There is a process to growing a community. It’s not something that should be left to chance. It should be part of a coherent community management strategy.
I prefer growth to be campaign based, which means a heavy focus upon growth over a short-period of time. There are a few steps to follow for campaign-based growth.
Step 1) Identify the need for growth
You should only grow your community for a reason that benefits the community. This reason will usually be because:
1) Growth is needed to sustain the community. This is true when the community hasn’t achieved critical mass, is in a decline, or needs a rejuvenated focus.
2) Expansion. There is an opportunity for the community to expand further into an associated, but relevant topic.
3) Penetration. The community has not yet penetrated deeply amongst its target audience.
Note: That growth is rarely the answer to low levels of activity. If you can’t engage the members you have, why do you think you can engage the members you don’t have?
Step 2) What channel to grow the community?
There are four channels to grow the community. Direct marketing, promotion, word-of-mouth, and search. Search is redundant. Therefore you need to decide what channel you need. If your penetration levels are low, it makes sense to use word-of-mouth activities. If you’re expanding, you probably need promotion. If you’re trying to reach critical mass, you probably need direct marketing.
But you can use a combination depending upon the target audience you’re trying to reach. You might, for example, use direct marketing to reach the first few people to grow the community then switch to promotion and WOM activities for the broader group.
Let’s assume for this example you’re using promotion.
Step 3) Target Audience
Who are you trying to reach? Be very, very, specific here. The more specific you are the more you can target your community to this audience. Target a specific segment within your audience. This will be a segment identified by demographic, habits, or psychographic variables.
If you manage a community of lawyers, you might target those with an interest in a particular type of law, a location, a shared belief, or common career goals.
Step 4) Outreach
Now craft your outreach to this audience. This outreach should highlight something within the community your target audience can do. That might be a discussion you want their opinion on, an exclusive event they can participate in, a poll you would like their vote on, or interviews with members they might like to read.
The golden rule here is to not to promote the community, but relevant activities to this audience within the community. This means you will need to initiate these relevant activities. Thus it’s important to know who you’re targeting.
Step 5) Landing Page
Now we go through the conversion process. When they reach the landing page, why not have a special message to this audience with a clear direction of how they can participate in the relevant activity you promoted.
For example: “Based in Boston? Just Arrived? Want to attend a Boston legal meet up? Click here”
Make sure you optimize this specifically for the newly arriving masses.
Step 6) Activity/conversion action
Now you plan the series of activities out. There will be a drop-out rate here. Not every person you outreach to will become a regular member of the community.
However, by planning out a few weeks of activities for these newcomers to participate in, you can optimize this to ensure as many people as possible who join the community become regulars.
If the topic is Lawyers in Boston, make sure you have an interview with a well known Boston lawyers. Let others submit questions. Host a meet-up for lawyers in Boston. Write articles relevant about the Boston lawyer scene and invite a guest columnist from the area.
Step 7) Relationship building
Finally, try to engage the remaining people on an individual basis. Have personal contact. Build relationships with these members. Those that have got this far benefit most from your time. They’re those most likely to become regular long-term members.
Step 8) Evaluate & Repeat
Now you evaluate what worked and repeat with a different segment when/if necessary.
The key point here should be obvious. The goal isn’t to get people to visit the community, or register. The goal of growth is to get regular active members of the community. To achieve that you need to plan this progress through the community.