Community is the next level up from building an audience, but it is more fragile and needs to be nurtured and pruned.
4 Key Takeaways:
- An Audience is hugely valuable to an organisation.
- Community is the next level up from an Audience, but it is difficult to build and grow.
- You need to nuture and prune, and you may even need to seed your Community.
- You should consider who your community members are when choosing where to host the community.
About Alastair McDermott:
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By Alastair McDermott
Audience, Community and Business
Building an Audience
In the world of business, quite often we’ll talk about building an audience. That’s a group of people who will consume our content, and includes existing customers, prospective customers, and sometimes even peers and employees. In marketing, having a bigger audience generally means there are more of those prospective customers, and so we want to grow that audience as much as possible.
Audience members are typically not aware of each other, unless you refer to individuals’ stories in your content. You can segment your audience, and communicate with the various segments in different ways to give them more relevant content and connect better with them. You can even get them engaging with you, promoting replies by asking questions and requesting feedback.
I think that building your audience is crucial for any organisation that wants to grow. I’m trying to do that continuously for my own business: my “12 Week Year” spreadsheet includes a tracking column for the number of subscribers I have on my email list. This is one of the most important numbers in my business – these people have actively decided they want to hear from me.
Community is the next level.
Community is where your audience members start to connect with each other and have conversations directly without going through you. It goes from being a one-to-many broadcast, to being a many-to-many conversation. Your audience is now engaging both with you and with each other – they are now content creators and contributors.
They will often have a shared identity and a shared language. Community engagement rates can be much higher than traditional social media. When members are engaged in a community they are building deep relationships with each other as well as you. Seth Godin calls them a “Tribe”, and Kevin Kelly talks about the concept of “1,000 True Fans”. Your community members will back you to the hilt if you treat them right.
Taking Care of Your Community
A community is a more fragile entity than an audience. You need to nurture it and help it develop. Initially, you may need to seed conversation – there are many abandoned communities where the owners never got initial momentum. Some large communities like Reddit actually created fake accounts to ask and answer questions in order to look like a larger, busier community.
A very popular forum here in Ireland is boards.ie – it started out with a pre-existing community of 100+ Quake players who needed somewhere to talk online and organise matches – a shared identity and language. Having that initial group created momentum that ended up creating a community with hundreds of thousands of users, and these “boardsies” developed their own identity and language and have mostly forgotten their Quake origins.
As well as nurturing, you also need to prune. You need rules or guidelines, and you need to be proactive about removing bad actors from the group – the good folks will really appreciate that you’re taking care of their experience.
Talking to the community and asking for feedback is always a good idea. If you’re doing things right, they will feel that the community is theirs, they’ll have a sense of ownership. When they get comfortable with the community and their identity, they will resist change, so you need to be aware of that if implementing drastic changes.
Creating Your Community
If you want to create a community, first check to make sure that you haven’t missed a fledgling community developing somewhere organically. Your audience might already have started to hang out together.
If your community has not organically self-created, then you need to to create it! The first step is deciding where to build or host the community – where it will live. Do you want to create it on a popular 3rd party platform? Beware that you are building on rented ground if you choose to to that. Or do you want to choose the more difficult route of building it on your own property?
One of the most popular choices right now is to create a Facebook Group. I recommend you ask for email address when people join, so that you can notify the community directly if you want to move later. Another popular choice in the tech world is to create a slack workspace (check out some free online slack communities on slofile to see how slack works).
If you’d like to create a community on a platform you have more control over, you can use vBulletin, bbPress, XenForo and a whole slew of other options.
You should factor in the nature of your organisation & who your community members are when choosing where to host the community – for example, if you provide Facebook related services then your audience is probably already on that platform.
The Next Step
If you want to create your own community, Impact have a great guide to help get you started here. Best of luck with it!