How to Create an Engaged Online Community
As humans, we seek a feeling of belonging, which is the reason why communities are at the heart of the economy and its growth these days.
Should you really seek new customers or members? The membership economy has been thriving, and fast chasing after the transactional economy.
People are craving membership because what they truly crave is belonging.
As our membership has been running for over 6 years, I have learned (the hard way, I should add), that it’s a business model that is thoroughly exciting, yet constantly evolving.
I make time to learn from the best of the best about how thriving memberships stay that way, and this is why today I am sharing some extracts from my chat with Jessica Shambora from Mighty Networks for our online conference that happened this month.
Mighty Networks is among the tools I use to run my business, Creative Impact, and its features are at the forefront of community design.
Running a community can (and should be easy). This is not to say that community building does not require any work.
“You’re gonna put in the upfront work and put the structure in place, and then really think it through” shares Shambora.
“Once you get that up and running, actually can be first of all a joy. You can really start to pass off some of the ownership and the driving of the engagement to your members, and potentially moderators and facilitators as well.”
Communities that run themselves
“(Your community) is a living, breathing, dynamic, world space that’s dedicated to getting them results and doing that alongside other people who are on that same path and journey. You cannot underestimate the value and the motivation of having those people surrounding you.” — Jessica Shambora
The biggest misconception people have when running communities is that people will gather to access more content. The truth is that we all truly crave is a deeper sense of belonging.
People want results and transformation: “if you can lead them through that slowly by dripping out the content, then pulling in the community piece to help them feel that they’re accomplishing something, they’re going to see those results.”
Why do we put so much emphasis on content, as community owners and managers? It is a force of habits, as that has been how membership sites have been working for years: “a lot of people who come to creating communities have a history in content, they’re podcasters, bloggers, authors, speakers, and they’re used to that content as their safe place.”
Don’t be mistaken, content may have a role in getting results, yet, you want to think about how can you structure things around it to encourage connections to keep focused on the results, not on the content itself.
“We want to think about is checking back in with your members to make sure about the amount of content that’s coming their way. Does it feel digestible to them? Or does it feel like too much?”
I have been guilty of that myself, the over-sharer and giver in me wanted to be able to provide more for our members, yet Shambora points out that you don’t need to teach your members every single thing today.
“You have that repository to pull from over time in your community. You don’t want to overwhelm them because it’ll make them leave. They will feel like failures, as they can’t get to everything that you’re offering.”
Content is still an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s not where the values of your community truly lie. There is still a place for that, especially in getting your ideas out there and reaching people.
You really want to make that shift with a community, which is that the group provides a foundation, something to gather around: “the real value for your members comes in their ability to connect with each other around those ideas and with you.“
Top tip: Learn how to drip your content based on a calendar to allow your members to better digest the bulk of your resources.
Quality over quantity — for real
I just ran a session with a client last week to help her start off a new community.
She was eager to discuss the membership model with me since Creative Impact is a great example of how to navigate community building (as a community running for 6 years it has a strong reputation).
A lot of people think that you need hundreds or even thousands of members to make a community successful. That just isn’t true: “Some of the strongest, most thriving, most exciting communities that I’ve encountered, have less than 200 people.”
However, we associated the wrong numbers to success for far too long — more members, better community. No wonder people think that it’s got to be a grind.
This is probably because they think they need those hundreds or thousands of members, and that managing all those people is going to be such a task.
“We’re always trying to let people know that communities don’t need to be a ton of work. If you have the right structures in place, if you have the right framework, if you bring the right mindset to it, it actually can become something that’s very sustainable.”
The level of activity and proactivity of your members will substantially shape up the weekly interactions and foster accountability: “you need to get clear on what is the quality of interaction that’s happening, and what are the results and the value gained by the people inside your community.“
Question prompt: what is the core result you want your members to get out of your community?
All in all, you need to own your worth
A lot of decisions around content and pricing, when it comes to the membership model, can come from a place of fear.
Shambora remarks how the idea that you’ve got to provide all of this value is because we still believe the community in itself isn’t going to be enough.
Don’t let that get in your head: “I had hosts saying ‘The more content I provide, the better I can justify what I’m charging.’ The way to provide that value without overwhelming members, the thing that it’s really a mindset shift for you partly as a leader of one of these communities, is that the community is actually where your members are going to get their results, the results that they haven’t been able to get on their own.”
Most of us have tried apps or tools, read self-help books — yet what’s been missing is the value of accountability.
“You’re putting your time and value and expertise in bringing what you’ve done in your life to all of this and bringing all these people together. You can charge for that” reassures us Shambora.
“Most hosts think that when they do charge, it has to be a low cost. ‘I’m just going to charge someone $5 or something a month to join my community’. You have to remember that people pay attention to what they pay for. If they think you’re offering something for $5, then they think it’s really just worth $5”.
People pay attention to the value they put into things. As the owner and leader of a community, you want to be able to embody that confidence that the quality of relationships, accountability, and support is going to provide them the transformation they are looking for.
Being able to bring people together, albeit from afar, is truly what makes community building a skill that needs to be cherished, and overall a type of business that is truly rewarding.
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