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I've had the opportunity to speak with half a dozen community experts over the last few weeks. I’m excited to share what I learned, and I look forward to hearing from you as I know many of you are launching and running communities of your very own.
“One of the absolute best ways to learn something is to teach it.”
“Most high growth or new subjects have exponentially more beginners than experienced practitioners.”
“One of the best times to teach something to those who are beginners themselves is immediately after you've figured it out for the first time.”
I read an article that explains the synergy between these three statements: Teaching something you're trying to learn helps you understand it better. If you're going to teach something, teaching beginner-level topics related to high-growth subjects has a very high ROI, since there are so many potential students. And since you're just learning it yourself, you're in an optimal position to teach it to this audience.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with half a dozen community experts over the last few weeks. I’m excited to share what I learned, and I look forward to hearing from you as I know many of you are launching and running communities of your very own.
I’ll take it back to the beginning. As some of you know, we were using the Forum, Memberstack Slack, and Intercom chat. The forum and Slack were public-facing, and Intercom (which is still in place) is for direct, guaranteed messaging with the team. We felt disengaged from our community and after reading a few tweets, we realized our community felt disengaged from us. So in the coming weeks, we decided to shift focus.
Goal: Find out exactly what we wanted from our community, but more importantly, what our community wanted from us.
Step 1. Research
First things first - head to Twitter! I did a Twitter search looking for experts in the industry.
TIP - One of our main pointers when starting a new task is to always speak to experts first. I found this INCREDIBLE thread started by Tom Osman (Makerpad). I worked my way through a pretty big list of names and curated a smaller list.
TIP - When conducting conversations or user-interviews, the golden number is between 5 and 7.
Step 2. Expert Conversations
I then created my list -
- Charlie Ward - Indie Hackers London and Weekend Club
- Tom Osman - Makerpad
- Brooke Hurford - Workfrom
- Erin Staples - Media Hackers
- Mac Reddin - Community Club
- Najva Sol - Founder Summit
- Rosie Sherry - Indie Hackers
From here, I cold outreached the above list via Twitter DM. This is not something I’m usually that confident with, and I definitely spent way too much time writing and rewriting, but here is what I went with:
I saw Tom Osman's thread on community experts, and saw you were tagged there - awesome to read through Commsor, learning some great things already! Pretty excited reading this: https://twitter.com/Commsor/status/1304471914883297280 feels like there is so much more to come in the community space!
We’re looking to build out our community at @MemberstackApp, it would be great to bounce some ideas around if you have 30 mins in the next couple weeks?
Of course, I would be happy to pay for your time!”
TIP: Always spend a little time looking into who it actually is you’re reaching out to. It’s nice to know what they do, where they work, etc. and personalize your message so it doesn’t feel like a standard cold email.
I saw Tom Osman's thread on community experts, and saw you were tagged there - have been reading through some of your posts, this one in particular https://erinmikail.space/using-social-platforms-to-your-advantage-04017503ebee40c8bcf59b172114b91b awesome work!
We’re looking to build out our community at Memberstack and would be great to bounce some ideas if you have 30 mins in the next couple weeks?
Of course, would be happy to pay for your time🙏”
From the above list of 7, I got 6 replies (not bad hey?!), and I set up calls straight away.
Before each call, I did a little more research on the person and created a list of questions.
- Top tips for keeping the community engaged.
- What do you think are the best practices for measuring and managing the success of developing a community?
- What are signs that a community isn’t doing so well?
- Did you make any big changes that had a dramatic difference in the early stages?
- Have you found the interview/questions a big hit?
I had a list of questions that I wanted to buzz through on the 30-minute calls I had scheduled, but during the first one I realized this wasn’t the best approach. Not only did I NOT want it to feel like I was putting someone on the hot seat, but I quickly realized that it’s very hard to ask out-right questions like the above. Every community is completely different, every audience is completely different, and what might work for one might not necessarily work for the other. So with that in mind, it started to feel a little more relaxed and conversational.
Takeaway: I would still recommend having a small list (3-5 questions) that you’d like to discuss. It’s always good to know your desired outcomes of a conversation.
