Build your community before you need them

Showing up to a party without contributing anything is a great way to not be invited back...

Today’s note is a simple concept, but one I still think people miss. You need to build your community before you need them. When your company has news, a product launch, an event or something they want to spread via users socially – it’s far too late. Unless you already have a community built. While interesting news can definitely help a brand grow it is no longer your bread and butter. The world is too busy, too fast moving, too noisy. You need to show up and build connections, trust and loyalty every day (underrated).

Expecting users are going to organically spread your messages just because you have something professional media might care about is not how it works. You need to build your community before you have news to spread. Only then will you have forged a connection and built permission with a critical mass of people who will genuinely care what it is you’re doing. This happens bit by bit over time but gets easier once you reach a tipping point.

Without a community:

  • There is low or no chance anyone will organically link to you or share your ideas across platforms. If they do it’s by chance because without a community who do you have to take such an action? Maybe you’ll get lucky once in awhile but it’s not sustainable.

  • You are basically paying to reach the same audience time and time again instead of consistently increasing your community who you can tap repeatedly to spread messages. This is how most brands treat the web and the world, which is sad because it’s no longer the way it has to be. That’s how the TV industrial-complex ran but those days are long dated.

  • You have no leverage in social channels and do not position yourself for increasing returns. And remember, outposts (places you don’t own) like Twitter and Facebook only take you so far: you will never have a truly valuable community without growing opt-in at the source, too. You need to be proficient at multiple channels in the language and style appropriate to each.

Certainly there are things you can do in social channels without a community and for startups ads are a shortcut to growth (startups need to be in both the paid and organic sections of the web, there is no excuse not to use every avenue possible to get traction). But at the end of the day these items are still fleeting and provide temporary results. Like throwing kerosene on a fire, they create a spark but without a solid foundation you’re not actually lighting anything with even some degree of persistence.

In short: there is no multiplying force for any for your marketing aka ‘organic lift’ without a following surrounding your brand that has a vested interest to hear what you’re doing next (this applies to people too, not just companies). Tesla, love or hate them, are a great example of this. Their fans are rabid endorsers and supporters across all digital channels as well as in-person, led by Elon who (also love or hate him) has led from the front and been a CEO/community builder for many years now.

My friend Jeremiah had similar thoughts years ago when he encouraged users to build their network before they need them:

Those who ignore the party/conversation/network when they are content and decide to drop in when they need the network may not succeed. It’s pretty easy to spot those that are just joining the network purely to take –not to give. Therefore, be part of the party/conversation/network before you need anything from anyone. Start now, and continue to build relationships by giving now: share knowledge, help others, and become a trusted node and connector, not just an outlying ‘dot’ of a comet that swings in every 4 years or so.

Amazing and prescient advice. It’s not so different for your company. If you simply throw the promotions team at the web when you have something you want promoted you’re basically setting yourself up for failure. Your community is a long-term, high value asset that should build upon itself and provide very tangible outcomes for your company. But not if you don’t make building it a priority, before you actually need it. Start today.