A founder’s guide to community
When to invest in community, how to get started, setting goals, crafting a strategy, hiring, scaling, and much more—guest post by David Spinks
👋 Hey, Lenny here! Welcome to a ✨ free monthly edition ✨ of my weekly newsletter. Each week I tackle reader questions about product, growth, working with humans, and anything else that’s stressing you out about work. Subscribe to get this newsletter weekly.
Q: My co-founder and I are thinking about building a community around our product. Should we? And how do we get started?
Community—so hot right now. Ask any founder if they’ve thought about building a community and 9 out of 10 times you’ll get an immediate yes. And for good reason. Companies like Atlassian, Glossier, Datadog, Twitch, dbt, Salesforce, Peloton, and many others have succeeded in large part due to the passionate community they built around their early products. A thriving community creates a sticky and evangelical user base, becomes a great source of ideas, and can even become a clever way to scale customer support (e.g. Airbnb):
To guide you on your community-building journey (and even make sure it’s worth doing), I’ve invited David Spinks (co-founder of CMX—a community of 30K+ community managers; host of the Masters of Community podcast; author of The Business of Belonging; and VP of Community at Bevy—a conference and community events platform) to share his hard-fought wisdom with us. When I saw the first draft of this post, this was my response:
Below, you’ll find a plug-and-play comprehensive guide to building your product community. Here’s what David has in store for you:
1. Should you even be investing in community?
Aligning community to business objectives
Aligning community to your members’ goals
Who should own community?
What to look for in a community hire
2. What does a community strategy look like?
The three levels of community strategy
Creating community-level goals
Creating tactical-level goals
3. How do you build a meaningful community?
Designing community programs
Launching your online community
Launching a community-led event program
Community! It’s the talk of startupland these days.
In the 2021 CMX Community Industry Report, 86% of companies said that “community is critical to [their] mission” and 69% of companies said that they “plan to increase their investment in community in the next year.”
And according to First Round, even in 2019, 80% of startups were investing in community, and 28% considered it to be “their moat and critical to their success.”
This article takes many of the core lessons and frameworks from my work and applies them specifically to the needs of founders and startups who are just getting started with community.
I’ll share some of the most common questions companies have about starting communities and give you actionable steps to get started. You’ll also be able to put the frameworks I share here into practice using A Founder’s Guide to Community Worksheet as you work your way through.
1. Should we even be investing in community?
Good! You’re starting with the right question. With “community” being so hot these days, companies are quick to launch communities without stopping to ask: Why?
Community is a big investment, and it’s a very long-term commitment. It should not be taken lightly.
Community is more than just a feeling of belonging. In the context of business, it’s a structure for creating value. A simple way to understand it is to compare “community” to an “audience.”
To build an audience, you help people.
To build a community, you help people help each other.
It’s a subtle but massive difference in mindset. Traditionally, businesses create all the value for the consumer. Community-driven businesses create spaces for consumers to create value for each other.
Take Lenny’s Newsletter, for example. Lenny has built an incredible audience by creating valuable content that helps founders and product leaders. But Lenny saw an opportunity to scale the value he could provide to all of you by offering a community where members could support each other, and invited members of the community like me to contribute content. Now the amount of content and value that’s created isn’t limited by Lenny’s time and resources; it’s limited only by the motivation and ability of the community to contribute.
Community unlocks the ability to scale value creation, with a relatively small team. It’s how Duolingo is able to run 2,600 events every month with a community team of three people. It’s how 83% of questions asked by Salesforce customers are answered by other customers. It’s how a subreddit with 155,000 members helps Notion users exchange ideas for how to be more successful with the product. They all empower their community members to contribute.
There are lots of ways for members to contribute and take on leadership roles, including:
Moderators: keep content clean and organized in the community
Facilitators: start conversations in the community and host discussions
Event organizers: start local chapters and self-organize local or virtual events
Ambassadors: advocate on behalf of the brand
Content contributors: write articles, create videos, or develop other forms of content
Committee members: join a customer advisory board to guide product direction
Power users: achieve status by being the most active members of a platform
Mentors: dedicate time to supporting other customers one on one or in small groups
Building community starts with creating a sense of belonging. That’s the baseline. But exponential growth happens when members start taking an active role.