The golden nuggets of wisdom:
- Do things that don’t scale - automation and schedules are a good way to kill community engagement.
- Focus on matching, creating connections, creating experiences and introducing new ideas.
- Talk to potential members.
- Figure out the want for your community - what do your customers need?
- Test. Test. Test.
- Copy from good people.
- Create your own rituals and traditions that your members know you by.
- Think about how you can hero your members.
- Guest AMA’s.
- It’s cool and trendy right now to launch a community, but what does that look like 2 years from now?
- Do you have enough mental capacity to have your own community?
- It’s a lot of work.
- Listen to what people say they like and hold onto that “what do I do to protect that.”
- Get something out there! You can change and update as you go along.
- You’ll meet volatile people that say mean things, and that’s ok.
- The old world is the community of support - don’t build a community around support.
- Building a community of interest is way slower.
- Creating a community of support is way quicker.
- It takes time. Be patient and go with it.
- Create a content plan to begin with. You need to be active, create open-ended questions, reply to questions, etc.
- Question of the week thread.
- Build relationships with membership experts - give them a space to create content.
- We find role-specific channels work best. Developers, Marketers, etc. You can discuss more specific and targeted topics.
The above notes allowed me to refine our goals and feel clearer in our direction. For us, I was quickly learning that the foundations and getting questions answered are important, but actually building Memberstack isn't the bit that brings excitement. It's what Memberstack can bring to people’s businesses and lives. That's where the excitement lies - this is where our focus should be, with our community built around it.
Step 3. User-Interviews
Some of the statements I heard repeated were, “ the best people to talk to are your own community members,” “if you can’t name 10 important people in your community, then it might not be the time to launch a community,” and “you have to listen to the people using your product.”
So a list of around 10 Memberstack users was underway. We renamed them MS power users.
Around this time, I discovered Noele Flowers (head of community @ Teachable). Her name and website were mentioned in quite a few places. This blog post I found particularly useful. I downloaded the guide and put it into practice: (I’m using Notion in the screenshot below)
The template I used for reaching out to customers:
Molly here from the Memberstack team😊
I wondered if I could jump on a 30 minute call with you - we are working on a new community idea, and I would love to show you around and see if you had any ideas. You have been a huge support for us in the forum and Slack, so I would definitely like to account for any suggestions you have.
Let me know how that sounds and thank you again!”
I had 8 user-interviews and added my insights to the toggle. If you take anything from this, the most important thing to do is speak to your own customers - chances are they know your product and your community better than you do!
Questions I used in the user-interviews:
- Do you participate in any other communities?
- In-person, virtual?
- How did you learn about them, and what reminds you to go there?
- Why do you participate? How do you participate (i.e., just reading, posting actively, attending events, etc.)
- What do you like, not like about them?
- What would you be looking to get out of a community?
- What types of things do you like to do in communities? (i.e., get feedback from others, make new friends, learn best practices, etc.)
- We’re thinking of providing a ______ in our community. How much does that interest you on a scale of 1-10? 1=no interest, 5=interesting if it were right in front of me, 10=so interested I’d go out of my way to get it.
- We’re thinking of organizing our community [explain how members will be grouped, how different types of conversations will be accessed, etc]. What do you think?
- Is there anything else we could be offering in our community that would strongly appeal to you?
Step 4. Choosing a platform
Next on the agenda was choosing which platform to host the community.
A list of important features was drawn up, and Circle was the favorite. We had a call with Andrew (Co-founder of Circle), who was extremely helpful. We loved the layout and how quickly they shipped new features. We also have our own integration with them here.
Soon a soft launch was underway in which we received lots of feedback and suggestions.
So our official community has been launched! As you can see, we are still learning. We have never done this before, so I hope we can teach and learn together. We have a list of ‘Spaces to introduce as mini, 2-week experiments’ so we can test what works, what doesn’t work and keep improving!
I hope this was helpful - I’d love to know (if you read all the way through) what you think and if you’re using any of the tips yourself.
What does the future of community jobs look like? https://twitter.com/Commsor/status/1304471914883297280
Community Mentors - https://www.community.club/mentors
The community Club - https://www.community.club/