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How To Stack The Odds In Your Favour To Launch A Successful Online Communities

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

Publishers have trained themselves to back winners.

They use the following criteria:

1)   The author has a big audience.

2)   The author can write well (skills)

3)   The author has a clearly defined target audience.

4)   The book has a powerful hook (new popular idea/trend/problem).

The publisher provides the infrastructure (production, distribution, some marketing) and the author provides a sellable product.


Stack the Odds in Your Favour

This criteria reduces the risk of an expensive failure.

Publishers bet on authors with a proven track record. They know where the book will sit on the shelf. They know why someone will buy it.

You can see the community parallel here. Where readers pay with money, community members pay with attention.

But it’s still a product business!

The success rate of branded communities would be far higher if we thought of ourselves as publishers of communities rather than creators of communities. 

I interviewed dozens of people who had launched successful and unsuccessful communities for The Proven Path.

The only difference between success and failure was the number of existing relationships the founder had. The more relationships (not to be confused with mere connections), the greater the odds of success.

We need to act more like publishers when developing communities. We can use a similar criteria to give communities the best chance of success. For example:


1) Pick A Proven Winner

If I were a brand starting a community from scratch today, my first step would be to find a founder with a big audience and throw my resources behind her.

It’s far easier to help someone with a big audience and the right skills to develop a community, than create your own. 

You can teach community skills, but it’s very hard to build you a powerful reputation and passion for the topic. Don’t dragoon more marketing and customer service staff to manage a community. Bet on a sure thing.

Here’s a more useful criteria for launching a community.

  • Has an audience of 5000+ people (e-mails).
  • Has a Twitter reach of 50,000+ people (or similar on another social media platform)
  • Frequently mentioned by interviewees as an influential, relevant, figure.
  • Has a track record of publishing or creating things within the field (blogs, books, products etc…)
  • Speaks at relevant events.


2) Check The Founder’s Personality

Skills are easier to teach, but personality is tricky.

So look for whether they:

  • Interact online without an inflated sense of ego.
  • Are generous with their knowledge and shows a personality in how they participate
  • Have a track record of initiating interesting discussions/activities.


3) Help Define The Target Audience

Publishers spend a lot of time helping the identify and write for a specific, narrow, audience.

We can do this same.

  • Identify a slice of your existing audience to target and cater to based upon demographics, habits, or psychographics. e.g. A community for {x} who do/think/are {y}.
  • Focus on a possible audience of between 1,000 to 10,000 people. Cut out most of your possible audience at this stage.
  • Build a list of 250 prospective members and ensure we have strong connections with them.

You can expand this later once you’ve reached critical mass.


4) Develop a Compelling Hook

Imagine your community is on a shelf competing against a thousand other communities for your member’s attention (because it will).

Your community has to be the most compelling possible community for your narrow target audience.

Your community should be about a new trend, problem, or approach within that sector.

You can check this via:

  • Are more people searching for related terms on Google Trends
  • Did this issue come up in your interviews / surveys with prospective members?
  • Are there any recent popular books, blogs, podcasts, or other media on the issue?


Every chance of success

This doesn’t mean you will succeed.

It means you have the best odds of success.

You’re backing someone with a lot of existing relationships, knowledge, and experience in the sector. You’re helping them craft the powerful hook for your audience.

Take comfort that if this approach doesn’t work, nothing else will.

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