Earlier this year I published a blog post about Reach Teach Sell, my practical marketing framework. I was mainly thinking about content at the time, but as of late, I’m thinking about community a whole lot more.
What does “community” mean, anyway?
Here’s how I define it:
- A community is a network of people with something in common
- A community group is a structured organization, consisting of members from the community
When we talk about building a community, in the context of a business, we’re often talking about organizing a community group.
Communities are organic. They don’t get built. They grow.
That said, I’ll often use the word “community” when referring to a “community group” — e.g. “join the community”, “stories from the community”, “welcome to the community”, etc…
Content & community go hand-in-hand
Content and community serve similar purposes:
- Content offers valuable information
- Community offers valuable connections
For a community group, content often comes first. It’s a transaction: people show up because they want the content. The presentation, the webinar, the workshop, the course.
But then, after they gather the information, the community — the members — can step in and give those people another reason to come back.
Over time, the right people — the ones who feel a sense of shared purpose, a mutual connection, and a feeling of belonging within the group — start seeing themselves as members, too.
They stop showing up for the content. They start showing up for the community. For the people they’ve met and grown to know and see as friends. (We’re social animals, after all.)
How does this apply to business?
Great question. For content marketing, if the business is the source of the content, that raises the perceived authority, credibility, and trustworthiness. The takeaway being that, if you trust us, you’re more likely to buy from us.
Share knowledge => demonstrate expertise => build trust => make a sale
It’s a slight shift for community. Instead of being the source of content, you’re building trust by demonstrating alignment. Instead of sharing what you know, you’re sharing what you stand for.
How do you do that? By rallying people — your potential customers — around a central purpose. You switch from the role of expert to leader. You facilitate, bringing people together, connecting them with other, like-minded people:
“We believe in X. If you also believe in X, come join us.”
The best part, in my opinion, is that you now have an opportunity to share the stage with others. You can still be an expert — sharing your knowledge, building trust — but there’s room to bring in other experts, too.
Here’s an example…
InboundTO was a meetup group about inbound marketing. It brought together local digital marketers. Attendees included freelancers, agencies, in-house talent, business owners looking to DIY, and students looking to enter the industry.
“We’re passionate about inbound marketing. If you’re also passionate about inbound marketing, come join us.”
Alex worked for a digital marketing agency that sponsored the meetups, and employees from the agency presented at the first handful of sessions.
This was straight-up content marketing with a live audience. The agency shared their knowledge and demonstrated their expertise. In turn, they had a platform for finding new employees, business partners, and potential clients.
As time went on, the agency started sharing their stage. There were guest speakers and panel discussions from other businesses, too. And the agency, for as long as the group ran within their purview, was the leader.
That’s the content. Where’s the community?
After every session, a group would go out for dinner and drinks. This wasn’t formally part of the meetup, but it was crucial to the experience.
These post-meetup socials were where the community aspect really shined: the conversations, the stories, and the relationships that grew out of them.
Not everyone that came out for the meetup stuck around for the socializing. But the ones that did stick around became the regulars. It didn’t matter what the session — the content — was. The regulars were always there.
The community carried on, even though the content — the old meetup group — didn’t. Many years later, we’re still in touch. We still get together every month. We still collaborate and help each other every day.
So what’s the framework?
So how do you pull that off? How do you grow a community group? Here’s how my Reach Teach Sell framework applies. (Note: This doesn’t include launching or starting a community group. There’s a different process for that.)
Reach: You’ll find your potential members out in the wild. Join them. Show up. Add to conversations. Answer questions. Share useful, helpful things. Mention your community where it makes sense, but don’t be obnoxious about it.
Teach: Use content to raise awareness and introduce people to the community. Meetups. Conferences. Workshops. Podcasts. Blog posts. Forum discussions. Every community activity should produce some kind of content, both for posterity and for promoting to potential members.
Sell: Sell potential members on your vision. Why does the community exist? Why should members join? What’s in it for them? How are other members feeling about the community? This applies to both free community groups and paid community groups.
Support: Welcome new members. Give them an amazing experience. Show them around. Introduce them to the community. Point them to your community guidelines and resources. Give them a place to ask questions and get help from other members.
Retain: Give members a reason to come back. This is where a community effort can flounder, especially early on. Spark conversations, ask questions, send a newsletter, host recurring activities & events — whatever pulls them back in.
Reward: Reward your community members for their activity & participation. There’s a great model for this called SAPS: Status, Access, Power, Stuff.
Refer: Encourage growth through existing members. Give them the means to easily invite others to join the community, e.g. through refer-a-friend programs, sharing content, guest access, etc.
Take care of your community, and watch it grow.
Show up, share, invite, support, step back. It’s hard work early on but, with time, the community starts to take care of itself. If all goes well you’ll hit a point where you can start delegating and share responsibilities with members.