The Sense of Community You Nurture Will Outlive Your Platform
Last week, I listened to two people argue about which platform they should use to build their community.
Should they use Slack or Discord?
Today, most of their audience is on Slack. Tomorrow it might be Discord…at least for a while. Within 18 to 36 months, it will be something else.
Chasing after your audience from one platform to the next is an expensive, wasteful, approach to community building. A far better approach is to invest those same resources in building a strong sense of community.
If your audience feels a strong sense of community with one another, it doesn’t matter what platform they use. That sense of community follows them wherever they go.
But building this strong sense of community requires investments in intangible areas. You can make this tangible by running the sense of community survey first and designing specific actions (see the worksheet) to improve the sense of community.
This might include:
1) Provide funding to leaders. You might copy Wikimedia and provide resources for leaders to step forward and create their own groups or run their own events. You would help train them, give them unique access, fly them in to meet your team, and promote the groups they create. If you’ve built strong relationships with leaders, it doesn’t matter if one of them moves a chunk of your audience from one platform to another.
2) Bring the community to customers. You would bring the community into the natural journey customers go through when using a product. ‘Have a question? Want to get better? Here is our community who can help…’. You would entwine the community(ies) as closely as possible with the product. Updated links to relevant discussion topics embedded within its use would help.
3) Design rituals. After a member has made a certain number of contributions, they would be invited to give their feedback, share their toughest challenge, or how they got into the topic. Something which opens members up to the group. You may consider special features for members on their anniversary of using the product.
4) Develop a unique identity. You would give community members a unique name and a place which documents the history of the community. Who were the top members, how did they get started, what were the major milestones of the group? This would be shared and communicated to all new customers.
5) Have a newspaper. Each week you would publish the community newspaper, edited by members, featuring the best contributions from the community. This might include the best advice, funniest stories, or anything else which could be interesting to the group. This would cover communities across all platforms, including those that aren’t involved with you at all. Let everyone pitch their ideas and stories to the group. This newsletter helps build and establish the social hierarchy within the group.
6) Host and promote events. Three types of events can work well. The first are events you host just for your top members. Spotify’s Rock Star Jam is a good example. This builds close relationships between anyone building any kind of community for your brand. The second are member-hosted meetups. Provide some limited funding (perhaps $100 per meetup for food/drinks) and plenty of local promotion for any member who wants to host meetups with others. The third is big conferences. If you have a big audience, it may be worth bringing them together once a year. These build strong relationships between members.
7) Gather and identify useful feedback through any channel. Scan all social and community channels run by members for any useful feedback you can send on. Answer questions in these communities and let them know how their feedback has been used.
8) Setting clear goals and targets for members. You can set goals for the community to achieve. Better yet, get members to list their skills, knowledge, and experience. Then find ways for them to contribute these things to the community.
This is a handful of ideas rather than an exhaustive list. The point is investing in the channels above will give you a community which outlives the demise of any single platform.
If you’re doing your job well, you should see the sense of community felt among regular customers (remember to skip the newcomers) steadily improve over time. This is the tangible success of your work. People move platforms a lot more frequently than they feel a sense of community.
It’s never a good idea to try and contain members in one place, nor chase after them from one platform to the next. That’s expensive and wasteful. You can gain better results from building a strong sense of community among members regardless of which platform they use.
Hosting and managing a community platform can help you achieve your goals, but nowhere near as much as fostering a powerful sense of community.