Community has supercharged many of the biggest movements and companies in the startup ecosystem in the past few years. Tools like discord servers are growing exponentially, serving online gamers, NFT enthusiasts, and even big brands. More and more companies are using community as a way to better connect with their audience and gain feedback on their products or services. This movement isn’t going away, in fact, many see it as the future to a company’s competitive advantage.
All of the information and tools available can be paralyzing. As in most cases with startups, it’s best to think lean and start now.
This post is the first in an ongoing series of posts about building, growing, and serving a community for your startup.
Like content, building community is a long-tail play that will require consistent effort.
I like to use the following framework when building a minimum viable community:
- Decide whether community is your go-to-market strategy or your product. The strategies for these two are quite different. One you will monetize and one you will not. For the purpose of today’s exercise, we focus on the go-to-market strategy.
- Define who the key archetypes are that will be a part of your community. You must have exclusivity to get value out of the community because you want to keep the conversation focused and members to realize benefits from the focused conversation. Inviting everyone without having clear screening criteria is an invitation to chaos. Focused, specific conversations drive more meaningful value to participants than general platitudes. A key takeaway is that it may not be JUST the customer who is part of the community, it may be service providers, influencers, and other stakeholders in your customer’s ecosystem.
- Define where and how people will interact with one another. This could be through a newsletter and events using a tool like Luma. It could be a slack group that poses consistent questions to engage members in discussion. This could even be a weekly call of experts in a specific area that get to discuss some of the biggest challenges in their lives. Define how you want people to interact and in what format that you can consistently maintain over a period of time. Remember, keep this lean and simple to start.
- Define rules, boundaries, and limitations of interaction. Determine what content is in scope and out of scope for the community so you can keep the conversation focused. I’ll say it again, focused, specific conversations drive more meaningful value to participants than general platitudes. Create a list of content that is in and out of scope so you can ruthlessly prioritize these discussions and delete the others. Make sure that you have this list and methods for redirecting the conversation to something more valuable for whatever format you will be delivering to the community.
- Identify and engage individuals who will be top contributors and super fans. I like to call these people plants. Just like you plant questions in a crowd for lectures or laughs at a comedy show, you want to plant both brand super fans and individuals with specific areas of expertise in your community. Think of this like a brand ambassador program where they will become de facto community leaders by modeling the behavior you want in the community. Recruit these plants to be your initial top users that will actively spark discussion and answer questions. By modeling the behavior you want in the community, the plants will spur participation from other members, even if it is a heavy lift at first. This may mean that you have to reach out to people in the community to participate behind the scenes, that is normal.
Now that you have all the framework together for a community, it’s time to start building. In my next post, I’ll talk about how to execute on this framework and what key metrics you should be tracking in order to drive growth for your company.
What am I missing? Feel free to jump into the comments to let me know any other things that you would include in a framework to build a minimum viable community.