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A Community Starts with 1,000 Members

This guest post is by Jeremy Miller of www.StickyBranding.com.

It’s easy to see the successes bloggers like Darren Rowse and Chris Brogan are having with social media and think, “I want that.” Darren’s ProBlogger Facebook page has over 43,000 Likes, and Chris has over 103,000 people following him on Google+.

I’m not in their league, but in less than two years my LinkedIn Group, Sticky Branding, grew to over 22,000 members.

People see these successes, and want to replicate them for their businesses.

But cruise the social media highway, and you will find countless Facebook pages and LinkedIn groups that are floundering or abandoned. They’re virtual ghost towns. They were set up with good intentions, but failed to ever get off the ground.

For example, there are over 1.3 million groups on LinkedIn, but only 3% of them have 1,000 or more members. And less than 0.017% of groups break 10,000 members.

Vibrant, engaged and growing social media communities are not the average.

The reason so many groups fail is they don’t achieve a critical mass. They don’t reach the starting point of 1,000 members to form the seed of a community.

Communities start with 1,000 members

Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus, argues that groups function best between eight and 16 people, or more than 1,000 members. He writes, “Being a participant in a midsize group often feels lousy, because you get neither the pleasures of tight interconnection nor the advantages of urban scale and diversity.”

A few hundred followers isn’t enough. You’ve got to break 1,000 members to get your group off the ground, because as Shirky explains, “Better than 99 percent of the audience members don’t participate, they just consume.”

Only 1% of an online community are active content creators, the rest are not. 90% of a community is silent. They don’t forward articles, respond to comments or even press the Like button. They simply consume.

The remaining 9% are curators. They share the community’s content through retweets, shares, and Likes, but they aren’t actively creating new comments or engaging with other members.

To carry on a group conversation, you need at least ten active content creators. They’re the kernel of your community. They keep it going, and make it a fun, vibrant place.

So without 1,000 members it’s very hard to foster and sustain conversations and engagement.

Grow your community through your network

Getting your first 1,000 members is hard! There are no silver bullets to achieve this milestone. It’s hard slogging.

The first 1,000 members will come from your network. They will be people you know, and they’ll join because you ask them. They are there because they like you, trust you, and want to support you.

I chose to build the Sticky Branding Group in LinkedIn because I was very active in the platform. At the time I had around 700 connections, and it made sense to build a group where I could invite people I was already connected to. When the group launched in May 2010, I invited all my connections, and 300 of them joined. This was a good starting point, but the next 700 members came one invitation at a time. And that was eight months of hard work.

I made a point of being an active networker. I attended conferences and events, followed up with old clients and colleagues, and reached out to people far and wide. It was a good opportunity to connect and meet people, but it was also the touch point to invite people who shared in my interests of branding, sales, and marketing. They joined because they were intrigued, and they joined because I invited them.

Avoid using promotions to grow your community

It’s easy to get frustrated with the invitation process, and try to find shortcuts like promotions and giveaways to grow your group.

Avoid this temptation.

If your goal is to grow a community—a place where like-minded people engage, share ideas, help each other, and carry on conversations—you need a specific type of member. You need members that buy into the purpose of the community, and share similar interests and values.

You need members who want to be a part of a community.

Promotions and giveaways don’t attract people seeking a community—they attract people seeking free stuff. You may get a surge of new members from a promotion, but it’s not likely they’ll stick around and become active members in your community.

Take pride in your community

People can spot a promotion-driven group from a mile away. The content is all about the group owner (the brand), and not about its members. These aren’t communities, they’re marketing platforms. The best groups have engaged group owners that love connecting with new people and sharing ideas and content.

Above all else, enjoy the experience of organizing a community. Have fun growing your group, and take pride in it. If you love your group it will be easy to ask people to join, and it will be easy to go out into the real world and talk about the exciting new group you’re building.

Your passion and excitement is infectious, and it will accelerate your group’s growth beyond anything else. It will be the most effective way to get your group past the 1,000 member mark, and enable it to grow into a community without boundaries.

Jeremy Miller is the President of www.StickyBranding.com, a sales and marketing consultancy specialized in brand-based demand generation. Jeremy recently published Nobody Likes To Dance Alone: How to grow a social media community. It is a free ebook based on his experience growing one of the largest branding groups on LinkedIn with over 22,000 members.

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Comments

  1. Dhruv Bhagat says:

    Building relationship with your clients is what everyone should do.. The real success is when your client returns for a new service. This means your work is just great.. One should always think as a seller and a buyer. This will help one in earning good amount of money :)

    • Great point Dhruv. It’s far more profitable to sell to a repeat customer, and continue to grow those relationships. The other key value is happy clients are your best fans and marketers.

      What’s your perspective on leveraging your best customers (the ones who come back) to support and grow online communities?

  2. I really think it’s not a smart idea to focus on the numbers. If you’re interested in building a community — note the key word INTERESTED — then numbers aren’t important.

