The data is pretty clear.
You don’t need a huge mass of members to reach a critical mass, you need a relatively small group of super passionate members.
10 super-committed members trumps 1000 casual visitors.
This is implicit in our online community lifecycle too. You don’t grow by nurturing the masses, with big promotional pushes, or paid advertising.
At least not at the beginning.
You grow by identifying the most passionate members and engaging with each of them directly so they feel they can make useful contributions to creating something incredible.
This group may include your best customers, the members with the highest open-rates, those who are already talking about you on social media and other channels. Ideally, you begin with the group you already have great relationships with.
It’s a lot easier to get a community started with 50 super-enthusiastic members than 5000 who stumbled in from the mailing list. You can ask each of the 50 what they want from the community, what they can contribute to the community, and design specific, unique, ways they can contribute to the group.
If you’re struggling to reach critical mass, it’s unlikely because you don’t have enough relationships. It’s more likely you don’t have strong enough relationships with existing members. Get closer to a small group, narrow the focus of the community, and find unique ways they can contribute to the group.