Aligning community to business objectives
The next question is: Why should we build community? As with any investment, it’s important to understand the business goals before you start investing your time and resources.
There are six objectives that a community can drive. To help businesses wrap their heads around the options, use the SPACES model:
Support: Create spaces for customers to answer questions and solve problems for each other. Example: Autodesk support community
Product: Create spaces for customers to share product feedback and ideas with each other and with your team. Example: Atlassian feedback section
Acquisition: Build programs that help you grow your pipeline and customer base. Example: Branch’s Mobile Growth community
Contribution: Enable members to contribute content, services, or something else of value to a platform you create. Example: Notion Template Gallery
Engagement: Connect customers to each other around their common interests in order to increase customer retention. Example: Culture Amp’s Culture First
Success: Enable customers to teach each other how to better use your product and be more successful in their careers. Example: Salesforce’s Trailblazer program
Each objective comes with a different set of metrics that you’ll likely want to use to measure the business impact of the community:
In my experience, the objective that startups focus on depends on their current stage.
At this stage, your goal is likely going to be around Product—collecting feedback and insights that will help you solve a clear problem for your customers. The added value of having a community is being able to share updates and collect feedback quickly from a group of your beta users in a shared space instead of asking them individually. They can respond to each other’s ideas and feedback. They can ask questions of you and of each other in a shared space, which can be easier than emailing you directly. And you can observe the organic conversations they’re having, which can bring up unique insights they wouldn’t have shared with you directly.
Your product is working, and your goal is to start growing your customer base. At this stage, companies’ community objective is usually Acquisition and Engagement. Your community can be a lead-gen source, bringing new prospects into your funnel. You may also start to identify early ambassadors who want to advocate for your product and refer new customers. Hosting events will reach new people on a local level, and empowering your members to self-organize events will reach regions you don’t have access to. Events and online communities will also deepen your customers’ connection to your product and brand, increasing retention and customer lifetime value.
You’ve already grown your customer base to the point where there’s an ongoing need to support them and help them better use your product. At this point, companies usually focus on Support and Success. Your community will allow your customers to answer questions and solve problems for each other, rather than your team needing to support all the customers yourself. You can also build educational communities where your customers can teach each other how to better use your product and help each other grow in their careers.
Note: If your product is a platform like a marketplace, an open-source or crypto project, collaborative consumption, wikis, social networks, or anything else where the product itself is built or populated by users, then you’ll likely focus on Contribution from day one. Your product only works if you’re contributing, and building a community to engage and activate your most loyal contributors will be really important.
Of course, with any community program, you get the added benefit of making customers feel a sense of belonging and connection, which should lead to increased loyalty and an all-around more meaningful experience with your brand. But that’s the icing on the cake. Focus on the tangible ROI that community will drive for your business when making the decision to invest. You’ll want to be able to say with confidence, and data, that community had a measurable impact on your business.
Aligning community to your members’ goals
It’s great that you have business goals, but if your members aren’t motivated to contribute to those objectives, your community program will fail. For example, if you want product feedback but people aren’t motivated to try your product and share their feedback with you, your community will be silent. Or if you want members to start organizing events but your members don’t have that motivation, there’s a misalignment that will result in failure.
You have to talk to your potential members and identify their needs and motivations.
It’s the simplest thing you can do to start building community today, yet it’s something that companies constantly skip over. Why? Because talking to people takes time and effort. It requires patience and a lot of listening. It can be emotionally taxing to get direct feedback. And it’s just more fun to brainstorm ideas and build things quickly.
But make no mistake, the number one thing you can start doing today is talking to your members. It has the dual impact of building deeper relationships with members and giving you insights into how you can improve your product and community experiences. Email is OK, but it’s much better to talk live on the phone or in person. “Get out of the building,” as they say.