    Communities don’t start with a 1,000 members. They start with a great idea!

    • You raise a valid point Daphne. Getting your group off the ground requires a commitment that goes beyond marketing. You have to want to connect, collaborate and build a community. And you can’t fake that interest in people. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Great point. Thank you!

  3. Ehsan Ullah says:

    No matter how many members there are in your community, but as Dhruve stated that they must be real and you must have gained their trust.

    • This has definitely become an issue for us. We are finding we have to clear 10 to 20 spam profiles a day. They’re hard to spot until they attack.

  4. Hello,

    First of all thank you Darren Rowse for giving a great opportunity to talented people to write a guest post!
    Jeremy Miller this article was extraordinary and extremely informative!! People who are struggling to improve their groups or fanpages need this kind of information…

    I can honestly tell you that a lot of people actually cannot improve their groups because they really don’t understand or they simply don’t know the steps you have to follow in order to build such a community. Also I believe that people who fail they really don’t work consistently but they want fast branding and money!

    My opinion is that if you have the access to the right information, work to the direction and having some experience then you can succeed in online business!!

    Best regards,
    Zouras

  5. J. Delancy says:

    I know that promoting is less time consuming than building a community through engagement. This is why promotion instead of engagement is so popular.

  6. Samuel says:

    Oh, I love that. I also learnt it while trying to monetise http://www.fb.me/uniloringist . It’s not easy though but when you blog on an already popular subject with relevant content- things get pretty easier.

    I’ll advise you use moderate promotion with engagement- that works better. Think of it- engagement is promotion to people you already know without paying and promotion is trying to engage as much as possible people both known and unknown.

  7. @ConnorMeaks says:

    The 1000 number is an interesting one. I think finding members that genuinely WANT to be a part of ‘your’ community is the most difficult issue for brands – thats why we end up seeing greasy promotional crap. People are becoming desensitized to broadcasted marketing messaging… they can sniff out the BS from a mile away.

    Intrinsic motivation is the driver of communities. You have to shift the psychology from what you want your prospective community members to do (ie like ur page, follow us, join group… etc) to what the brand can do for them.

    It’s pretty tricky, but if you can make it easy for people to understand the benefit for them, they’ll be seduced into your community.

    • Good point Connor. I talk about this in my ebook (http://www.stickybranding.com/nobody-likes-to-dance-alone). The connective tissue of your community has to be based on a Point of Sharing — a shared interest, shared experience or shared value. My community is based on a shared interest. People join the group, because they’re interested in the idea of growing a “sticky brand.”

      The key to growing a vibrant community is recognizing it’s not about you, it’s about everyone else. Focusing on others tends to cut out the promotional garbage.

  8. Samuel says:

    It should be that way. Networking and following through with each contact is key to gaining a large following.

    Congrats on building your group with that many members, all done with alot of hard work.

  9. You made my day, Jeremy! I am not a marketer, but I am a blogger who is working hard at building community. You’ve put my thoughts down on paper about what troubles me about the common usage of social utilities such as Twitter. It’s a conversation, and we can’t continue it without community.

  10. Whilst I don’t want to make it seem harder, I’ve always worked on the the 2,000 level. If you have 2,000 engaged users who value and trust what you say and what you do — you’ve got a million dollar businesses if you want it.

    If it’s 1K or 2K it’s all about the tipping point — and those levels are the tipping points for a community where relationship and conversations drive value. Everything builds momentum once you reach that point.

    Some great lesson in there about not dreaming about reaching the dizzy heights of others (who’ve been at it for years and years) but focusing on hitting your first milestone and building from there.

  11. Reed Nixon says:

    That’s quite a start. I like the way you think it out… we need community and networking. And thanks for the suggestions.

  12. In order to appeal to a wider audience on network in order to survive, generally your scripts need to be, at a base level, and to ahcieve this you need a good relationship with your readers.

  13. I agree with you. You have to start somewhere; and at 1000, it is up to you to build your audience.

  14. j says:

    Hi jeremmy!
    I really agree with you.Its not really easy to build a community of 1000 but when you build it then you really have some community on your side.Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  15. So what is the best way to get those kinds of numbers???

    • Hi Brandon, I don’t think there is a one-size fits all solution for this question. Each community will have to employ its own strategy to connect, engage and recruit members. But the fundamental components of a community building strategy are straight forward:

      First, target your own network of 1st and 2nd degree connections. These are the easiest people to invite (recruit), because you already have a relationship with them (at some level hopefully).

      Second, grow your network by connecting with other communities. This guest post is a good example of a tactic of engaging new communities. By sharing my content with the ProBlogger community I am able to make new connections + introduce new people to my communities.

  16. Roger Pierce says:

    Jeremy is my community- building hero. Be sure to read his eBook on the subject.

  17. Thanks for the really thoughtful post. Another author (Anne Lyle) retweet it, and this very much applies to our communities/personal brands as well.