When people ask "what is the first step in building a community?", my answer often is to become a community member first.
All great leaders who have built something bigger than themselves have been a part of something bigger first.
Before starting #createlounge, I participated in various PR and social focused Twitter chats for over a year and a half, even before launching my blog. While participating, I found there was a big gap: no one was talking to creative bloggers and entrepreneurs, my people. I set out to fill that gap with #createlounge and now almost a year later, our community is still going strong and making an impact.
I started as a community member and transitioned into a community leader with ease because of how long I had been active in other communities. Here are a few benefits of starting as a community member first:
You’ll either strengthen or shift your mission
Have you ever been a part of a community that changes how you approach something? They can offer enlightenment and show what your audience needs more of. When you go where your audience already is and listen to what they need, you will have more direction when you start to build your own community platform.
For example, you may initially have wanted to start a Twitter chat for professional travel photographers but after being a part of a travel Facebook group with an audience who is craving photo tips, you may be inspired to start a Facebook group that aims to help anyone traveling capture their memories on camera like a pro.
Keep your eyes and ears open!
You'll learn quickly how you want to make your community different
There are things you can't learn about building your own community until you're a part of a similar one that already exists. That way, you can identify what that group may be missing so you can fill your audience with extra value when you start your own.
After participating in several Twitter chats, I noticed a few things I would do differently if I was the host. Some of them included:
- sending the questions the morning of so people could prepare their answers
- summarizing the chat with Storify highlight recaps
- creating a Spotify playlist for our chat participants (so fun!)
- basing the timing of the questions on the flow of chat interaction vs. scheduling them
- doing things beyond the Twitter chat (like video calls, local meetups, and more!)
Of course these characteristics aren't a fit for everyone, but they were for me and guided my strategy and process when I first started. Ask yourself "what is nobody else in my niche currently doing that needs be done?" and go do that! It's the best way to stand out from the get-go.
You’ll have visibility in your niche before starting
One of the most common fears any of us have when launching something new is that we'll hear crickets. When you are a member of another community first, you'll already be making connections within your niche while building the visibility of your thought leadership platform.
And yes, there are non-icky ways to showcase your expertise. Your thoughtful responses to members in the group will be enough to raise your credibility and authority without the need to feel spammy with self-promotion. *Phew*.
The audience in that community will then associate you with your blend of expertise, the niche you identify with, and your unique traits (in a combination that I call "your edge") and will be more apt to join the community you build because of it.
You'll see the importance of sharing the community love
A confident community leader is one who is willing to give shout outs to other communities. We are all here to be a resource, a way to connect like-minded people with one another for a bigger purpose.
We don't "own" any of our members, so it's important to beat the comparison game and remember why ALL of our communities are needed in this digital space.
You can still be a raving fan of someone else's community while still feeling the need to build one of your own.
This post wouldn't be complete without sharing some of the communities I'm active in and totally love:
- The Creative's Corner
- Blog + Biz BFFs
- The Badass Solopreneur Society
- Full list of Twitter chats I recommend
Are your wheels starting to turn? Awesome! Get out there and starting connecting, and keep a notebook by your side while you brainstorm. To help you gain ideas, sign up below to get exclusive access to The Power of We audio series on community building.
What have you learned about the community you want to build from participating in other communities? How can you make yours different? Let's chat in the comment section below.