Building communities: 3 practical steps for startups

13th Oct 2015
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The hottest startups today know that the best way to scale and sustain is to build an involved, engaged community. Think of Yelp’s Elites, Zomato’s Foodies, Solar City’s Ambassadors and Google Maps Top Contributors programmes that all generate referrals and superb user-generated content. Moreover, with the advent of social discovery as a new and stickier way of discovering products versus a typical e-commerce marketplace setting, communities and community building are even more relevant than before.

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Building a community sharpens consumer-centricity as a product and helps in generating content for users by users. We at BabyChakra often get asked how we did this (and continue to do this). This article shares some of our experiences on building a community. I hope it is helpful for you as you think about starting a community yourself.

Here are the three key lessons:

1) Building community is a full time role – ‘AER’ it out.

If you are serious about building a community, give it the time and resources it deserves. Community building is a full-time role. We have two members and a rockstar intern in our team who are fully dedicated to community building.

Do keep in mind though that building a community is a homogenous term and will confuse you if you only focus on ‘building’ without understanding its contours. Break it down. Building a community involves a three-step process we internally call AER: ie: Acquisition of new members, Education on what the purpose of the community is, and Retention of existing members through engagement and support to existing members.

Over time, the aim has been to identify community leaders who will lead the engagement along with you.

You can acquire new members through exclusive invites from existing members. ‘Retention’ is taken care of by having a dedicated closed group on Facebook only for your members, and by organising offline meetups in different localities in the cities you are in, so they can put faces to your team members’ names.

Over time, we have observed and supported community leaders (star members) emerge through our interactions with the community. Choose community managers who are social, caring, helpful and understand the pulse of what your community stands for.

Once chosen, ensure time and resources are available to support and lead future AER efforts. We believe this method of building a community is the most sustainable and scalable in the long term.

2) DNA = community:

Community members take out time to be part of a community. In our case, we are building a community of the busiest people in the world – mothers.

If you are truly serious about building a community, community building should be in your company’s DNA. We feel there are two basic ways of ensuring this:

  • Community co-creates product: If you are trying to maintain product relevancy through community, respect what the community has to say about product features and give them the time they deserve by listening to them.
  • Product supports community: Community managers are integral to how you plan to grow and scale. So, ensure community members have a strong, differentiated voice on your platform. Give them the freedom to make suggestions about the platform. There are also other gamifications we use to scale and support managers on our platform.

3) Constant community communication is critical –

The core rule is to communicate with members on a daily basis. You can use online mediums, followed by periodic offline meetups in various localities where you have presence. While online engagements are cheaper and take less effort, don’t underestimate the power of an offline meetup. It helps humanise the community and the team and gives you deeper insights than any virtual interactions ever could. Also, do ensure you engage with your community at places most familiar and comfortable for them.

To sum up, community building is often more art than science. However, a basic starting strategy is key to success. Moreover, while they take time and effort, if as a product you truly want to scale and sustain, communities are key. We’d love to hear other innovative ideas on building and scaling communities from the entrepreneur community.

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