Obviously community building is meta right now. Everyone is trying to be the cool kid and rewrites the copy on their website: "We are not just a marketplace, we are a community". This is cool if you think about the community management industry as a whole and the community managers. However, let's step back for a bit and see if we need this new shiny toy or not?
In this article I'll talk about things you need to think about before starting a community:
While we're on the verge of newsletter-fatigue, I think it's also quite interesting to investigate the idea of community-fatigue. Before starting a community I think it's healthy to answer a few questions to yourself first:
After answering those questions think about what unique value your community can contribute to the conversation? What's your take on things?
Community is not another shiny toy to add into the piggy-bank just in case it blows up, or because everyone else is doing it. Starting a community is a responsibility and starting and leaving it as a desert island is not the best outcome.
Another big question to answer is:
Am I ready to do this as a full-time job?
Especially the first few months your ability to spend time in the space and make things work (sometimes very manually) is crucial for the community.
Let's talk about a few (purely subjective of course) cases when you don't need a community.
Starting a community just to sell digital or physical good it's just ineffective at best. If you already have an audience (in your newsletter, youtube channel, etc) and you're building a community on top of it, just to drive up sales it's not making things easier for you.
As I mentioned in the previous point, the community is a full-time job. Are you ready to add another layer on top of the existing sales funnel? Do you need to do it? I think no. The setup of the community itself is a long ride and brings it's own set of expenses.
I have talked at length about product-led communities. While there's a time and place to create a special community platform for your product I think we need to stop advising to build a community first then a product. Let me unpack this.
If we think about the classic startup model it is including consistent user research, customer development, and market/competitors analysis. Each of these processes was done isolated usually either by the founder or business development manager. The community can consolidate those processes into one, however, it is by no means a shortcut to building a product.
Building a product is a constant testing of different hypotheses about the problem you're trying to solve, about the market, about industries, and so on.
Building a community is to consolidate a group of people around a mission (improve productivity, get better at newsletters, learn to code, e.g.), which is not always aligned with all the hypotheses of the product you're trying to build.
Now there's a discourse around the web what's the difference between community and audience. I think Noele Flowers said it best in her Building an Audience vs. Building a Community article. I'll just add a few more things.
Community building is not a "get rich scheme" where you can find 10k followers in one day. Arguably it's more difficult to sell. Essentially you're asking your members to give their most valuable resource - time, in exchange for vague values that can be only compounded over time.
Most often when considering building a community around yourself or your product (content) consider all the players in the market. And think critically about what you're able to offer. Community is not the next step for your product (content), it's just one of the ways you can diversify your communication channels.
Thanks for taking your time and reading a post essentially saying to hold off on your plans of starting a community just now.
Hope this helped in some way.
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