How to Build a Thriving Community
Back in 2014, there was something worth setting my alarm for every Thursday at 6am. There was a purpose behind that extra little spring in my step, the way I smiled as I got ready, and rushed out the door around 7:30am.
I was living in San Francisco at the time and in the early days of starting my business—everything felt new, and fresh, and exciting, and…terrifyingly lonely. Until I found my Thursday ritual.
That ritual was a group of musicians and industry professionals called Balanced Breakfast that got together every Thursday at 8am to share our struggles, celebrate our wins, and talk shop about the industry and our place in it. Sometimes we were a group of 15, other times a group of 50. But always, we were each other’s biggest support system.
For those two hours every week, I felt like I was surrounded by my closest friends, the people who knew and understood me and my business better than anyone else could—and I lived for it. I woke up early for it, I showed up for it every week, and when I moved back to Boston seven months later I helped start new chapters across the East Coast and the South, which was the start of taking Breakfast to 30+ cities internationally. I flew out to speak at the first BB conference in San Francisco last year, and I still go to meetings anytime I pass through a city that has a chapter, and (as you can see) I tell people about it every chance I get.
That is the power of community.
That is what it means to create a following of people who believe so much in what you’re doing, that they want to be as involved as possible at every single turn, even when they can’t physically be there.
What I want you to know going into this is simple: there is a beautiful power to being able to reach people at the heart of what they believe and connect over and that you can do it in a true and powerful way.
That’s what I want you to remember throughout these tips—this isn’t about having the most audience members or the most followers. This isn’t a numbers game. This is about building a movement of people who believe what you believe. Do that, and you can change the world.
CREATE A SPACE FOR YOUR AUDIENCE
This can be in person, online, or both, but it’s crucial you have a space where your audience can be wholly themselves, and where they can directly interact with other super fans.
Online, consider a Facebook group as the easiest option. I’m part of a private group for superfans of one of my favorite bands and I have to tell you, it’s one of the greatest places to hang out especially during a tour or album cycle, because it’s just tons of inside jokes and references that none of my friends would get but these people get it and it’s because we love the same band, we cling to the same lyrics, we get the same things—and that brings us closer to the band, because we feel included and understood.
Likewise, I have a few favorite entrepreneur specific Facebook groups that I always turn to when I have a question or to find inspiration because I know the culture of those particular countries speak to my own desires and ethos. I know inside of them, I’ll feel taken care of and at home.
At our Balanced Breakfast meetings, we had a pretty obvious common interest: our careers in the music industry. Even still, we started each meeting with different ice breaker questions that had nothing to do with music but let us show our playful side. It served as a clever way to let our guard down, get to know one another, and loosen up. As it turns out, these are also some of the key ingredients to getting people to feel like they belong—let them have fun.
Within your audience, you and your followers already have quite a lot in common—you just have to figure out what it is, and then introduce it through ways that put them at ease. A huge part of this comes down to your branding. This will be a key part of finding and then nurturing your base, so take the time to get to know what it is you’re all about, and how you can hone in on that. Whatever you do, don’t expect the product or service to be what bonds you—because it won’t.
What will create superfans and keep them around is something that goes deeper and taps into their own beliefs and the way they see the world. Try to narrow it down to just one or two main beliefs and then make everything you do about that—your photos, your events, every newsletter you send, every Instagram post you make, the way you conduct interviews or write blogs—all of these things should have the same consistent message and feel.
SHOW THEM APPRECIATION
With Balanced Breakfast, we showed appreciation for others in a myriad of ways. We went to each other’s shows, we shared each other’s new music, we talked about the community to our friends, and we showed up for each other. If you want to turn your audience into a true community, you have to make sure your followers know you’re there for them, but also that they show up for each other. One person can not be responsible for running the community so it’s crucial the community takes care of itself, even and especially when you can’t be there.
If you don’t know what I mean, check out your favorite band or company’s closed Facebook group and watch the way people interact with each other. Watch the way they joke, or jump on someone’s post asking for sad song recs because their partner just broke their heart or for advice on which email provider to use. In true communities, no one has to beg for attention or recognition, they simply have to show up and ask—make sure that’s true of your community too by creating an open, inviting space for followers to do that, and then encouraging that discussion and participation.
Then, be sure you’re rewarding the ones who naturally take the lead. Make them moderators of the online group. Ask them to head your merch table or be your VA. Create a street team and ask them to lead their city’s division. Show them you appreciate them, and watch them flourish.