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How to Build a Community:
Guide for Startups

Community is a must if you want to build and grow a startup. If you’re not sure yet, just look around, there are many great examples of communities by tech startups like Hubspot, Atlassian, Salesforce, Airbnb, Asana, and many others. These companies have succeeded because in the early stages of their product they created a truly thriving environment of like-minded people. A community can bring you a core-member group that is highly engaged and advocates for your product.

🔥 Read the guide as a Notion doc →

Community is a way to create value for your audience. This is an opportunity to promote products and serves as a valuable resource when you need to understand which features you should create in the first place, whether the product helps users, what you should change, etc.

It is important to understand the difference between audience and community. When you form an audience, you focus on one person as a representative of the target audience. However, when creating a community, your attention shifts from one person to a group whose members help each other by sharing expertise and personal experiences.

Typically, when a business creates value for its audience within the community, the dynamics of relations change, and the value of the product is soon being created by the users themselves. This is the strength of the community and the main reason for its creation.

Table of Contents

07 1

đź”— Why do people join the community?

People join a community (and stay!) for three key reasons:

  1. Identification 
  2. Interaction
  3. Validation 

Identification

People don’t want to feel isolated and that’s why they naturally seek out a community of like-minded people. We want to be a part of a group that shares our interests and gives us a sense of belonging.

If you are struggling with defining your community then imagine that you’re an early adopter of your product and ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my interests? Which things do I enjoy?
  • What do I believe? What are my values?

Interaction

The user needs to understand how he/she can contribute to the community and what type of participation is welcomed here. Interaction between members is the main driver of the community. First, users consume content, then start commenting on it and, finally, become content creators. 

Validation

Rewards are what make users stay in the community. It allows people to get their dopamine fix and feel that they didn’t waste their time contributing, sharing, commenting, and creating content in your community.

There are two types of rewards:

  • People can use them: money and gifts
  • People can “feel” them: reputation, respect, fame

It’s important to give users both rewards types. For example, let’s say that someone answers another users’ questions quite often. He’ll want to feel like he earns respect in the community for his expertise. Perhaps he is rewarded for his contributions through gift cards. This ensures he stays a part of the community.  

07 3

🪜 6 Steps for Building a Community

1. Define Your Business Goals

If you are thinking “Why should we create a community in the first place?” you’re on the right path. Before investing your time in the community, it’s important to focus on specific objectives and results that it can bring.

Here are the four key objectives that a community can drive:

ObjectivesResultsExample
Customer SupportCreate a space where power users can help newbies understand your product
  • Reduced support costs
  • Improved user onboarding
  • Reduced workload on the support team
  1. User Onboarding in Hubspot Community
  2. Ask the Community Hub in Pipefy Community
User
Feedback
Collect product feedback from users
  • Prioritized roadmap
  • Collected feature requests
  • Improved customer survey distribution
  1. User Feedback by Sales Hacker
  2. Product Release and an invitation to beta-testing in MURAL Community
Acquisition Attract new users
  • Expanded sales funnel
  • New users acquired
  1. The Rank and Rewards program by XM Community
Customer Success Improve customer satisfaction
  • Increased LTV (Lifetime Value)
  • Increased user retention
  • Boosted referrals
  1. Blue Prism Community Most Valuable Professionals (MVP) Program
  2. Contributors Program by ServiceNow Community

2. Determine Community Values

You should talk to your potential community members and determine their needs and motivation. Do some user research to understand how your chosen business goals align with those of potential community members. Here’s how you can do that:

1. Contact 10-20 users of your product. Select a group of users that already have some interaction with your product. For example, they reached out to support or left feedback on your product.

2. Schedule multiple short meetings. Make a list of questions that you will ask potential attendees. During interviews with your users, aim to find out: 1) What is their hope for this community? 2) How can you help them solve a problem or achieve their goal?

3. Reach out to them after a call. First of all, you should thank them for their time and meaningful feedback. Second, if possible, give them a bonus (it could be a promo code or a gift card). Third, ask them if they want to be the first community contributor.

4. Determine community values based on your research.

5. As the community grows, regularly interact with both longtime contributors and newcomers to stay on top of user satisfaction. 


Example of questions:

  1. What would you like to see in this community?
  2. How would you like to interact with other users? 
  3. What could stop you from contributing to the community?
  4. How can a community help you?

3. Choose A Community Platform

There are several platform options where you can create a community for your startup. 

Branded Community

Branded communities are managed from the internal administration panel at their own URL. With Tribally and other similar platforms, you can build your own community. Advantages include:

  • Having complete control over the content and user experience
  • No advertising distractions

One drawback is that if you are hosting your community exclusively on your own platform, you will need to find other ways to promote.

Social Network Community

Facebook, Discord, and Reddit are popular platforms where you can build a community. Benefits: First, they are free; secondly, your community can be found through a search if a user is looking for something similar to your product. But there are disadvantages:

  • No real ownership or control. While you can set rules on your group, add and remove members and content, you don’t really own the platform.
  • Distractions. Social media is built to generate ad revenue, so it’s difficult to build a distraction-free community.

 

4. Start Activity

When you launch a community you should know that users won’t start posting, commenting, and sharing right away. Sounds great, but that’s not how things often go.

Your goal on this step is to give people examples of how they can contribute to your community. Don’t worry if they aren’t organic. It’s completely okay to start an activity with fake accounts until real users will be comfortable enough to start interacting. By boosting activity you will slowly drag the interest and create a foundation for future organic activity. 

Community Engagement Strategy in 5 Steps

1. Educate About Your Product  

First, you should understand your customers’ problems. What is their struggle? How can you make their life better and easier with your product? Head over to your support team and do some research. What problems do users address you? What is it that they don’t understand about your product?