Your customers are going to join your community because of benefits, not belonging. Belonging comes after someone has been a part of a community and formed relationships. What’s going to get them in the door in the first place is a clear understanding of how the community will help them solve a problem or achieve a goal. Those are the questions you should aim to answer in your member research.
How to conduct user research about a potential community:
Start a spreadsheet of the people that you’ll reach out to for an interview. Start with people that you already have relationships with, since they’ll be more likely to say yes to an interview. But also make sure you reach out to people you don’t know well but you think are a good potential fit for the community, as they’ll likely be more honest with you. Include criteria about them that will help you ensure you’re talking to a diverse group of people. That criteria could be: (1) roles—job titles, departments, company size, etc., and (2) demographics—race, sex, age, location, etc.
Reach out to 10 of them to start, and ask for a 30-minute call. Take lots of notes, and pull out the two or three key insights that come from each conversation. After completing your interviews, reach back out to each member to thank them for their time and feedback. Share the key themes from your research with them and how it’s shaping the community plan. Ask them if you’re on the right track and if they’d be interested in being a founding member of the community.
As you grow your community, make a habit of speaking with members regularly. Our team members all make a commitment to talk to at least one community member every week.
The key questions to answer in your interviews (part 1 of the worksheet):
Once you’ve done your research on what your business goals are and what your members’ needs are, you can rank each of the objectives and narrow it down to the one to three objectives you’ll focus on (I wouldn’t recommend going bigger than that). I also recommend accounting for how measurable each objective is for you right now, because if you can’t measure it, you’ll have no way of knowing if your community program is successful.
Here’s an exercise you can do to help identify the business objectives for your community (part 2 of the worksheet):
Rate each of the SPACES objectives by the following criteria:
Business impact: How important is this objective to your business in the next 6-12 months? If you work under a specific department, how important is this objective to your department?
Measurability: How easy will it be for you to access the data you need to measure this objective?
Member motivation: To what extent do you believe your members will be motivated to participate in a program built for this specific objective?
Then add the numbers up and put in your total rating in the last column to see which objectives are rated highest and, therefore, may be the most important ones for you to focus on.
Who should own community?
For startups, it’s really common for one of the founders to own community at the start. It makes sense—the founder wants to be as hands-on as possible to stay close to customers. And you may not have the funds to hire a full-time community lead.
My recommendation is to start there, and look to hire a full-time community professional when the founder is no longer able to handle the workload and you have the resources to hire someone.
That said, if you have the resources already because you’ve been bringing in revenue or you’ve raised funding, and you’ve decided that you want to take a community-led approach to achieving your goals, then you should hire a full-time community lead right away.
It doesn’t mean that the founders won’t be involved in the community. On the contrary, it’s critical that everyone in the company sees community building as part of their role. And a great community lead will prioritize keeping the founders engaged in the community. They’ll also be able to start setting up the systems and processes to build and engage the community, measure it, and communicate updates to the entire team. A community professional’s job isn’t just engagement; it’s to build out the infrastructure that will make the entire community operation successful.
Look at community like you would any other critical role in your business. Take product, for example. The founders often own product first and then hire a product expert to take the lead on operationalizing the product process. And if you hire a junior PM, you’ll have to provide them with a lot of guidance and training. If you hire a senior PM, you’ll feel more confident in handing it off, which will free up more time and brainspace for you.
Community is the same. If you hire a junior community manager, they’ll bring lots of good energy and ideas, but they won’t have existing systems and processes from past experiences. You’ll have to provide them with that guidance or help them find it elsewhere. If you hire someone who has led community programs and teams before, you’ll be able to more readily hand off community operations to that person.
What to look for in a community hire
The number one thing I recommend looking for in your first community hire is a genuine curiosity for the topic that your community is built around. They don’t have to have a lot of experience in the topic of the community. I’ve seen many community professionals be successful at leading communities of engineers when they themselves weren’t engineers. If they’re curious about the topic, it will make all of their interactions more authentic. Community members will sense their authenticity and will be more likely to engage with them.
