Last week, I explained the crucial difference between a membership site and an online community.
In short: do people show up and display a genuine interest in interacting, connecting, and helping? If they do, you have an online community. If they don’t, you have a membership site.
Now here is the question for you: what role do you need to play as the community leader to encourage your members to show up and care?
- Yes, you need to build in all the basic features.
- Yes, you need to have strong onboarding.
- Yes, you need to tell the right stories.
But at the most fundamental level, you need to make sure that your members feel seen, heard, and valued.
Where everybody knows their name
To understand what you’re trying to build, use the Cheers theme song as a guide:
Sometimes you wanna go— Gary Portnoy
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name
Your job is to set the tone for a community that fulfills the basic human desires illuminated in this chorus. People want to be seen, heard, and valued; and the first person who needs to see them, hear them, and value them is you.
Can you begin this process with an automated onboarding sequence? Yes. But heavy emphasis on begin. It’s just a start.
The more you know your people, and the more sophisticated your onboarding, the better that start can be, but there is no automation in the world that can replace the genuine human touch.
Maybe that will change in the future, but it’s still a long way away.
The human touch matters. The education or solution you’re promising may bring people initially, but it’s the human touch that will keep them coming back. (And it’s the coming back that builds the foundation for a strong base of recurring revenue.)
The way you interact with members will set the tone for how members will interact with each other.
How to help people feel seen, heard, and valued
Let’s run through a few examples for how you can ensure that your members feel seen, heard, and valued.
- Reach out to new members individually. Even if you have an automated welcome/orientation sequence, find a way to message new members individually … and then, crucially, engage with them if they reply back.
- Welcome people when they arrive at virtual events. This isn’t always easy, but do your best to make sure no one shows up to a live, on-camera event without being recognized. If people feel invisible in your community, they’ll think nothing of not showing up. Who would miss them? Let people know their presence matters.
- Make sure every attempt at engagement gets at least one reply: yours. It’s not your responsibility to make sure that every post made by every member results in a massive discussion thread. But it is your job to make sure members don’t feel like they are whispering meekly into the void. Think of it this way: you are the bulwark against that deflated feeling we’ve all felt of making post, not getting any replies, and wondering if anyone even saw it or cared.
- Show your members you listen to what they say. If you’re on a virtual meeting and a member mentions needing help in a certain area, follow up with a private message offering a helpful piece of advice. If members post status updates about their goals and their progress, try your best to remember (this will take time and effort!) so you can reference them in future conversations.
- Highlight the expertise and wisdom of your members. Yes, your members are coming to you for your expertise and wisdom in a certain area, or for the expertise and wisdom you are able to curate. But if you’ve effectively defined your values and set the right boundaries then you should be attracting members with wisdom and expertise of their own. Provide opportunities for members to showcase what they know. They’ll feel valued, and other members will learn something from them.
- When a member does something that is helpful to you, express your gratitude. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we constantly have to be helping our members. And we do. But in a thriving community, you will learn more from your members than they learn from you. Be proactive in saying thank you — and be specific about what you’re thankful for.
I could go on.
While the micro goal of each of these actions is to help an individual member feel seen, heard, and valued, the macro goal of performing these actions habitually, with member after member, is to establish the tone for how members should interact with each other.
When people feel seen, heard, and valued themselves, they are far more likely to extend this generosity of attention and care to others.
And when that generosity of care and attention isn’t just flowing top-down, but starts flowing horizontally from member to member, your community becomes the kind of place where people want to go because they feel like everybody knows their name.
Take pride in the importance of the tone you set as the community leader. But don’t mistake this as a license to be arrogant, and don’t fall into a false sense of security or superiority that makes you aloof.
Instead, let humility be your guide to leveraging the power of your position into creating a welcoming environment where members can go to find a sense of belonging that helps them feel better about themselves.
Now here are some additional links on this topic …
Leadership is about understanding people
If you’re going to build a online community that people want to become a part of, and stay a part of, then it’s your job to dig deep and learn your members. Superficial relationships may get you an initial signup, but only relationships with depth and substance will keep people around.
On Becoming a Leader: Building Relationships and Creating Communities | Educause Review
The concern for others must extend beyond you
You, as the leader, understanding and being concerned about your members is the first step. But a thriving community will feature members who understand and care about each other. So your example is just the first step in setting a tone that you need other members to follow.
Leaders Build Community | Training Magazine
Leaders are not born — so don’t let that be a cop-out!
The entire article is worth reading, but I want to zero in on one section in particular: “Do you have to be a ‘born leader’ in order to lead? No. People learn how to lead. Even the people who seem to do it naturally had to learn the skills of leadership.” Leadership is not charisma, fancy diction, or storytelling. All of that can help, of course, but the stuff that really matters for leadership can be learned by anyone. If you’re patient and persistent, you can be the leader your community needs.
Learning How to Be a Community Leader | Community Tool Box
Thank you for reading this issue of Primility.
Please consider forwarding it to a friend who wants to be a better servant leader and build a strong online community.