The one common question both small and large companies have asked us when conceptualizing a community is how exactly to build one. Smaller businesses are more keen on building the online community in an organic manner. However, we see that when companies want to initiate discussions by targeting their audience, they are perplexed about the starting point and keeping up with the momentum.
How extraordinary is this! When it comes to community building, companies are at the same starting point — big or small. This is because money doesn’t really play a significant role, so running an ad campaign with an enormous budget is not as effective as investing in a community manager.
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 the key factors:
- The member must perceive the community as an extension of their self (e.g., shared passion)
- The member should also believe that the existing members will also like the new joiner
- The member must aim to accomplish a well-defined purpose by joining the community
- The member must get onboarded via a well-defined framework
- The member must get rewarded for the quality contributions to the community
Although this seems straightforward, the root of the problem is building a community from scratch. Since there are no members in the community when starting off, it is very complex to convey the above-mentioned factors and make them realize the value. So, as a community owner, we must manually build these reasons for members to join and keep them engaged in the community for long-term value.
Douglas Atkin has depicted the community commitment curve beautifully via the glue project — the underlying concept is of a social glue that binds people together in any kind of community.
This curve shows how a new member can start contributions via low friction and simple action items that generate commitment momentum so that the member can gradually take up newer challenges and complex tasks. Based on your community you need to also build such a community commitment curve.
Sean Bolton, the tech lead at Lyft has created this easy-to-use commitment curve template to help you get started.
Building a community organically
Now that we have an understanding of why people join a community and what could be steps to attract them as well as keep them engaged, let’s do a deep dive into the steps. Note that this post is about a brand community where the goal is to connect the customers and prospects with peers as well as the brand.
Start with the groundwork for the community
Build a conceptual personality of your community (this Kapferer’s brand prism can help) based on what you envision if were a person. From here, the community owner should start small with a select group of people who closely match with the community. Discuss with them (either in-person or virtual conference) if it makes sense for them to join such a community and what they would expect from such a 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:
Finding members who would connect with the community
As a business, you are already aware of your target audience, your existing customers and how they interact with your business as well as their expectations. So, start with that data and see who you already know from your custom group would like to be a part of the community.
This is a critical step since these early entrants would shape the community and all your decisions will be based on their feedback.
You don’t have a community yet, so would they believe that the community will be valuable for them! That’s when you as a community owner come into the picture. The members must be able to trust that you are going to commit to the idea of the community and help them.
Ensure that your dialogue with the prospective members is very inclusive and you must make them feel that they are going to play a big role in building the community.
Since you have a small group of people who have bought 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 a community owner would transcend to the trust between them.
Ensure that the members are getting rewarded for the contributions they have made. In the beginning, members feel rewarded when you listen to the feedback and showcase your commitment by working on the same. Apart from that as a business, you can also compensate via coupons and vouchers.
Testing the repeatable framework
Since you have closed the feedback loop and delivered value to the community members, it is time to test if your community proposal is valuable enough for the existing small group so that they would share the same with their network. If you are still witnessing any missing pieces, make the amendments and perfect the above-mentioned loop.
This would be successful if you truly see that people consider themselves as part of the community and looking for other members to invite to the community.
Scale with a community platform
Since you are well-aware of the expectations and what triggers your community members, select a community platform where the members can connect and perform the activities that you want as a brand. It could be anything from sharing ideas and helping each other to keeping the members updated and collecting feedback.
This stage is all about bringing in the right technology to scale the repeatable process that you have finalized in the previous stage.
Invite the right people to the community
Start with a small group of people very much like the previous phase to ensure the tone of the community is set correct. That’s going to inspire future members and help them get involved by following the examples set by the first group. Some of the common channels to look into are the CRM system, support system, social media channels, content subscribers.
Also, note that you need to seed the community with the right content to ensure that there are enough resources to get the discussion going.
Add an exclusivity layer into the community
Keep certain aspects of the community exclusive and give some of the key privileges to the trusted members. That way you are ensuring quality and motivating the members to do good to gain those privileges. 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.
The members will a high reputation would be able to participate in those exclusive groups.
Engage, improve participation and reward
Keep the community filled with valuable and engaging content to ensure that there is always enough resources for the members. You can also gamify the whole participation via reputation score, badges, redeemable virtual currencies, competitions, etc.
Empower the members to ask answers from the peers for the existing questions. Successful businesses are filled with examples of manufacturing engagement until they are on auto-pilot mode.
Quora team used to post questions and answer on their own until they achieved organic growth. The same goes for Reddit.
Here is a guide from Reddit for the subreddit owners and moderators:
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 the contributions. Perhaps they want to deliver the same value to people they already know. So, give them a way to invite their network.
You can open up the referral channel based tiered participation level. The first priority goes to the super users, then the loyal members, active contributors, engaged members, and so on. A popular example is the Product Hunt community that allowed only the early members to invite other members.
Time to grow your community organically
This concludes the list of steps you need to follow when launching a community from scratch based on two stages of community building. As your community evolves with time, you would notice more and more engagement from the members.
Essentially, you need to find the community identity, invite a small group of people who would resonate with the idea of the community, collect feedback, give reward and scale the whole process via a community platform (e.g., Tribe). The ultimate frontier is keeping the members engaged in the community and leveraging the referral network.