In this episode of the Community Strategy Podcast, you’ll hear an excerpt from Deb Schell’s new book, Creator to Community Builder. This episode is an expert from chapter eleven — Grow your membership.
Creator to Community Builder offers time-saving tips for struggling entrepreneurs to establish and scale online communities, enhancing business growth and client connections. Community Strategist Deb Schell shares insights from aiding 60+ business owners, offering stories, strategies, and practical tools to launch thriving communities, ultimately saving money and time.
A note to readers that there is no audiobook version, which is why this particular season offers audio experts of the book. To get a PDF digital copy for free, click here. (Link expires 1.1.24)
It takes about three years to see an online community thrive.
In past chapters, I shared the importance of asking your members what kind of support they need and how the community can benefit them.
The same concept applies if you’re ready to see your community grow significantly. If your community already has solid content, connections, and interactions, this chapter can dramatically help you succeed.
When thinking about growth, most community professionals rely on data to measure what’s working so they can adjust their strategy for continued growth.
While data is a practical resource, it’s important to remember that people are why a community exists. It can be challenging but don’t become stuck on the numbers. In this chapter, I’ll offer a few ways to use data to reach desired business outcomes, and we’ll cover how to define growth metrics and inform decisions.
Any community needs to be healthy to grow, but what exactly defines “health”? There’s no single answer, but there are patterns you can seek. Once you’ve had a community for six months or more, you can begin collecting information about your content and review members’ commitment, contribution, and activity.
You can determine the “health” of your community by reviewing a few key data points and comparing them with the community growth plan.
These key data points include:
- Members who have logged into the community.
- Frequency of each member’s logins.
- The number of events each community member has attended.
- The most consumed content (videos, articles, posts, or discussions).
- The highest-ranking posts are based on likes, cheers, and comments.
- The number of courses members have completed.
- The number of times each member has created a post or shared an article, blog, or photo.
The priority for these elements will depend on your community structure, but I want you to know that not all data holds the same value. For example, social media metrics are sometimes called “vanity” because they don’t reflect engagement. For instance, knowing someone “saw” a piece of content is less valuable than knowing they contributed to a comment thread.
There are a few formulas that help community professionals measure data for healthy community outcomes. I’ve assembled a community growth flywheel to share some growth strategies I’ve seen work.
Community champions are your core members who share their energy, time, and resources. Community champions can volunteer to lead co-working sessions, encourage new members to participate, comment on posts, or share their knowledge. It’s essential to acknowledge community champions through shout-outs.
Recognize them with badges or opportunities to share with the community, showing other members they are trusted leaders. They can help you grow your community by encouraging engagement, recruiting new members, and offering ideas for experiences.
What’s Best for Them?
Many new community builders waste valuable energy focusing on lower-priority metrics, such as a platform’s ambassador program. A better way to spend your time is to understand what’s best for the members. Having active and highly engaged members might be exciting, but asking them to be ambassadors initially doesn’t serve them well. They haven’t solidified their experiences yet, so they haven’t completely bought in. Fundamental in the first one to three years, your primary goal is to develop a core culture that suits their needs.
Understanding what’s best for them and providing it will give your members a better experience. Only after undergoing their transformation will they want to tell others about it. If implementing an ambassador program, don’t ask members to participate unless you’ve confirmed you’ve met their needs.
You can confirm what’s best through surveys, polls, and interviews. As you consistently do this, you’ll start to identify your key champions over time. Once you understand who they are, initiate a conversation with them. If you sense they are fired up about your offering and want to share it, it might be a suitable time for an ambassador program. Even then, be thoughtful about making it worth their while.
Did I say that again? Yes. Asking your community champions how they would like to share the community should come before creating any advocacy program. If you are considering offering a referral, rewards, or affiliate program, ask the members what benefits they want besides monetary rewards.
Members will tell friends and family about the community because it helped them solve a problem. If you’ve provided a trusted place to explore topics they are passionate about, they’ll often want to help you expand the community.
Slow Growth is Better Growth
When I work with clients to launch a community, I always recommend a phased approach. The same goes for growing the community. It takes intentional action to connect members over time. The best growth strategy is to have a fantastic onboarding process, provide excellent resources, and offer a unique member experience that keeps them returning. If you serve more than one type of member, I recommend focusing on one group at a time.
Set a goal for growth within your community. Decide how many active members you’d like to have. When you reach that goal, invite more people in and encourage them to tell others. Trying to build out too many spaces within a community is where many problems start to occur.
For example, say you are viewing a website and see a few navigation links at the top; this is how you can think about organizing a community. Some community builders believe they should have topic areas or spaces for topical conversations, but that only works if you have a huge community.
When starting small, you need to consider members entering your community as if they were exploring a website. What are the features you need? You need an events area to host your meetups, a space for members to interact, and a place to organize resources and information.
There was once a feature on the Mighty Networks platform called “Topics.” The feature has changed with the updates to the forum and is now called “Spaces,” but the new design caused a lot of confusion for customers.
Many customers had more than a few community topics, but when the feature was removed, they didn’t know how to organize their content. Many customers turned their topics into a “Space,” but this did not work for everyone. By speaking with them, I’ve learned that having too many choices leads members to leave.
It would be best if you had a strategy for each space you create, no matter what platform you use. The terminology might change, but the concept is the same. How will your members know where to connect, share, chat, or communicate?
Think about the following questions:
- What’s the purpose of this space?
- What is included?
- Who will watch over or maintain it?
- What is your strategy for this space?
Of course, every member is a human being. Remember that each person has a whole life with various responsibilities, possibly including family, kids, work, commutes, conferences, health challenges, doctor appointments, and travel plans.
Each person has come to your community for a reason. The more you know why they decided to join and what their lives are like, the better you’ll understand their participation. Whether they show up constantly or sporadically, they have a reason.
Most times, a personal event has changed their daily life; they may need time to get back to their normal activities. Think about members when they are gone and check in on them. Community members can come together and send a card if they’ve had health concerns.
They matter! The more you show you care, the more valued they will feel. This is the best way to encourage them to show up again and share their experiences with their network.