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How to Build a Community From Scratch

Photo cred: John Keogh

How do you first get started building a community?

It’s probably the most common question I hear.  Communities are awesome, right?  Every company wants one!  But where do you start?

Having built a number of communities over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about what a healthy community looks like, and how to put the right pieces in the place from the beginning.

Turns out it’s extremely simple, yet easy to avoid because the task can seem very daunting.

Ok ready?  Come closer.  Here’s the secret…

One person at a time.

Both startups and larger organizations have a problem building a community from the ground up.

Startups have a problem because they just want to scale scale scale as much as possible.  Their whole business is all about growing as quickly as possible.  Problem is, communities usually don’t work that way.

Larger organizations have a problem because they feel like they’re “established” and they have strong brand recognition. So they can throw money at it and BOOM, instant community.

The truth is, you can’t build a community over night, the same way you can’t build a company over night.  Both require that you give every small aspect of the larger goal your full attention, and build up toward your vision.

Want a foolproof community building strategy?

Step 1: Pick up your phone, and call a user/customer.  Ask them about themselves.  Ask them about their experience with your company.  Make a personal connection.

Step 2: Invite them to a private facebook group for your customers.

Step 3: Introduce them to the group and help them get involved in the discussions.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Keep doing that until the discussions in your group are flowing smoothly.  Keep at it until you feel that your users are connecting with each other and a true community is forming.

Forget all of your plans for an “ambassador program” with rewards, exclusive swag, badges, moderators, big events, etc etc.  Start simple and focused.  When it’s time to build more structure into your community program, you’ll know.  Your community will tell you.

It’s tempting for companies to think “I don’t have time to call all of our users!”.  I’m not saying call all of them.  I’m saying call one.  Then call another.  And another and another until it starts to grow organically.  Eventually, it will.

There’s no interaction too small to be worth your time when you’re trying to build a true community.

It may seem tedious, but once it’s all done…

…nothing is stronger than a well built community.

 

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About the author

David Spinks

CEO of TheCommunityManager.com, CMXSummit and LetsFeast.com. Lifelong student, community builder and writer.

19 comments
jamesbuzinko
jamesbuzinko

I totally agree with you that well established and built communities can do wonders and there are almost no limits to what these can do.

NachunguraJoseph
NachunguraJoseph

Dave, thank you for writing a wonderful article. My community have suffered alot due to the luck of building a proper leadership. Its a big headache working with those leaders who were elected and the community has almost given up the Organization even at the level where the Govt. have recognized it. How can I advice the leaders and the youth volunteers to rebuild this up? .Time management and the blame of each other is a big problem.

melizondo
melizondo

Would the same approach go for a community created internally? example: a community to support continuous learning and development amongst employees after attending a leadership development program.

AndyMonty
AndyMonty

I work for a small startup and my boss goes, "Start a community. I know you don't know how to do it, neither do I.  Just figure it out and do it."  A little overwhelming that's for sure.  You have just given me the best advice I've read in the simplest terms. Thank you.

siyafrica
siyafrica

Great article Dave. Would you say that this approach applies to both large and small brands?

thetravii
thetravii

I like the facebook group suggestion I am just starting out, so I plan to give this a try. I can also see the slow but steady approach working well Omaha and Lincoln... as long as my clients are actually on social media like facebook!

JoshColeman
JoshColeman

@DavidSpinks great article and insight on community building. I'm all for building a community that's is authentic and organic. If you have a great product and you stay in touch with your customers through the different social media outlets it should naturally build it self. The best thing you can get is people or brand advocates bragging and promoting your product for you. I like the idea a FB private groups. Making it exclusive to your best customers and brand advocates. Hope everything is going great @Zaarly

ryanknapp
ryanknapp

David - what if you are trying to build that community not on Facebook, but on your site. Wouldn't you want to start them where you want them to finish?

terakristen
terakristen

Great article - this is exactly how community building starts. Slow and a bit difficult at first - but as long as you're measuring and learning you will hit that tipping point and everything will be worth it. Community managers definitely need to be able to think of the long-term.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

 @NachunguraJoseph Hey there, thanks for the comment.  It's a bit hard to give concrete advice without knowing more.  But it sounds like maybe you have a community that was once active but has since lost a lot of it's energy.

 

I would recommend by starting with the most dedicated members.  Is it the leaders?  Maybe just regular members? Talk to them the same way you would if you were building the community from scratch again.If the leaders aren't being active, then cut them.  Community is all about energy.  If the people meant to be leading the community are sucking energy out of it, then you don't stand a chance. 

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

 @melizondo Absolutely.  Talk to a few of the people who went through the program and learn what kind of sustainable support they're looking for afterward.  Then build the community with that in mind and invite those few people to be the very first members.  Make them feel special for being the founding members of something awesome.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

 @AndyMonty That's really awesome to hear Andy!  This comment was about a year ago (sorry) but let us know how it went.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@JoshColeman thanks Josh. True, but I wouldn't confuse social media engagement with community building. Engagement is really just a form of marketing. It's connecting people with your brand. It's a community when you start connecting those people with each other, and that's why things like facebook groups are so powerful.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@ryanknapp Good question!

Not necessarily. A community is about connecting people with each other. Which platform you use is an independent decision.

If you build a community correctly, moving from one platform to another won't be an issue because it will be built on the relationships that your community has developed.

Goes back to the same argument about # of twitter followers. If you go to a new platform and you aren't able to bring those followers with you, you probably have an audience, not a community.

That said, facebook groups is my go to choice for getting a community started because:

1) People are already present, so it's easier to keep them involved

2) Ease of setup/use.

3) Privacy controls

Is it ideal for the long run? No. But I know that if I want to build a community platform within Zaarly's site in the future, our community will move with it.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@terakristen Totally. Every community goes through an "awkward phase". But once you get through it, it's awesome.

ryanknapp
ryanknapp

@DavidSpinks True on all points. Good stuff. Thanks David! Let me know when you are back in KC again.

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