How to grow a community
A 4 step process and guide you can follow to grow your community.
This post has been split into 2 parts, for the post on how to start your community, go here: How to start your community - by Osioke Itseuwa (substack.com).
Community growth can be looked at in 4 steps:
Define the needs of the community and the community owner
Create experiences that satisfy these needs
Record growth from the activity created when members’ needs are met
Capture value from the community growth to meet the community owner’s goals/needs
Once these steps are taken, communities will always grow naturally and sustainably. This is because the members will be happy as their needs have been met, and so they stay and talk about it, thereby inviting more users.
Applying the steps to grow your community
But how would you go about applying these steps?
Let’s take a look at each one from a question, where the answer to the question for each one, would show us how to take these steps.
How does one define the needs of their community?
Define the ideal member of your community or in community professional speak, define your community persona. The article linked there explains how.
Empathise with and pull out the needs and wants of your ideal community member. For tips or ideas on how to emphatise, see my post on the topic: How to define the needs and wants of your community, identify pain points and gain insights into opportunities (substack.com).
How does one create experiences to satisfy the needs of their community?
Observe similar communities and learn from the experiences they have created,
Observe communities in other areas of life and even in nature to see how they solve similar scenarios,
Leverage the insights you got when you empathised with the ideal community member,
Contemplate all of these to make them into a proper experience story or program the members can go through,
And as you design these experiences, make sure they build a sense of community; make sure they help members bond and connect. Members bond and connect through positive (real-time) interactions with each other, so be sure these experiences enable that.
For tips or ideas on what to do to create or design these experiences, see my post on: How I create opportunities and strategies to solve my community's needs (substack.com).
Give it your best when building it out,
Push out the experiences early even if you feel ashamed by them, collect feedback and iterate.
How would one measure growth and capture value from the community’s growth?
This value boils down to the need of the business or community owner when they started the community. Like why start a community? What need was it serving? To identify this, empathise with the community owners and identify their needs. The article linked there explains how.
Once the community owner’s needs are identified, you can measure growth by looking at behaviours that show this need is being met, is there progress being made? Track this progress or change in the behaviour to show growth.
Why would all this work?
There is a saying in community development that:
A small set of users create the value that the large set consume
This phenomenon is explained by the economic principle called The Pareto Principle:
… for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes (the "vital few").
And so, this principle is also called the 80/20 rule. Where the consequences could be looked at as a result and the causes looked at as the actions. Therefore making them also apply to positive systems or environments. So we could say 20% of the work an individual does creates 80% of their wealth. Where the work done is the cause or the action, and the wealth is the result of the action or consequence of the cause.
I look at communities and their engagement levels through this lens too. Doing this allows me to say “80% of the activity in a community is created by the vital few of 20%”. This can also be extrapolated to say 20% of the individuals in a community are actively creating new content while 80% are lurking and consuming this content, or interacting around it.
I have seen this at play in communities I have managed, for instance in Devcenter Square, we had about 2,400+ individuals active on Slack, and 400+ (~20%) were active, week on week.
This meant that if I tried to increase the active 20% in a community, the lurking 80% will also increase to stay in balance with the Pareto principle.
This also meant that as I increased the active members, the community as a whole would grow. So:
increase active members to grow community
Using a community of 100 individuals as an example, 20 members create all the content and engagement that makes the community active. The remaining 80 consume it. If I wanted to grow the community, I would create programs or experiences that helped the 80 consumers become part of the 20 creators. As people from the 80% move to the 20%, others from outside the community will naturally flow in to keep the ratio 80:20, or 80%:20%.
How would one increase the active members?
By meeting or satisfying the needs of the inactive ones! And once this is done, they become active to get the satisfaction they need. And so we are back to the first step in the process; define the needs of your community members.