Five Tips to Ruin Your Membership Community

Here are five pitfalls to avoid—plus five things to do instead if you want to create a thriving community.

If you’re an online business owner who’s attuned to trends in your world, then you know that brand communities are all the rage—so much so that Pat recently released a bonus SPI Podcast episode all about them. And you’re not alone in recognizing this trend: industry data is also pointing at digital communities becoming a critical business pillar.

I’ve worked in community management for the last decade and have witnessed the rise and fall of several well-intentioned communities. There are tens of thousands of communities at our fingertips at any given moment—but why do some flourish while the rest sputter out?

Strategic planning.

Running a healthy community takes strategy and consistency, but unfortunately most communities are launched with no real plan.

So how can you create your own thriving community? Keep reading for five ways to ruin your community—and five alternative strategies to make your community awesome: 

#1: Don’t communicate clear guidelines

Sure, you can let your community be a free-for-all! Rules are boring, and moderating is not how you want to spend your time! You know your community members, and they won’t cause problems. And if they do, you can just tell them to stop and they will totally listen. No one will accuse you of playing favorites or picking and choosing what to moderate.

You have a vision for your community, so make sure you spend some time creating community guidelines that clearly define what is and is not acceptable behavior. Is your community a place where someone can post about selling weight-loss shakes and joining their downline? Does it make sense to allow political debate? Your community guidelines echo your community’s purpose.

Don’t forget to also set a moderation policy. Spell out the consequences for breaking a guideline once, twice, and so on. Clear guidelines and moderation policies result in the community feeling safe and having a sense of order. Following your moderation policies reinforces these feelings and reduces backlash in already uncomfortable situations.

#2: Don’t spend time creating content and engaging in your community

“Just add as many people as you can to your community and let them do the rest! You don’t have time to curate conversations. Shouldn’t it work like Facebook, where everyone is eager to share their opinions and updates?

With so many online apps and spaces available for people to spend their time, what makes your community stand out? If your community members can’t answer that question, they likely will spend their time elsewhere.

Community members will look to you to see how to engage, so model the behavior you want to see. Think of your community space as a party and your community members as guests: greet them as a host when they walk in and bring them into a fun conversation with other partygoers. 

#3: Don’t ask for feedback

“It is your community, after all! You can make changes as you see fit, and your members won’t care. And if they ask for changes, you aren’t obligated to listen. If they don’t like it, they can leave!

The people who engage in your community understand it best, so when you have a problem to solve or want to try something, they are the best people to turn to. This gives them a sense of ownership and reinforces their sense of purpose in your community. Are you thinking of adding tiers of membership? See what they think. They might have great ideas you never considered. Do you want to create a new online course? Ask the community which topics they’d most be interested in.

A true community is collaborative, which leads us to our next tip to ruin yours:

#4: Treat it like a fan club

“These people joined because they like me and think I am really good at what I do. They are here to listen to me! I don’t have time to interact. I’m much too busy and important! I just post when I have a new product or uploaded a flattering pic on IG.

Collaborating and making valuable connections are two of the most important benefits of a healthy community. To achieve them, though, you must dedicate enough time to interacting with and listening to your members. As your business scales and your community grows, you can hand off this role to a community manager who understands your brand voice.

A community based on top-down communication only—a platform for you to speak and the community to like and listen—is best left to a fan page. If you are not willing to be present and approachable in the day-to-day of your community or invest in community staff, you do not actually want to run a community as a part of your business.

#5: Ignore your engagement metrics 

Nothing I do works! Why isn’t anyone participating? 

Metrics are so much more than keeping tabs on likes or replies. Monthly and weekly metrics can help you determine what programming works and how to time your content. If you are busting your buns sharing content, you should know when the best time to post is.

At SPI we use Circle as our community platform [affiliate link]. Its built-in analytics allow me to tell you with certainty that Tuesday evenings are optimal for engaging in conversations, and that our daily active users have been trending upward month over month since November. 

Bonus Tip: Your community platform can play an important role

Community is—no surprise—a huge priority at SPI. Along with the 2020 launch of the SPI Pro community, just last week we launched SPI Academy, an online community hosted on Circle for our course students, to strengthen and support our larger student community. Using a dedicated community platform like Circle gives us control over every detail, plus customizations that allow a better member experience than we could provide with a larger social platform. The SPI Academy is already outperforming our former Facebook student groups thanks to a combo of Circle’s enhanced member experience and our community engagement strategies. 

There is so much opportunity to grow a strong community and stand out amidst the noise if you know what to do and what not to do. If you’ve launched or plan to launch a community in 2021, spending time mapping out your onboarding and engagement strategies will help set your community above the rest. And we are here to help—follow the Community Experience team on Twitter to stay in the loop and help your community thrive.

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  • Jillian B

    Hi, I’m Jillian, SPI’s director of community. I write about all things—you guessed it—community! See you inside!

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