3 min read

The 3 Phases of building an online community

People crave more private conversations and tighter communal spaces to share and discuss what's on their minds. So the danger is to grow a community too quickly, because size no longer equals quality.
The 3 Phases of building an online community

Precursor on the size of a community

2020 killed large gatherings, and the same trend has been going on online as well. Pitches like "Join 10'000+ members in our exclusive Facebook Group" don't work anymore. People crave more private conversations and tighter communal spaces to share and discuss what's on their minds. So the danger is to grow a community too quickly, because size no longer equals quality.

I'm currently part of three communities that have no more than 80 people in it. They are so much more valuable, because you are actually feeling like part of a group and build meaningful connections with people in your space.

More and more, I’m seeing restricted access as a key selling point for companies and communities.

The successful and meaningful communities that I am seeing out there set clear boundaries on who is a good fit and who is not. Even more so, annual membership fees seem to be a very useful hurdle for getting only people on board who actually want to have a genuine discourse instead of just promoting their products or services. You are not trying to build a broadcast medium and compete with Twitter or LinkedIn here, but to provide people in your industry a space where real opportunities and connections happen!

Communities are typically formed in this order but sometimes in reverse or in a mixed order. When people talk about the “unbundling of LinkedIn” this is what they mean.

Phase 1: Group Messaging

Whatever platform you are using: Slack, Telegram, Discord or a full fledged community platform like Mighty Networks, the first step usually involves building a space where people can discuss a certain topic that they are passionate about.

The question that’s being answered is, where do you go when you’re looking to connect with people in ____ category?

So, every niche, in every category will have at least ONE core space that contains most of the highly engaged people within that niche. General power laws will apply in terms of brand.

Y-Combinator is not the only accelarator, it’s just the one that’s most top of mind in it’s category.

So step one will be the filling out of every niche into groups like these. And if you think about it, that’s really efficient. You get to go directly to where all of the people you’d want to meet are at. Amazing! Ditto goes for hobbies, and even micro-pop-up groups like a Covid support group.

Phase 2: Online Resources

As a strong community of engaged people in a certain career group start trusting each other and helping each other out, something interesting happens. Over time an incredible wealth of resources, best practices, opportunities, opinions and article links starts to build up.

Think of it as a highly curated social feed that only consists of things that are related to your industry. These are learning communities where the teachers are all actual practitioners of their craft.

The question being answered in phase 2 is, where is the wiki-for-x ?

What almost always happens next is your community members will want to create a repository of all the best information that is shared. Sometimes they are in the form of a shared Google Docs, a searchable wiki page on Mighty Networks, an internal newsletter, or a shareable Notion page. A lot of these pages can also be shared with the public and give both your members and your company the visibility they deserve.

Phase 3: New Distribution Channels

So you’ve got the best people in one industry, all connected, in a 24/7 conversation sharing resources, deals and opportunities.

This group has built it’s own repository of information which captures the learnings and discussions such that you can reference it later when you’re looking to solve a problem or find that one tool that was recommended that you can’t quite remember…

The next phase is to build distribution between the niche community and the wider public of interest in the same area.

The final question is where do you go to SHARE about x?

For example, community newsletters, blogs, social channels, and the directories mentioned above will be entirely open to any and all who wish to engage. What this does is it creates new distribution channels for the group to communicate through.

This article obviously only scratches the surface and serves as a framework on how you can think about setting up a community and the paths it can take.

There is still massive opportunity across many spaces to become the de-facto leader in your category and to build out a community.

Again, professional communities can be seen as an "unbundling of LinkedIn". Treat them as such and think about what kind of community you would wish to see in your business niche.

These companies have all done it, so you can do it too! (btw. it's sometimes not obvious that a company is behind a community and it shouldn't be!)

Future Careers

Demand Curve

Makerpad

Animalz

Indiehackers

Shoutout to David Sherry whom I'm taking a lot of inspiration from when it comes to community building.