Sustaining Online Communities — How to Build a Close-Knit One
I built a community around a targeted niche that got a mini hype & here’s my takeaway from it.
With a thought to build a private group for founder’s building community-led products, I tweeted this☝️. Within a few minutes, I started getting requests from people who thought it’s a very cool idea. Initially, I expected only a few people out of my network would show interest but it didn’t seem so afterwards.
The tweet immediately got viral and within 24 hours I got 300+ (through comments & DMs) requesting an invite for it.
Everything went well but the idea to sustain it is still in question and it’s not just me but communities soon after launch becomes zombies. I’ll tell you why.
Yes, for sure, I wanted to build a community but for a very close group of people. People who are genuinely interested in building community-led products or startups. I’m not an expert in this niche but wanted to surround myself with more like-minded people and learn something every day.
With a thought to bring a few people with the same interest together, I made the tweet. Which had 4 triggers:
- The niche,
- the group,
- exclusivity and
In fact, I also mentioned that anyone who wants to be a part of it in the future will need to be a paid member.
But why a paid community?
There are many communities out there and to build one and to run it is a very different thing. If you don’t spend time on it, they easily become dead inside.
So, after a while, a one-time price will be on it for everyone, so that it can be taken seriously & for me to be regular on it. Because building a community is a responsibility and a huge investment after people starts showing up. And you just don’t want them to join and then disappear.
That’s what you’ll see in communities with 1000+ members & only few active all the time.
A reason to build one
To make something work, the idea behind it is as much important as execution. If the idea is great & the execution is not then it will go down at the end. And if the idea isn’t great but the execution is perfectly done, it will still go down.
Frankly, before announcing the idea to build this community I haven’t planned anything. I wanted to see how people react to it, and at least have 10 people who would love to join the community. Also, I wanted to build this community but didn’t know how to keep pushing it after the idea is accepted by the public.
So, a lot has to be done.
Like what would be the onboarding experience for the members, what will make them engage in the community or what content will bring them again to continue the chat, planning for any sought of events or AMAs or discussions, etc.
Again, it’s very easy to start one (setup and all) but it’s really hard to maintain, scale and have a meaningful discussion on a community.
You don’t want members to just stop discussing around the topic. For that, you’ll need to keep throwing the reason with content that keeps them coming back. This goes for any type of community you building.
Give yourself and your members a reason to be active on it:
- Helping you shape the product in an early stage.
- A topic that you’re very much excited about.
- Bringing a small community around a niche together.
- Customers that pay to use products and provide them with 1:1 chats.
The biggest mistake in my sense is measuring the community with the number of members, whereas it should be highly influenced by a group of people with an intention to bring value. Be picky about who to invite — have they purchased something from you, will they bring deals, have some advice, etc.
In my case, it didn’t go as planned because too many people, who were out of my network, showed interest in the community and I gave access to most of them. When I had to only invite the people I know or are active on the topic the community will be discussing.
Furthermore, the community now is only for paid users and the members who aren’t active gets removed. Which is certainly going to happen (more on this below).
If you see certain people are no longer interacting within the community, email them or remind them to join the conversation and even after this they don’t respond, it’s better to remove them.
Keep filtering the community once in a while. It’s good anyway, then just building up numbers.
This small hype played with my mind 😅 (I have to admit, I got excited after seeing the outcome). Where I planned to add only 20–30 members for free, I opened it for everyone and the members increased to 100+. The problem was my intention that led from quality within the group to not-to-leave-anyone-behind. Which wasn’t good.
Once you see many people are showing interest in it, you need to be sure whether they are your audience or not, will they bring value or get benefit. If someone sees too many people are moving towards a thing they feel not to be left behind (having a FOMO) and that’s when you have to see through the hype. Which you get to see after they joined the group & don’t engage at all.
You have to check twice — do these people really need to be a part of this community, will they really contribute to the engagement or activities or did they just joined because of the hype.
This very small experience has changed my whole perspective towards growth and scaling. Hype can be really good to get started but for the growth & scalability, it’s only for a few days.
Lastly, I feel like, the reason behind this mini hype was because of the amazing response from my inner circle, the people who I wanted to initially join the community, unintentionally brought many people interested in it.
So, if you’re building a community make sure you have the niche-based topic, initial members & clear intentions for the future.
I’m still very much into building this community around the same topic. In fact, this experiment went in a good direction. The only thing is I’ll stick to the original intention.
Community is a hot topic right now and one of the best things a startup or a brand can build. It’s important to connect with the community they’re operating in. But it’s always a good idea to have a reason, list of people you want as your initial member and planned execution.