A community’s organic growth is a result of hands-on effort. It implies that community managers must first engage new users, post relevant content, and be ever-present for the first two or three members. There are always exceptions to any rule, of course; however, it takes commitment and a hands-on approach to build and grow a community.
Community owners must not be tempted to create quick traffic using paid channels and incentives to recruit members. While such an approach may spread awareness incredibly fast, using this tactic for recruiting members can have long-term adverse effects.
Businesses and organizations trying to jump on the bandwagon of marketing through communities end up recruiting members that are not well-informed and do not believe in the product or the values that the business or organization stands for.
This is why organic community growth manifesting out of manual efforts makes more sense for any community owner.
This article aims to help you identify the steps you need to take to achieve the community growth you desire using hands-on effort.
To do this we visit two critical points:
- Commitment and its role in growing vibrant online communities
- The best way to grow online communities hands-on
How Does Commitment Play a Major Role in Growing Vibrant Online Communities?
We mentioned that the organic success of an online community stems from the community owners’ dedication to hands-on effort in the early stages of the community. This is a concept that experts widely agree upon and which studies have backed.
In a previous article, we discussed how not hiring the right type of community manager, can cause the efforts that you exert not to give you optimal results. In the same way, a community owner who does not have the right kind of commitment will not be able to keep up the spirit and effort in the long run.
Why? Because consistent, long-term commitment rubs on to the members and creates social value within the community. A recent study, Social Value Creation Through Digital Activism in an Online Health Community, published for the Information Social Journal explains that:
“… although the technical capabilities of a digital platform are necessary for it to operate, it is the growing commitment of its users that get united under common community objectives over time that activates the process of social value creation.”
Furthermore, the study examined how social value is created and identified three phases of growing commitment:
Image Source: The Hidden Mechanism for Online Community Growth
- Transactional motivation refers to non-financial incentives that may entice members to join a platform.
- Developing commitment occurs when members’ values align with the values that underpin the purpose of building the community in the first place, for instance, social justice.
- Growing responsibility results from the development of members personally and professionally based on what the community platform allows.
Finally, the study concluded that community owners should not only depend on satisfying their community members’ transactional needs. Instead, they should invite them to recognize their place and grow with the community.
Community owners and managers should provide opportunities for active participation, sustained involvement, and growth. This will lead to members perceiving the online community as meaningful, fulfilling, and worth committing time and effort.
What is the Best Way to Grow Online Communities Hands-on?
It would be illogical to start going all out with your efforts to build a community organically without knowing precisely what to expect. So here is a list of things you should keep in mind before starting.
Prepare for Rejection
When building your community, you will make a lot of personal requests for members to join. It will prove to be a tedious and slow process, and you will not always have positive responses. Sometimes you will not get any.
You must prepare for when one outreach session does not make your community a sudden success. You should also remember that your announcement and PR publication will not lead to a considerable number of members signing up.
Make One-on-one Invitations not One-to-many
Rather than only making broad announcements to your community, take the time to invite individuals and organizations directly. Learn from what went well and what did not go that well. Rinse and repeat.
Small, humble beginnings that are purpose-driven and built on deeply-knit relationships have a healthier growth pattern. Growing a real community is not about numbers; it’s better to send out ten personal invitations than 1,000 unfocused invitations. So make sure you personalize and direct your message to specific individuals who matter to you and your organization.
Treat Your First Few Members Like a Rare Gem
Yes, you should treat your first few members so well as though your life depended on it. Why? Well, the life of your newly established community does rely on it.
Growing an online community takes time, and it’s all dependent on sustainable, unbreakable connections that cannot be fast-tracked. So take your time and build strong bonds with the first few members of your online community.
In the beginning, you may wonder at least a few times whether you’re wasting your time because it may seem like no one cares. That’s when you should remind yourself not to quit.
Give Precedence to Your Mission Over Growth
Of course, you want to grow your community reasonably fast. But you need to create trust and a mission-focused community of a small band of members before moving towards scaling.
— NYLA (@nylafellows) April 4, 2019
So don’t prioritize growth above your mission being engraved in the minds of your members. Giving precedence to your growth over your mission will erode your community’s value for those seeking engagement with other like-minded members. Your community will deliver value by serving the members. Growth just for the sake of growth serves no purpose.
Find out how to effectively build your online community. Download The Association Community Compendium – How to harness the collective power of your members.