Some questions I like to ask when interviewing candidates for a Community Engagement Manager position are:
Tell me about your background and why you’re interested in leading this community.
We want to make sure that the person in this role has experience putting together an engagement plan for online community programs. Can you tell me about a time you worked on a problem like this?
What separates good from exceptional when leading communities?
What skills do you think are required to drive quality community engagement?
Say we’ve been seeing a drop in engagement consistently over three months. What would you do to assess the situation and turn things around?
What values are really important to you when it comes to the teams/companies that you work with?
How would your current or past colleagues describe you as a leader?
How would they describe an area that you could improve on?
Keep in mind that community isn’t all about being a people person and driving engagement. A lot of community professionals function in more of an operational capacity. They work behind the scenes, creating systems and processes to make the community run more efficiently. And instead of engaging in the community directly, they may look to empower members of the community to take the lead on content creation.
Some of the operational tasks that a community professional might take on:
Managing analytics dashboards and reporting
Creating processes for common community programs like running an event or recruiting new leaders
Optimizing the community journey and new-member onboarding
Creating automations to reduce repetitive tasks
Vetting and implementing new technology into the community stack
When hiring your first community lead, spend some time considering what their tasks will be. Specifically, if you expect them to focus more on engagement, operations, or both. For a brand-new community, it’s likely you’ll want them to be primarily focused on engagement. For a community you’re ready to scale, you may want them to be more focused on operations.
2. What does a community strategy look like?
The three levels of community strategy
Once you’ve decided that you’d like to invest in community, you understand your business goals, and you’ve determined who will be responsible for running the community program, you’re ready to start mapping out your community strategy. Mazel tov!
Your strategy should include three parts:
Business-level goals—which we discussed in part 1
Community-level goals—which we’ll discuss here in part 2
Tactical goals—what you’ll do day-to-day to build community and drive business impact
I recommend planning your community out on an annual, quarterly, and monthly basis. At CMX and Bevy, our community team uses objectives and key results (OKRs). At the end of every quarter, we review the past quarter’s results and set new OKRs for the upcoming quarter. These goals roll up into our business’s annual goals.
I recommend planning to report on community progress every month. We send out a monthly CMX Report that updates the rest of our team on each of the three levels I listed above. Here’s an example of the table of contents from a recent report:
Revisit your community strategy every quarter and set new community- and tactical-level goals. Try not to change it up too much within the quarter. At the least, your top-level business goals should remain the same unless there’s a big shift for the business.
Creating community-level goals
Building on your business-level goals, the second level of your community strategy focuses on your community goals, and the programs you’ll run to achieve those goals. Programs are anything that you create to connect your members to each other. It can be an asynchronous space like a forum, Slack, Discord, or message board. Or it can be a synchronous experience like a meetup or conference.
The idea is that by building successful community programs, you will drive business impact. It’s not always going to be direct causation, such that customers who participate in your community are spending more as a result. But companies will often do correlation analysis that show how members who participate in their community are more likely to buy the product, renew a contract, refer new customers, etc.
At CMX, we focus on acquisition as our business goal and use specific actions in the community, like joining a space or attending an event, as a touchpoint in the sales journey. So at the end of each month and quarter, we can report how many leads and closed deals were sourced from community programs and how many were influenced by community programs.
We don’t do this, but you could get more specific and look at activity rates in the community as a “touchpoint” to see how many people became a customer after, say, being active in the community for three straight months, or after becoming a top 10% contributor.
For startups, and even for larger enterprises, this is probably overkill. Keep it simple. Are members in your community taking actions that are valuable to your business (buying, renewing, evangelizing, contributing, etc.)? If yes, then you’re good.
You’re not going to be able to measure exactly how community health equates to business ROI. There are going to be a lot of things you do to build a healthy community that don’t have measurable ROI. But if your team is aligned on the belief that what’s good for your community is good for your business, and you’re measuring what you can measure, then you’re set up for success. If your company expects every single community action and program to have measurable ROI, then you have unrealistic expectations and you should step back.
