I’m not a Community Manager like my friend @NikkiElizDemere (she’s amazing, isn’t she?), but I have been part of many communities.
Starting from fanfiction forums when I was a teen to this day (at 28), I’ve been an active member/moderator/manager of almost 20 communities, although some might not qualify as communities depending on the definition you’re going with. My definition is simply:
A community is a group of people with a common purpose — whether it’s an interest, a project or a goal.
It’s really hard for a startup to become a community. And yet there’s a perfect example for how it can be done successfully under our noses — Product Hunt. I’m not saying this to join the *buzz*, it’s just a fact.
But it didn’t happen overnight.
The key here is that Ryan Hoover already had a community built via his blog, his tweets, and his curations. Once you have a number of people backing you up, it’s just a matter of leveraging that network to build the community you want.
Another example is buffer. It’s not the typical community because there’s no buffer platform, just the tool and the team. But they’re SO amazing that you feel as though it’s a community. And it’s just a service — something you USE and don’t care about who else uses it.
And here lies my point:
There’s a way to move up the pyramid and still have your “ideal community”, but you can’t start from the top.
For example, before I grew my own “collaborative community” back in 2012, I already had a network of writers on twitter, whom I later called out on Goodreads. (The whole story’s here if you’re interested.) Another example: you have your contacts on twitter and decide to make a curation with them. OR you’ve got your network and decide to start a Slack tribe, which is more likely these days. Not to mention Slack groups automatically become same-interest communities, and are immediately closer to the objective.
Confused? That’s my fault. Just read on…
Communities follow a natural progression, which I’ve outlined in the form of a pyramid. And whatever you say, you and I both know what the objective is: a platform. To get there, there’s an hierarchy, and here it is:
← The Pyramid of Communities
First let’s look at the types of communities.
0. dormant community — every community is dormant until someone flips the switch and makes it an active community. Whether it’s the founders, the members, the … aliens?! The key is to make people connect. Without this, the community is a dud.
There are 2 types of dormant communities — one that “acts the part” and one that has the potential. Obviously, one is more valuable than the other. 😉
0.1. The community’s there on paper but its members are not actively engaging. So most startups that try to be a platform from the start suffer this fate — the people are strangers, everybody’s just sharing their stuff, and in the end, nobody’s really interested in anyone else but themselves.
0.2. The community’s there (in the form of a network) but it hasn’t been activated. So, for example, a group of people on twitter. It’s not quite a community because it doesn’t serve a common purpose. It’s just a network with the potential to become a community. You have to “cash it in”.
Once a community has been activated, things get interesting.
But before I outline the 3 main types, bear in mind: the order is based on size, but that doesn’t automatically mean that startups evolve in this order. For example, any of the first two communities can grow into each other or grow into a platform, but the platform still remains the highest option. There’s really no wrong way to go except starting from the top.
- Collaborative Community — this community has a common goal. It’s usually to make something or several somethings together. The common goal automatically connects people and creates long-lasting friendships. They’re usually small ones, but I also know a big one: HitRECord. (Typical examples of small ones are anthology projects and curations.)
- Same-Interest Community — this community is based on the notion that every one of its members has one common interest. Like Product Hunt. Like the subreddit groups on Reddit. Like NaNoWriMo. Like buffer.
- The Platform — Whether it’s for sharing photos, articles or video, this community is a network of people from all over, with all kinds of interests, and it usually contains subgroups of people with similar interests, so that it’s not just a faceless blob, but a matrix.
If a startup is trying to be a platform from the start, it will fail.
I would recommend no startup EVER try to be a platform from the start. It’s better to start small — like a collaboration or a tool — and grow from there. While a lot of factors contribute to the gradual growth of a startup, sometimes it’s as simple as the founder’s personality that makes the difference, and if this is lacking in all those other startups, no wonder they’re failing. It’s not just the lack of marketing.
Sometimes it’s the lack of personality.
The other day a friend suggested Buffer became a platform. I smiled because I thought he was so right to suggest it. They can totally pull it off.
And look, not every community is meant to become a platform and not every community should aim to do so.
If your startup’s meant to be a platform, it will be.
Ryan Hoover mentioned he hopes Product Hunt would be a platform one day. When I first heard this I thought “What can it offer that Angel List doesn’t?” The answer’s obvious: Product Hunt is a really engaging community, while Angel List is not. The latter may be a platform, but do you log into it every day? No. You log on when you have to.
Put simply, Product Hunt has the advantage of being a habit.
If it does become a platform, the challenge will be keeping the engagement levels high. It’s a fact that the bigger a community becomes, the more engagement suffers, not to mention people’s tendency to be highly narcissistic and/or competitive on social sharing sites.
So it all depends on the team. I personally think they can handle it.
Sometimes I wish a community would just stay medium-sized for the sake of its users, but that’s just unrealistic. These days everyone wants the big bucks, the big dreams, and the big platforms. Everyone wants the big stuff, and I don’t blame them. I would want the same for my startup.
The higher your aim, the higher you’ll reach.
P.S. I am stupidly itching to write about the types of platforms. Would you like to read that? And of course, I’d love to hear your input on communities. Thanks! 🙂
2 thoughts on “The Pyramid of Communities: Not Every #Startup Is Meant to Be a Platform”
I think the hardest part is that people don’t know each other, so why should they care about the other person’s content or opinion. The internet is, if you ask me, a very selfish place. I think many people who start a community believe in the greater good but expecting people to give their time needs to serve personal purpose. People won’t become active unless they’ll ‘get something’ for it, which is why gamification or at least a reaction from the staff in the beginning is so important.
Hi Monika! 🙂
First of all, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. But I have to disagree with you – respectfully – in my experience, the Internet has been nothing but nurturing and mind-expanding. People are super helpful and understanding as long as you are honest, open, and care about them and what they do. As for communities, I have been member of many that have literally created life-long relationships and even job opportunities. Currently I could not even be doing what I love for work if it hadn’t been for the amazing and helpful people I have met online and in those communities.
In my experience, if you are the first to give, people usually reciprocate by giving back. And when a community nurtures its members (like buffer) and engage them in wonderful ways, people give their time freely and happily.
I am sorry you see the Internet as a selfish place. How can I help you see it differently? 🙂 You are awesome, keep doing amazing things, Monika!