Building an epic online community is one of the most rewarding and challenging things you can do for your business or passion project. As we move into an era where all you need to do work is to have a laptop and an internet connection, a couple things have changed which you may, or may not, have noticed.
First of all we now have the awesome ability to work from anywhere, the downside though is the constant information overload, general distraction and overwhelm noise. These days online tribes have never been more important as people desperately seek real connection and guidance. At Foundr Magazine we launched our first private community, Foundr Club, and quickly grew it into a thriving tribe of 500+ members and now growing daily.
In this article I will share three key pieces of advice for anyone who is thinking about starting or monetising an online community, then at the Working From Anywhere Conference 2016 I will dive deeper into this topic with a live workshop and keynote to share more insights and specific strategies about how you can grow, scale and nurture your very own epic community.
The first thing you need to understand is that when it comes to an online community, there is no such thing as a “passive” income stream. This is not a “set and forget” business model. Many people and marketers advertise that having a membership site or community as the ultimate shortcut to lazy riches and a life on the beach. Well maybe one day it will get there, but it’s unlikely.
It’s all about the people
Communities are driven by people and meaningful human interaction, not just systems and automation. Don’t worry, the machines will never win this one! If you want to build a homebase to rally your 1,000 true fans and beyond, to create a thriving group of people who get involved with your mission and vision, then you had better believe that it takes time, energy and emotion.
Communities can’t function without a leader
The second key piece of advice is to ensure that you have a dedicated community manager, it can be you or another member of the team, and it is critical that they have both a high social IQ and a love of people. But more than just being a manager, they need to be a strong leader to both nurture and protect the group.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more cancerous to a group or community online (in particular) than someone who is consistently negative or a detractor. Because like a cancer of bad vibes, this negative social dynamic can be extremely toxic and devastating if it takes a hold and spreads through the body of the community. The group can die so quickly because people simply won’t login or show up if they aren’t enjoying the atmosphere. Would you like to be in a community that’s always negative?
In any social situation there will be a diverse mix of people. There will always be some with stronger personality types who will always seek to dominate and even change or derail the group to fit their own agenda. You’ll sometimes have people who are negative and only want to infect misery. But, on the plus side, you’ll also have phenomenal, supportive people who want to help, grow, connect and support each other. These people are the types you want in your community because they’ll be the ones that’ll ultimately make the experience within the community a positive one and allow it to grow.
It is the community manager’s role to do everything within their power to protect that awesome sense of community and support and ensure that the values of the tribe are upheld, supported and enforced. Anyone in the group who doesn’t want to play by those rules needs to be asked to leave pronto before the rot sets in. Refunded and booted if required.
It can be a tough balance and you don’t want to create an online dictatorship, but your responsibility is to protect the tribe as a whole, not the trouble-maker. An epic tribe needs an epic leader who understands people and can read a social dynamic the same way an experienced sailor can read the weather. You need to be able to see if a storm is coming a mile away or you risk capsizing. If that’s not you, then get someone who can fill that role or your precious tribe will be at the mercy of the strongest member.
You need to show up every day
The third piece of advice is to be extremely active in your community. Show up every single day. We have a rule in our group that no post is left unattended to. Each post gets a like, a comment or sent to someone who can help (unless it breaks the group’s guidelines). In fact our whole team dedicates time each and every single day to be active within the group. If you can’t spare at the absolute minimum, thirty minutes per day to engage with your community, then don’t do it.
Communities thrive on engagement, but also importantly you need to have your finger on the pulse of your tribe at any moment in time. Who’s who, who does what, how can you help and what do they need?
With this oversight of the group you should be able to equip the tribe and help the right members connect with one another and help each other. This is where the real magic happens. This is the point where your community will start to get glimpses of greatness and that is when members start forming friendships, bonds and partnerships on their own. When they stop being ‘Facebook friends’ and start being real friends. That’s when you know you have the beginning of an epic online community. But this can only come about by being highly engaged and encouraging these interactions.
Want to learn some more?
Parting thoughts. I sincerely hope these three small insights have helped you understand more about online communities, it’s a big topic which I could train, coach and teach you all day on, which is exactly why I’ll be running a workshop at WFA ‘16 on this topic, we’d love to see you there.
Like anything worthwhile, it takes effort, but I believe that building an epic tribe and community is one of the most rewarding things you can ever build or be a part of.
Andy spends his time away from the computer cycling or hiking up mountains or catching a wave on his SUP.