Almost exactly two years ago I started my first job after graduating from University. I
The value of an active community can not be understated. There are countless examples throughout history of communities being amazing. Here I talk specifically about the value a community can bring to businesses. Recently I noticed a number of organisations that I think would benefit from investing in building a community, and upon investigating, I realised they likely hadn’t because they didn’t even think about it. Or they did, but they didn’t see the value. It’s not nearly as common a thing as it should be. So I’d wanted to write something to send them a link to.
Discoverability is difficult without a brand that people already know about. There’s always ways to do it; buying ads, trying to game algorithms, targeted outreach, social media, etc, but it's widely understood that word of mouth is a cracker. Airbnb famously put most of their marketing efforts into ‘remarketing’ through guests. They asked customers to recommend their service if they enjoyed their stay. Effectively creating ‘brand ambassadors’ out of happy customers, another documented successful approach to building awareness.
Done right, a community is exactly these things. Airbnb built a community of users, both guests and hosts, that grew like a magical beanstalk. You might think this only worked because Airbnb is a marketplace business, maybe you’re not a marketplace business. But this is just one way, you can do the same if you build hardware, software, if you consult, if you write books, whatever. Done right, a community can boost awareness exponentially.
Getting feedback, making adjustments, and iterating until you succeed is a process used just about everywhere. It’s a beast with many names; black box thinking, control theory, marginal gains, rapid prototyping, AB testing, revising, whatever. The point is, if you want to make sure you’re doing a thing right, you have to test it, and act on the results. It’s one of the most important things to improve anything. For any given product, for any given problem, the person who uses it, the person who wrestles with that problem on a daily basis, is the best person to ask for feedback. And there are lots of ways to do it with measurably different costs and effectiveness.
A community can provide honest, detailed, and or comprehensive feedback organically out of whatever you invest in building the community. Whether your community is for customers, users, hobbyists, developers, or other businesses, a community can provide a platform and means for the people who you care about most (the ones you built a community for) to give you the most useful feedback you’ll ever get. If they’ve come to your community it means they’re interested or they care about what you’re doing. It likely means they use your product. They are so valuable.
Education and support
One of the most important things to consider when developing a product is user experience. You want things to be as simple and intuitive as possible so that getting on and using, whatever you’re making, is frictionless. This is difficult, especially for complex or ground breaking products. How do you get someone who’s never heard of your thing before to understand it? If your product is interactive, how can you help them do what they need to do and hear about their problems? Or even if your product is a service or an app of some kind how can you let people know about updates or changes or why they should do certain things a certain way?
Now there are many solutions to these problems, but one of the best solutions would be a community forum. In the same way that you can receive feedback, you get people telling you where your user experience falls down, but instead of taking that information and trying to find a solution, you can work with the user, in the community, to not only address the issue but help them, educate them, or support them in moving forward.
One good experience like this leads to more people understanding your product and helping other people in turn. Before you know it, the first thing people find when they have a question about your product is a community post or article, or something, explaining exactly what they’re looking for.
You’ve heard it before and I’ll tell you again, humans are social animals. We live in groups; family groups, friendship groups, work groups, gaming groups, whatever. We like these things because it brings a sense of security and a connection to other people based on mutual stuff. It feels good. Simply put, a community is a group of people who have a particular characteristic in common. A group of people who come together based on a commonality because it feels good, because it’s nice to talk to other people about the stuff you care about.
If your product creates a positive emotional response, if it’s good enough for people to actually care about it, you’re doing it right. Bringing people together who care about what you’re creating can only be a good thing. For the people who care the most it gives them somewhere to express themselves, somewhere to connect with other like minded people. And to everyone else it shows what your product means to someone. The effect that it has and the feeling it creates. And then of course people are much more likely to get involved because of course they want to be part of that group.
Building awareness, gathering feedback, educating new people, and providing meaning is all work that a business has to do anyway. Productising and being successful at anything, takes work. Building and shipping a product is a well documented amount of work that typically takes a number of people. How can you do it faster? How can you do more? How can you do it better? Get more people to work on it, simple. How do you find those people? Not so simple.
I’m strongly of the opinion that a community is not, and should not be treated as, a work horse. Unless it’s explicitly communicated or asked for, there should be zero expectation of a community bringing this value. With that said, communities attract interested and often passionate people. Handled well and handled right a community can generate a significant amount of work for whatever you invested in building the community in the first place.
“A community is a group of people who have a particular characteristic in common.”
Quick disclaimer: Building a community isn’t easy. Like anything, you could invest in it and it might just not work. There are numerous ways to build a community and numerous ways it could go wrong. But, I believe that if you do it well, and you build the right kind of community for your business, it’s worth the risk. How to build a community and how to know the kind of community you should build are articles for another time. But if you’re interested in talking about it, just reach out :)
While forming a community requires much more than gathering people together or accumulating users of an app or site, it can bring a lot of value. If done right you can grow awareness, generate useful feedback, educate new users and generally get more shit done. If you haven’t already thought about doing it, think about it. If you’re interested in how to do it, reach out to me and I can help.