“We need a community! Go o’ mystical community manager, and build us a thriving community!”
Shut up you.
Blindly saying “We need a community!” won’t get you very far. There are many different community programs which are built for entirely different purposes.
You have many different kinds of users. Some are more active than others. Some are more supportive than others. Some believe in your vision and some just want to get value for their time and money.
Each of these types of people will have a unique reason for wanting to engage with your company, or be a part of a community.
On top of that, depending on what stage your company is in, some programs may make sense to build now, while others won’t make sense until later on, after your product has developed and you’ve built up your market.
The two important stages to consider are essentially before you’ve found your product-market fit and begun to scale, and after.
Here are some different programs that a community manager can put together to build community with the different kinds of people that you may want to reach, when you’re first getting started, and when you’re ready to scale. These programs are focused on community, which means user to user engagement.
5 Commonly Used Community Programs
1. Evangelist Program
People: Anyone who has shown they truly care about your company, either by becoming a very active user, or just by sharing their support with you privately or publicly.
This is the kind of program that every company should have early on. It’s a kind of “catch all” for all your highly engaged users to connect with each other. Ultimately, this program can develop into your more targeted programs.
This kind of community is especially valuable early on, because you can learn a lot about who your most engaged users are, and they’ll help you figure out where you should be taking your product.
Recommended community platform: Private Facebook Group
2. Power User Community Program
Stage: You’ve developed your product and market to the point where users are actually capable of becoming power users.
People: Anybody who has become a “power user” based on your requirements
Remember, a power user program is different from a power user community. The program is built into your product and has official requirements and rewards. The community is what you do to connect the people who have reached “power level status” with each other.
These programs can consist of a private communication platform, exclusive events and special swag. Basically, these users are the heart of your userbase and you want to make them feel special.
Recommended community platform: Private forum
3. Ambassador Program
Stage: You’ve nailed your product and you’re ready to scale that bad boy.
People: Major supporters. They don’t necessarily have to be active or power users, but often, they are.
These programs are especially popular with location based products. The company will either hire, or find volunteers to act as ambassadors within their local communities.
You don’t want to launch a program like this too early. It’s very to spread yourself too thin by creating ambassadors in multiple different communities. You can lose focus.
Ambassadors will usually work as both community managers and marketers, bringing the people in the community together while also bringing in new people into the community. They’ll host events, write specialized newsletters, manage targeted social media accounts and blogs and often also act as support for the users in that community.
Recommended community platform: The real world, as well as a facebook group or forum
*4. General User Community Program
Stage: You’ve built up a userbase that you believe wants to talk to each other
People: All users
When thinking about community, we often get caught up in taking care of the most active users, or the ones making the most noise.
The thing is, those people already have a positive view of your company and product, so their feedback won’t be as candid. That’s why this kind of program is especially important for early stage companies who are still figuring out who they are. Listening to your users talk to each other is the best way to do that.
A good community manager will be able to take all that feedback that they’re listening to, and be able to bring it all together into core issues and actionable recommendations.
Sometimes it’s as simple as providing a conversation platform for any of your users to use. If you have a valuable product, they will definitely start posting content and talking to each other. If they don’t, you either used the wrong platform, or people don’t care enough about your product to talk about it.
Recommended community platform: Forum
5. Interest Based Community Building
Stage: Always good to do
People: Existing and potential users
This kind of program is unique from the rest of the programs because it’s not focused on your product and your brand.
The idea is that there are interests related to your brand that your users have in common. You can build a community around those interests, which allows you to reach people who are potential customers, while also establishing your company as leaders in that space.
For example, Nike may want to build a community around fitness. They’re not promoting their brand or products. They’re just starting conversations and connecting people who have a passion for fitness with each other.
Recommended community platform: This can be built using many different platforms. Some companies create twitter chats, others will create ning groups. Best to use the platform where the target audience is already participating.
What other community programs have you seen companies use? Add a comment and if it’s good, I’ll add it to the list.