Once you’re aligned that community health is important, you can measure and report on the health of your community over time. To do that, I recommend measuring three things:
Activity: Are your members participating regularly?
Value: Are your members getting the benefits that they came for?
Belonging: Do your members feel connected, safe, and included?
For activity, a simple metric you can track is “% of total members who are active every month,” aka monthly active users (MAUs). Activity is often defined as logging in at least once in the past 30 days, but you can get more specific and look at comment and post rates as well.
If you’re just kicking off a community for the first time and you’re curating a small group of founding members, this percentage should be very high, at least 50%. As your community grows, the percentage will naturally go down.
For reference, the metrics for CMX community spaces today are:
CMX Slack (4,200 members): 14% MAU (active is defined as posted, commented on, or reacted to a message or comment in a channel or DM)
CMX Hub Facebook group (11,800 members): 18% MAU (active is defined as viewed, posted, commented, or reacted to anything in the FB group)
If you want to go a little more in-depth, you can use what is called the stickiness score, which is DAU/MAU. Essentially it says: of the members who participated at least once in the past 30 days, here’s how many participated in one day. It speaks a little bit more concisely to the quality of contribution.
In addition to your online community metrics, you should also track repeat attendance at your events.
For value and belonging, you can answer these questions through interviews and surveys:
For value, we use Net Promoter Score (NPS) as one measure of the value members get from the community that we can track over time. We’ll also ask two questions in surveys:
What value do you expect to get from the community?
On a scale of 1-10, to what extent do you feel you’re getting that value?
Both NPS and the 1-10 rating give us a measurable way to track the value of our community over time.
For belonging, we ask members to provide ratings (1-10) on questions like:
Do you feel safe in the CMX community?
Do you feel like your voice is heard?
Have you formed relationships with other members of the community?
Do you feel included?
And we give them the option to share additional context on why they selected their ratings in a long-form answer, if they’d like to.
We send out one large annual community health survey to all of our members, and a shorter health survey to every member 90 days after they join the community. Here’s how we run our annual survey process.
Once you start collecting this data, you’ll be able to use it to inform future goals. You might focus on increasing MAUs by 10%, for example, or increase NPS by 5 points.
Here’s a cheat sheet for measuring community health (also in our worksheet):
Creating tactical-level goals
On the third level of your community strategy, you’ll lay out all the specific things you plan to do in the upcoming month and quarter in order to improve community health and engagement and drive business impact.
Examples of tactics could be:
Host 3 educational events
Create a community member onboarding process
Write a set of community values and guidelines
Personally message 10 passive members
Post in the community every morning
You should assign goals to any tactic that you work on so that you can determine if it worked and therefore you should keep doing it, or if it didn’t work and you should cut it. It’s not always possible to measure every tactic, but do your best.
For events, we send a survey after every event asking for NPS and asking members to share their experience at the event.
For onboarding, you might look at new-member activation rates.
For community values and guidelines, you can ask in your next survey if members are aware of the values and if they align with them.
For personally messaging members, track to see if those members become more active after hearing from you.
For posting in the community every morning, track the response rate to your posts to determine what’s resonating with the community.
3. How do we build a meaningful community?
Designing community programs
Before you kick off a new program, I recommend mapping out your community design so you can be intentional, rather than leave it to chance. After you launch a program, revisit your community design every three to six months to find opportunities to evolve the experience and keep things fresh.
All community programs have some of the same fundamental elements, what we call the 7Ps of community:
People: Who the program is focused on
Purpose: Why they need this program
Place: Where members will gather
Participation: What members will do
Policy: Guidelines and rules that will shape the experience
Promotion: How members will learn about the program
Performance: What success looks like
Let’s look at an example of how the 7Ps are represented in an actual community program: TuesdaysTogether, a program run by the software company HoneyBook in which members of its community host a meetup on the second Tuesday of every month. At each event, creatives and entrepreneurs gather for coffee and conversation. Natalie Franke, the founder of Rising Tide, mapped out the 7Ps for these incredible community events:
TuesdaysTogether meetups are gatherings for small-business owners who have a desire to share their knowledge, learn from their peers, and grow together. The events are organized by local industry leaders in the community and are focused on gathering creatives and entrepreneurs including artists, bloggers, boutique owners, calligraphers, designers, event planners, florists, makeup artists, photographers, stylists, wedding pros, writers, and more.
