You’re reading this article because you see the merit in running a community. Community platforms are picking up today. There’s no better way you can build an all-in-one place for your members to find everything related to you.
In the early years of the internet, businesses made websites their one stop-shop. But today, your customers don’t trust websites, they trust other people like them.
You also make more money, as a result of it. Members in a community are open to spending on your offerings (and spend up to 1.5x more than otherwise). Win-win.
However, building a community is often one’s life’s work. It takes a lot of blood, sweat, and patience - but it’s worth it. It pays off. So it’s necessary that you put the right amount of thought into it, before getting started. One such crucial element to give thought to is - where to run that community. You can’t get it wrong, because it’s not easy to move your members from one platform on to another. I’d wish upon you to never have to do it - ever.
I’ve explored multiple platforms, run communities on them, burnt my hands and have all the lessons to share with you. I’ve made a checklist of what features you need to look for as a community owner in 2023.
1) Member profiles & directory
Allow your members their identity. Let them create profiles, add their picture, and develop a digital identity for themselves. This helps them feel vested, because they’ve literally now put their name/face out there. Secondly, it gives everyone else on the platform a sense of trust. No one trusts a platform full of nameless/faceless “anonymous” users (pseudonyms are still fine). Finally, there should be a way for everyone to search everyone in the community. Here’s an insight: 90% of your members will be lurkers, and it’s not always that you’d see them participating in discussions. Let everyone find everyone, setup profiles and be interested in each other, that’s the essence.
2) Resources section
Inside communities, members are often confused and are looking for answers. Additionally, there is lots of great content floating around in the community that doesn't receive enough attention (because of the chronological order of feeds). If you let members get everything “resourceful” in one place away from the noise - it would really save them a lot of time and frustration.
3) Migration / On-boarding
You likely have a top-of-the-funnel following on some social platform. How you play the game is by plugging your community every once in a while in your content (or you’ve put the link in your bio / description). What could go wrong? Friction. What happens when someone clicks the link? How friction-heavy is the process of getting on board inside your community? What is the click to join ratio?
In every online CTA, the equation that determines conversion is:
Your content and offering can solve for most of this, except friction. The most friction-less way to join a community that I’ve come across is how WhatsApp & Telegram do it. They have a unique invite code and link for every new member invited. No one else can use that link except the user who is invited. This link, once clicked, also gets you directly inside that community. We’ll aim to find something similar across the platforms we evaluate.
4) Application form
Often you’d want to put an entry barrier on who can enter your paid or private community. You want to have control over who to let in. This is also necessary to preserve the culture of your community. A google-form like application where members can apply and a dashboard where you can review, approve or reject applications - makes the entire process smooth.
The definition of a creator implies that it’s a profession. It has to make money. Two very popular ways creators can become full-time creators: 1.) lease out some space on your newsletter, videos or posts to brands. Brands pay you to show up in front of your audience. This is also called being an affiliate for a brand. 2.) create your own info products (paid newsletter, courses, membership sites, etc) or branded merchandise (like your own sneaker collection, outfit brand, etc.).
In either scenario, you want to have a dedicated space to set up a store where people can browse, see, click and buy from.
How do your favorite social apps bring you back on the platform? It’s via push notifications. WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter do a great job of re-engaging you once something of interest happens on the platform. You’ll need to do the same. You need control over in-app as well as push notifications to keep your members coming back.
7) Different ways to engage
You use WhatsApp/Telegram, Quora, Zoom, Medium and Twitter Spaces. Each serves a different purpose, although at core - they’re ways to communicate with each other. Different topics and moods require different types of channels. Your platform should ideally be all-inclusive for maximum engagement. Chat, forums, resources, live video, live voice rooms are the top ways people interact online in 2023.
8) Events calendar
Events are often considered the lifeblood of a community. They set the narrative and allow new members to familiarize themselves with the new environment. They also keep community engagement up.
If you’re running a community right now, then you would have probably hosted a couple of events already. But what if you host an event and people don’t turn up? Events need reminders. It helps to have an events calendar inside the platform where:
a.) People can mark themselves interested - which should block their calendar
b.) Whoever is interested gets a reminder notification 5-15 mins before the event
Measure what matters, and it’ll improve. As a community owner, you have to obsess over what metrics you're trying to maximize. If engagement, then what kind of engagement? If you’re serious about building your community for the long-term, you need a reliable analytics dashboard to track progress.
10) Member roles
Are all members equal? Or are some roles created differently? Everything I’ve learned from organizational psychology (and watching greatest communities like Mozilla) is that members must have a hierarchy and serve specific roles. Which is why you need a mechanism to create these roles. Admins, moderators, guests, instructors, students, etc are all roles you’ll need to create.
11) Free & paid tiers
One of the lowest hassle (and most popular) ways of monetizing your audience via a community is to have a paid membership-based community. This is different from your free community. This is a place where very curated discussions happen, there is extra effort from your side to make sure people in this community are treated well and assisted in whatever way. This is like a premium club, where people pay to get in (they pay for the access). This is an insider circle.
How do you enable this? A way to segregate free members from others.
Live-stream and pre-recorded videos are poles apart. They seem similar, but are very different. Live-Streams are engagement first, whereas pre-recorded videos are content first. Think of it this way, why do you go to a concert and pay up to 100x the price of listening to it on Spotify. It’s about the sense of real-time connection with the artist (and potential interaction). Who cares if the artist even lip syncs his entire performance!
Similarly, teaching is a very live-stream-centric activity. You never went to lectures to just consume content, you went there to become inspired and made curious. Content could always be found in slide decks, books and videos.
The end effect of a live stream is very different. Stats show that a live video would hook a viewer up to 15 times more than a pre-recorded one.
Another aspect where you’re probably already using live stream - is for webinars to drive sales. A webinar lets your potential customers interact with you and ask queries regarding whatever you’re selling. Live-streams build unmatched trust, which is why I’m including them in the list of must-haves.
13) Guestview / Searchability
Quora and Reddit have hosted some of the most active community forums over the last decade. Chances are you searched for a query on Google, and found the result as a Quora or Reddit page. This is their most effective user acquisition strategy. New users discover Quora & Reddit this way and eventually become users.
Similarly, people should be able to find your community on Google when they have a query related to what your community solves or talks about.
For example, your community is related to beauty products. Someone searches on Google for “best beauty tips and tricks”. In this scenario, your community’s forum should pop up on Google. This feature will enable you to acquire members on autopilot.
14) Direct messages
If two members struck a chord in an interaction and wanted to collaborate on a project, how would they do that? If your community doesn’t have direct messaging, it discourages 1:1 connections. You don’t want to force them to move to another app for 1:1s.
When I ran an online education business, I hopped from one community platform to another. Why? Because they’re all incomplete. This was a 1.5 year long endeavour and cost us a few hundred thousand dollars, before stars aligned - things seemed to work and we made $500k in just 3 months. Read our story. We’ve learnt a lot. This checklist was my attempt at educating you about the make-or-break features - since you seem to be in the same place as I once was.