Ever since I started working as a community manager, the question whether it’s better to build a community or become a member of existing ones has been coming back to me like a boomerang. There’s no simple answer as both options have their pros and cons.
Where Do I Begin?
No matter how niche your industry is, it’s more than likely that there are already some existing communities related to it. Now, even if your goal is to create a new one, I wouldn’t recommend doing this without hanging out in some of those groups that are already out there. That’s how you build your relationships and network that should be the foundations of the community you eventually plan to create.
That’s the road we decided to take years ago. There have been some up and downs that helped us establish which communities work for us and which not so much.
Persistence Is the Key To Community Management Success
Obviously, you need goals behind your decisions about joining those communities. We’re in a media monitoring industry. It’s still not such a common thing as we believe it is. Many people still have no clue what to do with media monitoring. Hence, our primary goal was always to build our thought leadership and educate people about the benefits of such tools.
Then, promoting our business is important, but it comes as a secondary goal, or a bonus to thought leadership building up in the process.
Now, coming back to persistence. In some cases, it didn’t pay off too much. Years ago, we subscribed to tens of different LinkedIn groups hoping for success. As enthusiastic as we were, we had to come to terms with the fact that at the time they were nothing more than walls of blog spam without relevant discussions. Obviously, they are not all like this, and I hope there are LinkedIn groups for other industries that people find value in and maybe we were just unlucky.
Facebook groups tend to perform better for us. Sure, there are tons of rubbish you wish you’d never seen, but there are groups like Social Media Managers or SaaS Growth Hacks that are rich in thought-provoking conversations and advice you can learn from.
At some point we figured, why not join some of the Slack communities out there? We knew a few of them were growing pretty fast and thought it could be a good alternative. What also makes communities like Online Geniuses or Buffer Community superior to Facebook or LinkedIn groups is how instantly it all happens there.
All the conversations in the channels happen in real time, and it feels like there’s so much going on at all times without you having to wait and check if someone posted a reply to your comment by any chance, as it’s the case with the groups on the platforms mentioned before.
Having our community goals in the back of my head, it would be a blatant lie if I said the thought of monitoring Slack has never crossed my mind. While it’s not possible with Brand24, there’s a way to monitor different Slack teams in search of discussions you’d like to engage. All you need to do is to go to your profile Preferences and add a list of keywords you want to monitor and get an alert whenever they are mentioned.
While sharing the knowledge and building up thought leadership feels rewarding and fulfilling, community building efforts of our team needed to align with our secondary goal which is marketing our business. We had to find and engage other communities while still paying close attention to the ones I already mentioned.
Quora Has the Community You Shouldn’t Overlook
We began engaging Quora community simultaneously with Facebook and LinkedIn groups.
It wasn’t all roses in the beginning. Gloria was the first one to start engaging Quora, and while she was providing quality answers right away, the traffic from this source didn’t build up overnight.
When we travel back in time to December 2015, our Quora results were far from spectacular.
Six new signups within a month weren’t too convincing, but Gloria wouldn’t give up and kept creating new content and engaging people’s questions.
Fast forward to April 2016 and boom!
762 signups from people who came across our answers and found them valuable enough to register on our website. Of course, it didn’t jump directly from 6 trials to over 700; there were 50 and 132 respectively in February and March 2016.
Anyway, what Gloria achieved in April was remarkable but also made us scratch our heads? Was it just a fluke? Weren’t those accounts created by some kind of bots?
May was equally amazing and proved the month prior certainly wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. We thought, why not scale and move some of my time to start answering questions as well.
The number of topics and questions on Quora where we could share our knowledge and built thought-leadership was big enough for us not to get in each other’s ways. The traffic had been growing from month to month until it reached the level of nearly 3 million Quora views for both of us combined and over a thousand new signups every month.
In case you wonder how we did that, have a look at our blog post about best practices on how to use Quora for marketing your business!
Other Online Communities Are All Out There For You
You might also want to have a look at other communities like subreddits on Reddit or AskProducthunt. The former is tricky as hell, and we all know that. Most marketers avoid Reddit like a plague, and I understand them to some extent.
If you jump on a subreddit and start spamming your content right away, your posts will be deleted and your account shadowbanned sooner than you’ll realise. I’ve read tens of blog posts about how to use Reddit for marketing and trust me, it’s difficult, but at the same time possible. We haven’t had spectacular successes so far, but that could be due to us being more of a B2B brand and Reddit seems to suit B2C brands more, I’d say.
Still, contributing quality content to a subreddit is always valued, and it’s best if the majority of that content isn’t just you trying to promote your blog posts.
On top of that, you need to be a Redditor yourself. You need to have the feel of what Reddit is and enjoy it as a whole to be successful in marketing there. Trust me, if your engagement feels artificial, people will know that, and they’ll call you out. And then you’re done with marketing on Reddit.
Ask ProducthHunt, on the other hand, reminds me a lot of Quora. It’s more tech-orientated though. It took off over a year ago and is pretty much filled with questions regarding different tools people use these days for their jobs online. You can also ask for advice, so it’s not like all the questions are just people asking What are the best tools for x,y,z?
Once you figured out you get the feel of what an online community should be like, you might think of starting your own. Bear in mind all the pros and cons as well.
It can be a Facebook group, a Slack community, a dedicated hashtag on Twitter that people in your community will use for all their discussions, a subreddit dedicated to your brand or your industry in general, so the possibilities seem endless.
Keep in mind that in such situation, you’re building on someone else’s platforms, and if something goes wrong for them, it’s going to go wrong for your community too.
Also, investing in those won’t help your SEO in contrast to building your discussion forum, for instance, so it’s definitely something you have to think about before you start building your community.
And last but not least, you’re willing to invest potentially for years, literally years without return or with very little return to build something of great long-term value. I think this is the toughest one. But communities are most similar in attribute to content marketing, where you’re going to put in a ton of upfront effort and a lot of ongoing effort before you’re going to see that return. Most of the time, most communities fail because the people behind them were not willing to make the investments to build them up, or they made other types of mistakes.
Whichever road you take, you have to keep in mind that it takes time, patience, and dedication. If you create a community and let it grow by itself, it won’t grow. You need to keep an eye on it and be the one who fosters the engagement before others start doing it for you. Then, if you choose to join existing communities, you have to be consistent as well so that more and more people become familiar with you and you eventually become a thought leader in your field.
The key takeaway, however, is that you should never build a community of your own if you haven’t been a member of some existing ones before!