We believe that getting out from behind your computer and building true relationships with other creative entrepreneurs is an incredible tool for success. By joining a TuesdaysTogether meetup, community members can expect to learn new business tips directly from their colleagues, grow in confidence, and find a network of compassionate professionals in their local area.
Meetups occur on the second Tuesday of the month at local coffee shops.
Meetups will vary from city to city, and each leader has the freedom to cultivate gatherings that best fit their local area. However, most gatherings include a discussion on the topic of the month followed by an open question-and-answer segment. We encourage all attendees to not just attend and listen but to actively participate in the discussion.
Every meetup is designed to be approachable, authentic, and uplifting, and embody the five Rising Tide values:
People come first.
We go the extra mile.
We love what we do.
We are fearless.
We are family.
Leaders also agree to the Rising Tide community code of conduct and are expected to uphold the values and act in accordance with the Rising Tide mission in person and online.
Local leaders promote their events and grow their local communities over time by inviting members to their local Facebook group.
A successful TuesdaysTogether meetup will receive positive reviews from attendees in a post-event survey.
This is a brief example of a 7P design, and a full 7P plan can go into much more depth. But even briefly, you can see how designing for each of these elements can give you a more clear idea of what a space or experience will look and feel like and help you get clarity on the focus, intention, and expected outcomes of the space or experience.
Each Rising Tide leader could use the 7Ps to get more specific in designing local events and experiences. They could use it for defining the key elements of local Facebook groups that the leaders use to keep their communities engaged in between events.
Launching your online community
Launching a community is a lot like hosting a party. You don’t want to invite everyone to your house and then get everything ready. You want to make sure everything is set up before people arrive, and host a pre-party so that when people arrive, the vibes are already flowing.
Your community’s pre-party is extremely important, because when anyone joins the community, they’ll observe how people are interacting with each other and they’ll replicate it. Your pre-party is the mold for what your community culture will look like moving forward. And because it’s small, it will never be easier for you to shape that mold in the way you want. Once your community is big, it will be much harder to change directions. So start small.
I’ll say it again: start small.
The biggest mistake I see companies make when launching a community is going too big too fast. Not only do you miss out on the opportunity to shape the cultural mold, it’s also a worse experience for your community members. They’ll be one of many, instead of feeling like they’re part of a curated group of select members. They’ll be lost in the noise and overwhelmed by the rush of people and content.
How small should you start? I’d recommend starting with 10 to 50 members. In the community world, the people you invite to the pre-party are commonly known as founding members. These are people who:
Have a really clear need for the community
Embody the values and culture you want to create
Aren’t so busy that they won’t be able to take an active role in starting the community
These members are part of your founding team. They’re like the concentrate in your juice. Their job is to show up in the community before there’s a reason to, because no one is there yet. And they’ll do it because:
They like to be early adopters, and take pride in being a founding member
They see value in being connected to the other founding members
They’re bought into the vision of the community
When we launched a private paid community for CMX back in 2017, we created a founding members group on Facebook to build the foundation of community before we migrated to a dedicated platform. We shared this overview with our founding members:
Your ask of these community members is simple: seed quality content and conversations in the space, so that when you start to open it up to more people, the “vibes are already flowing.” New members will see the types of questions being asked, the quality of the answers, and the kinds of people who are participating, and they’ll replicate that example.
Ask your founding members to post thoughtful questions in the community. Then message other founding members and ask them to jump in and answer those questions. Aim to get at least three quality answers per post. You can make it more structured by asking a member to do an Ask Me Anything (AMA) in the community where they get to be the expert, and it’ll generate a lot of quality content.
