Why Your Community Didn't Take Off (and How to Fix it)

Why Your Community Didn't Take Off (and How to Fix it)
Photo by youssef naddam / Unsplash

Spoiler: It can't compete with Netflix.

Too often we hear from customers who have tried and failed to get their community off the ground. They put in time and effort getting it all set up and then find that it's a constant struggle to keep up engagement. That can feel like a soul destroying waste of time and effort, especially if you know in your heart that your community has value. If that sounds like you, read on for some tips.

Recently I have been realizing that I am turning into a man of questionable youth. In other words, I am kind of knocking on a bit.

While I haven’t yet reached the breathtaking milestone of wearing beige, eating Werther's Original like they are going out of fashion, and complaining endlessly about the TokTiks and Facetube…I am aware of my ascent into physical maturity…

There is a benefit of becoming an oldie though: pattern matching.

I have been building communities for over 20 years now. I have worked with hundreds of different companies, in different industries, and with different people. Some of these communities succeeded, some didn’t… and throughout all this I have seen patterns.

One such pattern is the common refrain when a company started a community and they bemoan that it “didn’t take”.

In other words, they had a big snazzy launch where people in branded t-shirts… at a branded booth… with branded stickers… and possibly branded underwear, launched the community… and… well, crickets .

When this happens, I often get pulled into these companies to figure out what went wrong and how we can fix it.

Nine times out of ten, it is the same problem. They simply don’t compete with Netflix.

Now of course, I don’t mean that literally. My point here is that their communities are BORING.

Look, we live in a world of amazing distractions. Thousands of TV shows, an endless library of music on Spotify, reams of video games, thousands of technologies to play with, a huge pandemic and political differences to wrestle with and really, really funky fidget spinners. There is a lot to grab and hold our attention.

But here’s the difficult reality: you HAVE to cut through that in your community.

Just setting up a Discourse forum where people can go and ask questions and get answers isn’t really enough. People demand more than that if you want them to keep coming back.

So, this all begs the question of, “How?”

I would encourage you to start by focusing on one critical thing: the pain your audience is experiencing every single day . In other words, what keeps them up at night?

For example, let’s take marketers.

Most marketers I have met hate creating and testing copy. They dread that a launch doesn’t go well. They have anxiety about getting marketing results in a world filled with such distractions. They struggle to keep up with all the new tech coming out. They have challenges keeping their team motivated when budgets are cut.

Each of these struggles is a golden opportunity for your community. How do you turn them inside out and present a solution, an opportunity, and a support group?

For example, if a marketer struggles with new tech, work to create tutorials, guides, and meetups they can join in your community that will help them to learn this new tech.

If they struggle with anxiety about launches, provide mentoring programs, or launch checklists they can use as a resource.

When you are able to provide this kind of value, Netflix hasn’t got a chance. Your members will not only love the value you are creating in your community, but they will show up every week and come back for more.

Remember that you don’t have to have all the answers here. The most important thing is progress over perfection. Just get started, create some solutions to these pain points and see what the views and responses on those topics look like in Discourse.

Before you know it, you will have a community that cherishes the value they experience, so much so that they will also want to reciprocate and give back… but that my friends, is a topic for another column in the future.

Stay hungry.

Jono Bacon is a leading community strategy and execution consultant, author of People Powered, and creator of the Zero To Community Masterclass.