Community building can provide the competitive edge startups need to thrive. It serves as a platform for turning users into loyal advocates. It also presents an avenue for engagement and gaining user feedback on all aspects of the product cycle. Even as organizations try to mitigate the effects of inflation and rising interest rates, companies must seek innovative ways to reach profitability.
In this article, we offer tips from six startup leaders on how to grow intentional communities.
Jennifer Sowyrda, Community Programs Manager at Hubspot: Listen
According to Jennifer Sowyrda, it is important to listen to your community and have them play a role in growing it. She says, “It should feel like a group effort in growing and guiding the community. What that looks like in practice will differ for each community. It could mean monthly all hands meetings where members are invited to offer feedback. It could mean volunteer moderators where moderation best practices are put in place by community members. Or it could mean designing your community's online experience based on your members' needs. The key is to ensure you're building together from day one so that you're growing a space where your community wants to be.”
Madison Sowards, Community Manager at MassChallenge: A Two-Way Street
According to Madison Sowards, “Relationships sit at the core of any community development.” She believes relationships with industry leaders, investors, partners, and customers are all important; each connection is unique and building strong and positive relationships can have a lasting effect. ‘’A person you meet at a networking event one year may be the same person to connect you with your lead investor five years down the line. Find people who understand the importance of your work, believe in your solution, and will champion you along the way. Relationship building is a two-way street. Once those people are identified, continue to add value to the relationship by offering introductions to those in your network, sharing relevant resources, and inviting to events to ensure that both parties are benefiting from the relationship.”
Lily Macomber, Community Lead at Scroobious: Be Helpful
Everyone wants a safe space, a place where they can connect and get the help needed to navigate various work and life endeavors. Therefore, being helpful could be a good approach. Lily Macomber, Community Lead at Scroobious says, “The biggest practice for building a community is being helpful and creating spaces to foster helpfulness.”
According to Macomber, being a resource for others and going out of her way to connect members of the community has not only brought immediate value but strengthened the Scroobious community long term. She has created safe spaces at Scroobious through the creation of Pitch Studio workshops. “These virtual events not only create spaces to promote questioning and learning but connect members of their community to the ecosystem of investors and the community of founders they have built as well.”
Rachel McIntosh, Community Manager at Venture Lane Studio: Be Intentional
The way to leverage community in building your startup is to be intentional. According to Rachel McIntosh, Venture Lane's Community Manager, “Building a community is all about intentionality- what you put in is what you get out.”
She recommends that anyone trying to foster an engaged community should identify a central thesis or unique value proposition that their community can provide. Community builders should find topics they are interested in addressing and lean into them. She also says that it’s imperative to ensure that the community is a diverse and equitable space for folks to commune. “While like-mindedness is an element that helps bring people together, a community is not meant to be an echo chamber of opinions but rather a safe space for folks to share diverse experiences and perspectives.
Reagan Hochmeister, Community Marketing Manager at Goldcast: Engage with each member
Finding avenues to engage with each member of the community can be effective for scaling it. Reagan Hochmeister, Community Marketing Manager for Goldcast recommends that startup founders intentionally engage with each member.
Likewise, community builders should, “Start with a beta phase and invite advisors, friends, and passionate customers to check it out in the early stage.” She believes that managers should let the early joiners know that their voice is going to be heard by asking questions such as, “What do you want to get out of this space?”
Upon launching the community, she proposes that community builders keep their intentionality in check by ensuring that they are accepting joiners from appropriate backgrounds and roles.
Gerta Malaj, Cofounder of Vive: Embrace small groups
Breaking community sessions into small groups can encourage better engagement within a community.
Gerta Malaj, Cofounder of Vive says that, “both as a community builder and as a member of several communities, something I’ve seen has a huge impact for community members is encouraging them to form or join small groups of four to six people who get together regularly. The format can be as structured or as unstructured as the members prefer. The benefits of this initiative is that it creates an intimate setting and sets a consistent cadence. I’ve seen this be a favorite from On Deck to the MIT Founders community.”
From her experiences Gerta has learned about the challenges of keeping a small group. It has also allowed her to observe the hidden powers of small groups including closeness with the group, the insights from discussions that needed several interactions to surface, and the forcing mechanisms to face priorities.
Bonus Tip: Offer Value & Be Consistent
Startups should offer community members value that keeps them coming back. This value can come in the form of training courses, expert advice, networking events, and mentorships opportunities. Also, consistency is important. Members must trust your brand to provide the same standard of value for a long time. They must believe that you will exist in the future to invest time and energy in the community. Be timely and clear in your messaging across all platforms.
In conclusion, building a community takes dedication from teams who understand the company’s vision and can translate it through valuable programs that resonate with the target market. The rise of the Web 3 Creator economy is good news for founders, as it makes it easy for community-driven startups to create and manage shareable content that addresses the needs of their community.
About the writer, Jennifer Ejeh - Jennifer enjoys deploying communications & marketing strategies in brand building efforts. She served as COO at the CANs, West Africa's first Green innovation Hub. She was also contributing writer for Bellanaija, Ynaija, the Guardian, & Arianna Huffington’s Wellness publication Thrive. She is presently a Fellow at Ondeck.
About the editor, Rachel Coogan - Rachel works as Nail Communications' Business Administration Manager. She's an authentic communicator and proactive caretaker who's passionate about supporting the startup community.