retention), how to monetize them, directly or indirectly (Revenue) and how to get them to tell others about the community (Referral).
And just like with a product, you will always have one of these steps that has the biggest problem or largest opportunity that will help move the needle on growth.
Using the analogy of a product again, just as you need product-market fit in that context, you need community-market fit in this context as well. The importance of this fit cannot be understated because this is what tells you about the must-haveness of your community, which in turn determines if people will even stick around for the long term.
This goes back to the point about community-market fit and must-haveness. This is why you can’t let just anyone into your community (at first).
You have to be super selective about your first 10-50 members. These have to be people who feel as passionately about (the need for) your community as you do. If this means you have to interview them to ascertain how deeply they feel the need for your community, do it. You cannot compromise on who this initial group of people is. If you do, you risk falling into the trap of constantly harassing them to engage.
On the other hand, if the need is great, you won’t have to do much prodding, they will engage on their own. If anything, they will harass you (in a good way) about improving the community to add more value. This will result in you building a white-hot core within your community.
The knock-on effect of this is that these people will do the job of spreading the word about the community as well, to attract more people like them. This in turn will set the culture of the community at an appropriately high level.
Building communities is hard work. It will take more time and effort than you realize to get it off the ground. The reason for this is because you are counting on someone to change habits. You are asking them to take time out of their day, their work, their free time, their me time, their family time and spend it in your community, This is a tall order.
This is why it’s so important to validate the need for your community first and figure out its must-haveness. Obsess over this as much as you can and you’ll save yourself a ton of headache.
Quora does a great job with its community because to me it’s apparent that they think about community like product. They are intensely focused on retention and they do very discreet things to tackle all 3 phases of retention:
A. Short-term retention (aka activation): They make you pick topics of interest when you sign up to make your first experience relevant to you. They also implement a to-do list which, as you complete, makes you more engaged with the community
B. Medium-term retention: Once you start engaging with the community, they combine information about the topics you said you’re interested in with your usage data to help build a habit around topics you’re most interested in
C. Long-term retention: Once you’ve been part of the community for a while, they take your usage data and present you with topics that allow you to engage at an even deeper level.
This is a powerful example of a community using data to constantly add value to its members.
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