Community: Growing Powerful Networks From Scratch
Airbnb used photography, Supreme used hype, Patagonia used sustainability.
In today’s connected world, understanding how to build communities is vital for products and services to grow, gain competitive advantage and maintain long term success.
So, how do you grow a network?
First and foremost, conduct research to understand who your community members are. Listen to your community, ask them about their life and motivations, not your idea, the goal is to tailor a product or brand, not to pitch it.
Once you’ve gathered data, generate insights by running it through various analytical tools — this article might help. This step is crucial as you do not want to be left with huge amounts of data noise.
“Insights are valuable, noise isn’t” — M. Ward
I have insights, what’s next?
To successfully take promising ideas to the market, two basic elements are required:
- Customer Profiles — Based on collected data
- Compelling Value Proposition — Who, What, How and Why
I will not go into detail about these, there’s a lot of information out there.
Once you understand who your community members are and have a solid value proposition for them, be that solving a problem or providing a brand for self-expression, here are two tactics focused on building networks from scratch:
1. Focus on creating opportunities for self-expression
People find satisfaction through self-expression, so build a tool to allow members to express themselves.
Airbnb followed this rule to acquire their initial listers with the Airbnb Photography program; they offered professional photography services to their listers. Essentially, Airbnb created a platform where users could boast about their well-decorated apartments though great photos, who doesn’t want that? It was an instant success and the listings went up.
So put simply, design features to attract members who want to boast to other community members.
2. Create single-user utility
If your product can deliver value even when few people are using it, you’ll be one step closer to mitigating the chicken-and-egg problem.
At Petro Camp we built a community of over 100.000 motorsport enthusiasts using one simple strategy, sharing great content. By sharing inspiring stories paired up with aesthetic visuals, we provided a platform for discussion where our members were able to learn about their passion. It didn’t matter when we were a community of only 20 people, our product provided meaningful value to every single member.
Once you’ve built a solid base of loyal community members it’s much easier to unify them through a brand or platform.
Once I start getting traction, word of mouth will do the rest. Right?
“Word of mouth is a powerful tool, but by itself does not constitute a network effect.” — M. Ward
Yes, the more friends you have on Facebook the better, but, the more friends you tell about Mailchimp the bett… not exactly; where’s your benefit?
Besides, word of mouth can only get you so far in terms of long term acquisition strategies. If your business is booming, soon enough you’ll hit the ceiling when competitors roll in and retention rates begin to be compromised. Suddenly your growth assumptions become weak and the market catches up to you.
So how do I keep building my network?
Make your current network better, focus on your community’s interests and ever changing problems. Steady community development is critical, it builds loyalty, and as a consequence, establishes stronger barriers to entry.
Achieve this by thinking hypothetical but talking specifics:
Don’t ask for features and upgrades. The community’s job is to give you problems, not solutions; if they give you features, find the underlying problem.
Adopt First Principle logic towards your community’s problems, think about the underlying issues being faced and form a clear breakdown of each problem, once that’s done, then you build.
Patagonia adopts this principle by breaking down standard manufacturing process of garments. They research more sustainable alternatives across every step of the manufacturing process, from how suppliers grow cotton to product lifespan and distribution techniques. Once satisfied with the sustainability of the product — it’s what Patagonia’s community wants — they turn on the machines. It doesn’t take genius — it takes a hell of a lot of effort, analysis, and testing.
To build a network from scratch, constant hyper-focus on community needs are essential. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of pausing, asking the right questions to the right people, and providing them with tailored solutions.