You can also organize curated experiences for your founding members. Host a dinner or a private Zoom call. Engage them through live experiences that help them more deeply connect with each other and feel like they’re part of something special. You can start doing this before you even have a forum or message board for them to engage in.
Tip: When you launch a new forum or message board, keep the number of channels or topics to a minimum. You may even want to start with just one “general” channel. This condenses engagement into one space and improves your ability to reach a critical mass of content and conversation in that space. Then, as the conversation grows, you can open up new channels and topics based on themes that you’re seeing in the general channel. Think about it like a party again. Say you’re opening up a club—you’ll want to keep everyone in one room so it feels full and then open up other rooms as the club fills in. If you have too much space for the initial group of people, it’ll feel empty.
Have your founding members seed content and conversations in the space for one or two weeks, then start opening it up to more members. You should still take it slow, because you don’t want to overwhelm the existing community. I like using a 2x multiplier every two weeks: 10-> 20-> 40-> 80-> 160.
Launching a community-led event program
Where companies are able to really scale their community is by empowering members of their community to self-organize events.
Take Finimize, for example. Its team of three community professionals are leading a program where an event is hosted almost every day of the year. They’re able to run more than 200 events annually by empowering members of the community to host events under their brand.
In addition to being able to scale quickly, it also personalizes the community experience for your members, since your hosts will more closely understand the needs of the communities they organize, either because it’s an in-person event and they understand the local culture, or it’s a virtual event and they focus on a specific topic.
To kick off a program like this, start by hosting the events yourself. You want to find community-market fit for your events and ensure that the format and content is resonating with your members. You’ll know your events are working when they’re growing—you’re starting to see people come back to multiple events, and attendees rate the events very highly in your post-event surveys.
Once you’ve identified an event format that works, turn it into a repeatable model that others can copy. You do this by creating a host playbook that maps out everything from:
Community mission and values
How to launch a chapter
How to promote an event
How to find a venue
Where to find design assets and resources
How to select speakers
The community code of conduct
Anything else that your hosts need to succeed
Just like in your online community, I recommend starting small with three to five hosts so you can learn with them and ensure that the model works before you start scaling it up. Identify a few people who have already expressed an interest in hosting events, and give them permission to start organizing. Do this for three months or as long as you need to feel like the program is working.
Create an application form for others to volunteer to host and share their information with you, so when you’re ready to scale, you have a list of volunteers ready to go.
When you start opening it up, review the applications and set up interviews with everyone to ensure that they’re the right fit.
It’s absolutely critical that you choose the right people to run these programs, since they’ll be representing your brand and community. Make sure they have the right motivations (genuinely care about helping others), are aligned on values, and understand the expectations you have of them.
A common expectation you can set is that they host at least one event per quarter. Sometimes hosts can host an event every month, which is ideal, but you don’t want to set too high of expectations since they’re volunteering their time.
Businesses usually reward these volunteers with swag, access to perks, invitations to exclusive events, speaker training, and other benefits. Some brands offer them a budget for their events, and some will compensate them too.
The beauty of these programs is that once you nail the model, the sky’s the limit for how big you can scale it. Google has over 1,000 Google Developer Groups around the world, for example. You can power massive communities with a relatively small team with these sorts of distributed leadership programs. For a startup with limited resources, it’s a true competitive advantage.
If you follow the playbook laid out here, a thriving community will start to form over time.
There will be hard days. There will be days when engagement is low. Or worse, there will be days when members are upset and there’s negativity in the community.
The key is to just keep showing up, keep talking to your members and making them feel heard, and keep on caring.
Eventually your community will start to grow organically and you’ll be able to take more of an operational role, optimizing the system and making it easier for your members and leaders to contribute to the community.
If you ever get stuck, you can always turn to your fellow members here in Lenny’s community, and of course the CMX community is packed with others who are building communities just like you.
Thank you for building community <3
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Relive: Product Manager (Remote-EU)
GetSetUp: Product Lead, Discovery (Remote-Global)
Morty: Founding Product Manager (Consumer)
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