It’s time for some (maybe) hard-to-swallow pills.
What do you think about when you think of your community? Whether it’s your email list with a 70% open rate, your Instagram DMs that are constantly blowing up, or your actual community on a platform like Facebook (ew) or Circle… what do you think about when you connect with those folks?
Do you see dollar signs?
Do you see how those connections can help you grow your business?
Do you think about how you can grow your followers or list to sell to more people in the future.
Welp. I have news for you. That community we were just talking about? That’s a lot of YOUs in there. You’re thinking about how the community can benefit you — and honestly, this is what we’ve been taught to do.
We’ve been taught to create communities, followings, and “lists” of people so that we have more people to sell to.
But I’ve gotta just say it, my friend: That community you’re building? It actually isn’t about you at all.
Building a community isn’t about you
By this point in the social media game, we already know that your follower number doesn’t exactly equate to an increase in financial success, or not necessarily anyways. The same goes for your email list or free Facebook group — just because you have the numbers doesn’t mean you have the sales. Or engagement. Or raving fan base.
Your follower number is just that…a number, something amorphous that supposedly defines our worth as a business. Let’s crush that narrative once and for all. Focusing solely on how big your following is or how those numbers appear leaves you very little mental availability to be there for the people who make up those numbers. You know? The humans you want to serve.
So let’s forget the numbers and focus on the people who those numbers represent — your community.
By shifting your focus from you (or your business) to them, you pour your energy into the places that will pour back into you. You want to elevate your community into a place where they’re being seen, heard, and valued because that’s the true hallmark of a Human First, Biz Second® business.
By elevating your followers INTO a community (separate from your socials), you’ll build a more successful, consistent brand that will make more connections — and dollars AND sense/cents. Here’s what a real community looks like, and how you can start building one.
A built-in support system
You want to make your community members feel like they’re more than just an email address or follower number. They have helped you get to where you are, and that level of support should be mutual. By building a community into your business model, you’re giving your people a place to gather, all together, and create that mutual bond.
Group dynamics can be a powerful thing. Not only does a group guarantee that your community has an internal support system, but it also strengthens the community as a whole because of the support it lends. When your community is feeling supported and successful, they will attribute it back to your brand, which provided the space where they connected with so many awesome folks.
That support ends up going a long way for your community members. An increased feeling of support and value also will increase things such as: trust, loyalty, and value.
When you have a community that’s active, interactive, and encouraging, it strengthens the experience and the outcomes — for them and for you.
Free exchange of ideas
A number in your follower column might be nice, but what does it really represent? If it’s not sales, and it’s not engagement, what is it???
A focus on community, on the other hand, has a value that you can SEE happening in real-time: the free exchange of ideas.
What you’re providing is the space to foster collaboration amongst the group, where like-minded people who support your brand are now supporting one another. In a space where it’s all about the health of the group and NOT about an individual leader only concerned with collecting likes on a photo, communities and ideas take root.
In this space, it’s okay for your community to draw inspiration from each other. There’s no race, no battle, no competition. Your community becomes a safe place for the free exchange of ideas.
This is awesome for YOU as the business owner or influencer because you know that you can’t be everywhere at once for every member of your community whenever they need you. So while you can’t always be part of the conversation, you can at least be the reason that it’s happening in the first place. There’s something more powerful in being the conduit of conversation; your community will remember why they’re there and who made it possible.
An open, diverse, encouraging environment
When you prioritize people over numbers or their sales potential, you’re creating a space where people can come together and discuss questions, concerns, and perspectives. In a space with deep-rooted and commonly-shared values, the outcome is a truly inclusive and diverse space.
When we connect over our similarities, we also make space to share our differences — and we’re reminded that we’re HUMANS…not just a face behind a screen, a comment, a like of a photo.
Elevating community elevates your business
I know that creating a community outside of social is a lift. There might be time and labor involved, and even your own money. So I say all of this with a grain of salt — knowing that not everyone has the bandwidth to create a separate community.
If that’s you right now, that’s cool. Try to find ways that you can foster community as you’re able. This might mean getting a group of peers together for a retreat weekend, or scheduling a Zoom happy hour. It might mean joining other communities for the time being, to connect with people and see how things are run.
But if you’re in a place where you’d like to take your community off social — or even offline — it’s valuable to know how all your work could potentially pay off. (I know, this whole thing was about how it’s NOT about you, but we’re business owners and we still need to make decisions rooted in strategy.)
With that said, it is possible to help yourself while you’re helping others. You know, that little Human First, Biz Second™ thing I’m always harping on about?
So while I may stress that your community is based on the “we” and not the “me,” there are some really awesome benefits to elevating your community and getting to know them even more:
There’s literally no better place for market research and feedback than in your community. It’s a safe place to ask questions, get real, and mayyybe score a testimonial or two while you’re at it.
You’re bringing together a group of people who already directly benefit from being in your community. Community members who love what you’re doing will want to tell their friends, who will tell their friends, and so on.
At the end of the day, we do NOT own what we put on social. It belongs to the big businesses that run their algorithms and make money by keeping people on their platforms. I firmly believe this is why so many online business owners and even bigger brands are moving away from putting their eggs in the social media basket. Because, when we build community off these platforms, we have more access to our audience and more control over how we can engage with them.
Build it and they will come!
We’re entering an audience-centric economy. Your people want to know their value before opening their wallets, and honestly… fair enough! This is why it’s so important to focus on COMMUNITY over numbers. When you make it about them, they make it about you — and that’s the kind of symbiosis our businesses will need as we enter this shift
Of course, there’s more to it, because a community cannot be built overnight. Your community, much like Rome, can’t be built in a day (it actually took something like…1200 years to build Rome).
But no, it won’t take 1200 years to build your community either, it’ll just be somewhere between 1 day and 1200 years, sound good??
If you feel like *expediting* that process, check out my blog Community-Based Business Models for Entrepreneurs. I’ll give you resources, tips, AND examples of the four community-based models you can use to take this ish off social, so you can have more impact on your people (and your bottom line).
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