One of our common observations with clients is they want their communities to be bigger and more active without doing anything to deliberately attract more members or get them more active.
Most wait to be lucky. Their community creates a lot of content and they hope more people find it and join the community. That can work, but it’s slow and far from certain.
Most of your community’s size and activity is determined by two big decisions you made (or neglected to make) early on.
When we work with clients, we help them grow deliberately and strategically. We help them change the rules of the game by answering two major questions with the community and evaluating those answers frequently.
If you get these two decisions right, everything else falls into place a lot easier.
If you don’t, it’s going to feel like you’re always fighting to get people to join, visit, and participate.
Key Decision 1: Who Are We Targeting?
The biggest mistake you can make is targeting too many people too soon.
You’re always going to be tempted to target all of your existing audience to attract the maximum number of members. But the more people you try to attract, the harder it becomes to satisfy each of their unique needs.
This works for a tiny number of customer support communities, but it’s the wrong approach for the rest of us.
The easiest way to launch, grow (or revamp) any new community is to find the tiniest slither of your audience with unique needs which you can satisfy better than any other community can.
Segmenting your audience
You can slice up your audience in many ways, most methods usually involve some form of demographic, habits, or psychographic factors.
Some common ones:
- How long someone has been a customer/involved in the topic or a member of the community.
- How skilled or experienced they are within the topic.
- Their location.
- Their unique job roles.
- Beliefs about the future of the topic.
- Beliefs about the past of the topic.
- Hobbies in their spare time.
- Aspects of the work they’re uniquely excited by.
- Aspects of the work they’re uniquely frustrated by.
The best means to identify segments is through a combination of member interviews and surveys. You first do the interviews to surface possible needs and then you add questions to the survey to evaluate the strength and possibilities of each segment.
For example, if in your interviews you notice a small group of members are heavily frustrated by the lack of quality information, you then add relevant questions to the survey to determine the size of this group and segment answers from this group from the rest to determine their unique needs.
If you’re building a community for IT security professionals, you might find you have unique groups of audiences in:
- IT security pros in their first job role.
- IT security pros with 3 to 5 years of expertise and looking to move into a senior role.
- IT security pros based in New York.
- IT security pros at Fortune 500 companies.
- IT security pros dealing with social attacks.
When you launch a community, target it specifically at the small, unique, slither you’re attracting. Once you’ve done well attracting this group, target the next segment and the next. This is how you stop growing randomly and start growing deliberately. Now growth is fully within your control.
Key Decision 2: What Unique Needs and Desires Are You Satisfying?
Once you have identified the unique segments you’re targeting, you need to figure out which unique needs and desires you’re satisfying. This is how you increase participation from existing members.
You have to satisfy the unique needs and desires of your audience better than anywhere else.
If you do this right, you shouldn’t be competing with anyone…you’re the only game in town.
The most common mistake here is to focus solely on a member’s need for information. But information is a competitive space. Your community will be competing against Google search results, YouTube breakdowns, and communities set up by your own customers on Reddit/Slack/StackExchange.
Push beyond the need for information.
Three Types of Needs
We can divide member needs into three levels; external, internal, and deeper beliefs/identity (h/t Storybrand).
- External need: This is the most immediate practical need a member has.
- Internal desire: This is the internal driver of that practical need.
- Beliefs/identity: This is the deeper belief or identity related to the topic.
Let’s imagine you run a community for a SaaS IT product. You have multiple needs you can target.
- External need: I need to get this product to work or I risk a poor performance review.
- Internal desire: I want to feel confident that I can solve problems like this myself.
- Beliefs/Identity: I want to feel part of an elite group of IT professionals.
Find a small group of members with unique needs and design the first community for them. Target the discussions, content, activities, and more solely for them.
Creating The Value Only You Can
The secret to keeping members hooked is to tackle as many of your members’ needs and desires as possible.
Your decisions here will completely change the entire concept of your community.
Be warned, it’s a lot easier to get a community started by tackling the immediate need. However, you will soon find people visit, get an answer to their problem, and leave. This leaves you with two options. You can tackle more of their needs beyond just the immediate topic or satiate more of their deeper desires.
You can see an example of your options in the chart below:
Generally speaking, the more desires you satiate, the stickier your community becomes.
However, it’s also increasingly more difficult to build these kind of communities because the immediate need to visit the community disappears. But if you want to build something more than a community where members visit, receive an answer, and leave…you need to move up the desire chain.
Most customer support communities, for example, focus on the immediate external need. The benefit is members have a clear and obvious reason to visit the community.
The downside is members have no reason to stick around (and they usually don’t).
Increasing Growth and Activity
If you want to increase the level of growth or participation, don’t tweak around the edges and wait to be lucky. Take control of the process and change the rules of the game. Gradually and deliberately expand the audiences you’re targeting and the needs you’re satisfying.
This is how you can have deliberate, sustained, growth within the community.
p.s. I’m going to be covering techniques like this as part of my CMX Workshop this September (select Richard’s workshop). I strongly recommend investing the $599 to redefine how you grow and scale your community.