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You Shouldn't Start a Community
Just trust me, okay?
👋 Hey community creators! Welcome to my newsletter where, every week, I share lessons that unpack how communities work and help you build your community business.
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Let’s dive into today’s post…
You shouldn’t start a community.
“Why not?” you ask. “It sounds like fun!”
Where do I begin…
First off, it will take 10x more time than you expect. Community creators are like mini-CEOs, managing product, design, content, marketing, and support all in one. It’s a massive amount of work.
Thinking about building community on the side of your already full plate? Think again.
And your community never sleeps! You're enjoying a lovely dinner with your loved ones when BZZZZZZ, a message from one of your members: "Did you see what's going on in the community? 😥" Dinner over. Good feelings gone.
Are you the type that needs a lot of clarity that you’re succeeding? Well you’ll never truly know if your community is working. You’ll have some basic engagement metrics you can track like “active members” and can mix in a little Net Promoter Score, sure. But you’ll never have a definitive answer if your community is “healthy”.
And you’ll never know exactly how it’s impacting your business. Unless the community is your product, it’s always going to be a couple layers removed from revenue.
Community tools and tech are okay but none of them will do everything you need. You have two options for platforms:
Use big social platforms like Slack, Facebook, and Discord to host your community and sacrifice ownership of member data, control of design, and power over distribution
Use an owned platform like Circle, Discourse, Mighty, Khoros, etc. where you’ll have to compete for attention with the big dogs and their billion-dollar product teams
You’re also going to have to piece together different tools to make your online community, your events, your chats, your analytics, and your content all work together and integrations are not the community spaces’ strong suit. It’s going to get messy.
Still not convinced? *rolls up sleeves*
Get ready for the never-ending cycle of content creation. You’ll be like a hamster on a wheel, constantly searching for ideas to keep your community engaged.
There will be times when you post to the community and get zero responses, making you feel like the kid who invited the whole class to their birthday party and the only kid who showed up was forced by their parents who promised them a new PlayStation game if they spent an hour there. Oddly specific? Perhaps. Perhaps…
Oh, and did I mention that you’ll have to deal with PEOPLE every. single. day.
Be ready to play therapist, camp counselor, and parent. Community members will confide in you, seeking advice and support for personal struggles. Sometimes they’ll be mad at each other. Sometimes they’ll be mad at you. You’ll have to manage conflict. You’ll have to deal with toxic community members. It will test your patience to the limit.
There will be a lot of tough decisions to be made. At times, you'll have to enforce rules, remove disruptive members, or make choices that may upset a portion of your community. You'll be subjected to relentless scrutiny. (Some) members will analyze your every decision, dissect your intentions, and publicly criticize your every move.
You’ll have to exclude people who aren’t a fit for your community. People will be mad that you won’t include them. They’ll call you a gatekeeper, or worse. You’ll work to build a more inclusive and welcoming community, but you’ll never be perfect, and there will always be people who blame you for making them feel left out.
Don’t forget about the trolls, lurking in the darkness. Keyboard warriors who seem to exist solely to spread negativity. Of course, most members won’t be like this. 99% of them are going to be delightful. But the 1% who aren’t will take up the most space.
You’ll be lonely. Which will feel weird since you’re literally surrounded by people. But being a community leader is an isolating experience. You’ll need to find other community builders to talk about the things you can’t say in front of your community or team or your members.
Your social life may take a hit because you’ll use up all your extroversion during the day. While you're busy nurturing your community, your friends and loved ones might start to wonder if you've fallen off the face of the earth.
Your community will consume your thoughts, even when you're not “logged in”. Community-building becomes a constant mental background noise that never truly fades away.
You get the picture. Building a community is no walk in the park.
But if you’ve read all of this and you still want to do it, you just can’t imagine a world where your community doesn’t exist, and it’s a community that you deeply crave, then you have no choice… you MUST build the community.
As you hopefully picked up on, I used ✨exaggeration✨ throughout this post to make the point, and I’m only telling one side of the story. If community building was all bad, I wouldn’t have done it for almost 20 years. Building community has given me some of the most challenging experiences in my life, but also the most rewarding. Even though it’s hard to measure, it has undoubtedly driven a great deal of financial growth for the businesses I’ve built and helped build. The best part is watching people find true connection and belonging in a space that you’ve built. It’s the most fulfilling experience in the world.
But don’t do it for anyone else. Do it for yourself. Because the challenges I shared are all very real, and the only way you’re going to stick with it is if it brings you a great deal of joy and financial security.
You probably shouldn’t build community, but I hope you do. We need you more than ever.
What are some other reasons someone might NOT want to start a community? Drop em in the comments.
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🍭 Brain Candy for Community Nerds
Here are five things I’ve been reading and thinking about in the last couple weeks:
Community is content. The difference is instead of creating content to be consumed, you create content to connect.
The Good Enough Job (out today!) is a book every community creator will want to pick up. If you’re like me, you’re a perfectionist and get sucked into the never-ending amount of things you can do for your community. This book will help you learn what’s “good enough”.
Ben Lang is one of my favorite community builders in the game. This is a great behind-the-scenes look into how he used community to scale Notion to 20M+ users.
The idea that communities happen organically is a myth. Whenever you see a thriving community, you can be sure there’s a team working furiously behind the scenes to make it happen.
When Disneyland first opened, there were no roads or paths. Just open space. They let people walk wherever they wanted, and paths naturally formed in the grass. That’s where they would eventually build paved paths. This phenomenon, as I’ve just learned from Adrian Speyer, is known as a “desire path” and is a perfect analogy for how to build community by letting member actions dictate the design.
Bonus: Did you know there’s a community for tall people?! I’m obsessed. Thinking about doing a breakdown of this community in a future newsletter. Reply or comment with “📏” if you think I should write it.
That’s all for this week!
I’m feeling a little behind after a lot of travel. In the past couple of weeks we flew to California and back, I spent a wonderful day seeing friends and speaking in NYC, and then a weekend down in Long Beach with my family.
I have some sort of strep-like sickness, and our baby decided that sleep was overrated last night. And tomorrow we fly to Nashville and Louisville. If you have any sleep and white blood cells you can spare, I’ll give you my mailing address.
That all said, life is good and I’ve been feeling overly grateful that I’m getting to live the life I’m living.
Also cool: my hometown tried out a new community experiment this weekend called “The Long Beach Porch Fest” where they had five houses host live music on their porch for three hours. It was a big hit!
One of the “porches” was also at the Long Beach Historical Museum which, despite growing up there, I had no idea existed. It was fascinating to see the old pictures of what our little beach town used to look like.
On the business front, I’m working this week on building out my content schedule for the newsletter since I’ve fallen behind on writing with all the travel, and on my “social media operating system” which will help me post to social media more sustainably and effectively.
Until next week!
Thanks for building community.