Community Spirit – Community Marketing For Smart People

I’ve mentioned before that I think forum and community marketing are great strategies to help you build your own following and an audience.  If you can find a group of like-minded people that go to an online community, post messages and participate in an ongoing conversation, that’s a really valuable commodity.

In his book, “Tribes”, Seth Godin talks about the need for people to be part of a group to share a special interest and that this community needs a leader.  This is a critical thing to understand about human psychology that people ultimately want to be led.

You can’t just march in and take over, you need to establish rapport, build trust, contribute to the group and over time, assume a leadership position by being someone that the other members respect.  At that point, without even having to try, people from that community will seek you out and become fans and followers of what you do.

I’ve done this a lot over the years and it has always worked out very well financially.  I’ve never had to promote myself or my services, I just share my thoughts, contribute to the discussion and people come find me and what I do.  Because I’m sharing what I know for free without expectation, they trust me, so doing business with me is easy.

Which leads to the natural question that I’ve been asked over the years many times, “Why don’t I start my own community or forum?”

Admittedly, it’s something I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about.  Not only that, more than once in the last five or six years I’ve started down the path of building out my own forum with the intention of creating a paid community.  One time I got the domain, did the graphics, installed XenForo, set up the forums and had it ready to go, but decided to not pull the trigger.

You’re probably sitting there thinking that there’s some kind of major impediment that stops me from finally turning it on, but the reality is, it’s a bit more complex than that.

I’d say the biggest thing is, most people who decide to start their own forums, particularly paid forums, fail miserably.  I’m not talking, “kind of fail” or “slightly missed the mark”, I mean epic failure.

There are a few situations that repeat themselves:

– They don’t get enough members to create the necessary critical mass a forum needs to drive conversation so the discussion stagnates;
– The community doesn’t really serve a purpose for anyone in particular and so people have no compelling reason to return;
– The person or people who run the forum don’t drive conversation and participation;
– The forum’s owner underestimates how much effort is involved;
– There aren’t enough new users coming in to grow the community and cover for churn; and,
– The technology doesn’t foster the development of a community and is too hard for people to use.

Without question though, the most common cause of a failure for a community is a lack of participation and conversation by members.  A high percentage of all members will be lurkers, but you need to have hyper users right away who get the conversation moving.  In my experience, the bottom line is that you need 100 members minimum if your community is going to have any chance of success.

For me, the thing that held me back from doing it was the commitment it requires.  When you’re running a paid community, you have to be there every single day, contributing, driving conversation and helping people out.  I find that sometimes I get a bit busy or slightly disinterested and I take a break, but when you own the forum, you don’t have that luxury.

So while you may think you have what it takes to run your own community and you feel that you might be able to pull an audience together, give it some serious consideration.  I’d say about 90% of all the communities I’ve seen started fail to get past their first year.  While I wish you well if this is the path you want to go down, I strongly recommend you read this and take caution to ensure that you’re ready for what lies ahead.

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