Here are some content ideas for you: 

  1. Collect the most popular questions about your product and post the answers to them.
  2. Host webinar Q&A sessions by inviting your product team to answer customer questions, explain or present new features or solve clients’ problems.
  3. Create a playbook on solving a key problem.
  4. Invite industry experts to share their expertise and answer questions.

A great example of a Q&A session by the Atlassian Community

2. Offer Something Exclusive  

This is a great tactic to give your community a sense of uniqueness. Offer your users some useful content (that you’ve never posted anywhere else) and surprise them with some delightful experiences. You can:

  1. Give free additional product usage (you can ask for product feedback in return)
  2. Offer to beta test your product
  3. Invite to a private online event (for example, with an influencer)
  4. Give personalized gifts based on member activity history (if you don’t have an active member yet, you can give them to early adopters)
  5. Offer extra support (your customer can have extended support in your community) 

An example by Webflow Community on inviting
a small group of users to beta test their new feature

3. Add Gamification  

Gamification is your way to level up the customer experience. It can be points, rewards, achievements, etc. Integrating gaming tactics into your community can be a great way to improve customer success. Here are a few tips to achieve that:

  1. Launch giveaway campaign. Offer swag to the most active members. For example, deciding winners based on the number of posts they generate.
  2. Reward contribution. Spotify has its own program to motivate helping users in the community and give them some special attention.
  3. Give status to active users. For example, the most active users can be promoted to pro-user and have moderator access to the community.
  4. Play games! Yes, it’s as plain as it sounds. You can engage your users by creating simple games around your product. For example, you can ask members to guess what would be the next implemented feature.

Giveaway by Webex Community

4. Collect Customer Feedback

The key to this step is to make it as easy as possible for a customer to leave feedback. Users don’t like to write long and detailed stories about your product ( if they are not angry, of course).

Do this by:

  1. Creating polls asking for feedback on different topics related to your product.
  2. Creating posts with simple questions about customer experience. For example, “What was your struggle when you first registered for our service?”

An example of collecting feedback by OutSystems Community

5. Connect With Your Community

Strong customer relationships are the foundation of a successful community. Startups fighting for their client’s trust and loyalty. Customers truly believe in a brand if they feel important and visible and that their interests are taken into account. That is why it is important for you to communicate with the audience, be aware of how it is changing, and build trust. Here’s how:

  1. Create a welcome post with key information about the community and the most useful posts and materials.
  2. Start a pro-user program. These users will be the backbone of your community. Create a program where you’ll offer something valuable for the main contributors of your community.
  3. Cultivate customer-to-customer relationships. Make a post where customers can share feedback or ask a question. You can start off with fake accounts.
  4. Send a summary of customers’ activities and celebrate small wins.
  5. Ask about their life. You can think about how your product affects your customer’s life and ask a question to learn more about that.
  6. Create a leaderboard of the most active users. Here is an example by the Asana Community.

Example of Welcome post by Dynatrace Community

5. Find Early Adopters

You need to find users who sincerely love your product and actively recommend it to their friends. These are people you trust and know that you can ask them to start activity in your community. It’s an important step at this stage of building a community, as these customers set the standard of quality and tone for all future members.

  1. Pick 5-7 existing users who are committed to your brand. These users tend to:
    a. Have a really strong need for the product and use it often
    b. Leave feedback more than once about the product (not only positive but also negative)
    c. Convey values and culture aligned with your company’s
  2. Share your ideas with them and find out what they like.
  3. Ask them to initiate communication in the community or create quality content. For example, describe their experience of using the product (you can also offer your help in creating such content).
  4. Give the participants a reward (this can be either a cash reward or gift card).
  5. Give these members the opportunity to invite their friends to the community and receive bonuses for this.
  6. Assign special roles to these members to make them feel valued.

6. Create Community Rules

  1. Create community guidelines:
    a. Moderator behavior – What moderators can and cannot do
    b. Participant behavior – What is allowed/prohibited for participants. What roles can they get?
    c. Theme focus – What topics are available to the community? What topics are not relevant?
    d. Intolerance of discrimination and harassment – It is clear that everyone should feel comfortable in your community.
  2. Create internal guidance on how you will respond to members who violate community rules. 
  3. Describe the tone of voice – How your employees will communicate with the community members.
  4. Create roles for community members, as roles in your community will help members feel like they belong. These may include:
    a. Moderators – monitor the observance of the rules and the “purity” of the published content.
    b. Ambassadors – Can publish content on behalf of a brand.
    c. Pro-users are the most active users who help other members with advice.
    d. Authors are users who can create expert content about your product and its professional field.

🦶Next Steps

We explored how startups can build an online community to boost content generation, user engagement, and customer success. Now it’s time for you to put these steps into action. To help you understand where to start, we’ve prepared for you a plan for the next couple of weeks. 

Download all checklists

Here is an example of content plan we made for you

If you follow these recommendations your community will eventually become a place of your brand advocates that share the same interests and truly love your product.

Have no doubt and go for it, community builder!

 

Community Guide on Notion

Tribally: Launch In-App Social
Feed With a Few Lines of Code

Hey, Product Hunt!
With the code HUNT2022 you can use Tribally for free for two months!

Tribally: Launch In-App Social Feed With a Few Lines of Code

Hey, Product Hunt!
With the code HUNT2022 you can use Tribally for free for two months!

Tribally: Launch In-App Social Feed With a Few Lines of Code

Hey, Product Hunt!
With the code HUNT2022 you can use Tribally for free for two months!

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