How to kickstart a community from scratch (v.1.1)

Why do you need a community?

Your community is as important as your offer. You can have the best product or service,but it’s doomed to fail if nobody supports it.

An engaged community will help drive your startup forward; they will market it, invest in it, work for it, and they will help you define and refine your offer. This is why it’s vital for you start building a community from day one.

This guide will show you how to kickstart a starter community from scratch. My startup followed these steps to establish a community around Joto. The process may seem laborious, but it proved to be very effective. On Joto’s launch our community pledged just over £360,000 to the project.

So strap in, and start here to kickstart a community.

Building your foundations

Refining your Why

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have stumbled across Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. It’s a great presentation, and so obvious he deserves the millions of dollars it’s undoubtedly generated. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out and consider your business’s Why.

Emotion is the most effective form of engagement. Startups may be in the business of solving a problem, but people rally around things they believe in. So take a moment to unpack your offer and focus on the why. What problem are you solving? Who has this problem? And is your Why strong enough to support a community?

Draft, redraft, and test your why until it’s rock solid. The strength of your community depends on it.

Setting up a mailing list

The most important tool for building a community is the humble mailing list.

Do you ever wonder why so many websites ask you to join their newsletter? It’s because emails are so much more engaging than social media. A call-to-action in an email is three times more effective than a social media link.

At this early stage your mailing list is your community. Growing one grows the other. As such, it’s an excellent measure of market fit and the only goal we’ll be focusing on.

If you haven’t already got a website with a mailing list, make it your number one priority. Your website doesn’t need to be fancy, it can even be a holding page. It needs to explain your offer and allow people to join your mailing list. That’s it.

Setting a target

Kevin Kelly defined a superfan as anyone willing to spend a day’s wage on your business every year. In his post 1000 True Frans he proposed you only need 1000 superfans to support a new business.

Anyone who takes the time to give you their personal details is a potential superfan. With this in mind, you should aim to sign up at least 1000 people to your mailing list.

Building your community

Your first 100 sign-ups

To find your first 100 superfans, consider the low hanging fruit. It’s time to ask your employees, customers, friends, and family to get behind your venture.

Make a list of everyone you know and craft a personalised email for each of them. Ensure your emails are no longer than five sentences, and ask their permission for you to sign them up to your list. If your request feels awkward remind them they can always unsubscribe.

While this isn’t scalable behaviour, it’s a great way to quickly build a starter community.

The next 900 people is where your search gets more challenging. Social media is great for reaching new people, but the social space is much harder to navigate.

A simple social media strategy

Global corporations and side-hustles use same social media strategy because it works. They research their sector, engage the most popular people, and ask them to promote something. You need to do the same; but in this case you’ll be directing people to your sign-up page.

Take a deep dive into your competitors’ social media accounts. What kind of content do they post? What do their followers respond to? And which influencers do they engage with?

Leveraging the clout of a popular influencer is an effective way to reach lots of people on social media. But everyone’s trying their luck with the same people. Instead, engage the more niche influencers in your sector. Look for the micro influencers (individuals with followers between 5,000 and 100,000) who align with your brand or offer.

These are the people you’re going to ask to promote your community. But how best to engage them, and with what?

Social capital

Social media has reduced online interaction to a value exchange. So consider what value you’re offering to influencers in exchange for promoting your business.

The capital of social media is attention. So get in touch and offer remarkable content in return for a link to your sign-up form.

This content is going to live in the wild, so keep it simple and self-explanatory. For example it could be an exclusive first-look, a new blog post, or a beautiful photoshoot. Every influencer, and every platform, will have a bias for what they want; so follow their lead.

For inspiration, think about the things you’ve liked or reposted in the past. Think about the content that’s stayed with you. It’s likely the most memorable content you’ve engaged with has been remarkable in the literal sense. Was it emotional? Was it surprising? Was it shocking?

Emotion instigates engagement. Influencers know this and will bite your hand off for any content that draws a reaction. Lean into that.

Best practice

When sharing content with influencers there are a couple of things to bear in mind.

Reach out via email or direct message, and draft the call-to-action you would like them to use. Take all the thinking out of the transaction. Don’t forget to include your hashtag, and keep it consistent across every request to increase engagement.

Also don’t be afraid to go off-piste with your platform choice. Competition is fierce on the major social media channels. Try the more niche communities found on Reddit, Imgur and other specialist forums. Although these places have fewer users, they demonstrate significantly more engagement.

Rinse and repeat

Now you have a basic marketing funnel in place, keep at at. It may take a few weeks to sign-up 1000 people, but growth will speed up as more people join your community.

At this stage you may even be able to trigger exponential growth. Create an automated welcome email for every new joinee and ask them to spread the word. Can they share your sign-up link? Can they follow your other social media accounts? There’s no guarantee they’ll help you out, but you’re making it easy for them to do so.

Finally, remember to have some fun. Small communities are a joy to work with. They are responsive, engaged, and are on the journey with you. And once you have their attention, talk to them and listen. I guarantee you’ll be surprised at what you’ll discover.

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