The 12 Critical Components of a Successful (and profitable) Online Community
For me, it all started when I was 8 years old.
I remember that’s when I “found” online communities.
Some of the very first were for people who owned Palm Pilots.
My first was a Palm Pilot M130.
I would talk for hours to other strangers on the internet about these things.
A year later, I found myself owning one of the largest online Palm Pilot communities in the world.
Fast forward a few more years and I helped develop the most engaged and largest community on golfing, with over 1 million unique visitors per day.
To say that online communities are beneficial to a business is an understatement.
See, businesses are simply an extension of so-called “communities” and every single business has a community it belongs too.
The problem is that the majority of business owners never understand that concept.
There’s a certain “us vs. them” mentality with some entrepreneurs when in reality the majority of us build our businesses to solve a problem. So then aren’t we part of a community?
In the past few years, Facebook Groups have become incredibly popular.
And at this point, there are online communities for almost everything, from photography to coaching to online marketing and business growth.
Back in 2014, I decided that I wanted to create an online group, specifically for entrepreneurs that are growing their business through online marketing.
I was part of this community because I was one of those folks.
However, I wanted to have a curated community…
Something that not everyone could access, not because they didn’t have a big enough business but rather, that they had the right intentions and are among a special breed of entrepreneurs.
Over the past 2 years, we now have nearly 2,400 entrepreneurs that have been accepted inside of our community.
While this community was never developed to generate revenue, but rather to give something of value, it has generated over $1,000,000 of our revenue in the past 2 and a half years.
So I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned about building “multi-million dollar” communities.
I’m not an expert, I’m simply showing you from first-hand experience what has worked for us and what may work for you.
As with anything successful, communities utilize this wonderful blue-ocean strategy and I believe if you implement this into your business, you’ll see the results almost instantly – plus, it’s a lot of fun! 🙂
So, here it is…
The 12 Critical Components of a Successful (and profitable) Online Community
1. Perfect Purpose
The very first thing that you need is a defined purpose and an understanding of your audience.
Now, if you already have your marketing funnel and you are already bringing customers into your business and you know who your community is, then you already know who this person is. Having the right people in your community is vital, and the way to attract them is to have a focused purpose for your community.
A community without a purpose will be lifeless. You’ll have people pass in and out but never truly develop a bond because community is developed based on a common goal, theme, or struggle that somebody has.
It’s your job to be able to foster that community and create focus around that community and to properly communicate what the person will get out of being in your community. The purpose, the avatar, and the profile of who you’re going after has to be exact.
When I was first starting up my community in 2014, this is where I made a mistake. I had entrepreneurs that didn’t really fit my demographic or geographic or behavioral profile. Because of it, I started slowly. It took time to create traction, but the way to create traction faster is to be hyper focused on why they’re there and how you and the people that are there will help them. That’s when things click. That’s when you can get great momentum in a very, very small amount of time.
2. Powered with the SSF Method
If you’re familiar with the SSF Method (SSFMethod.com), you’ll understand that there are leads in the Sidewalk, Slow Lane, and Fast Lane. What people don’t quite understand is that community and online communities, specifically Facebook communities, work best when somebody’s in the slow lane on their way to the fast lane.
See, somebody that’s in the slow lane understands the pain that they have in their life and they’re looking for more information. They’re looking to become an informed buyer. They want to become knowledgeable and a community allows them to understand it at a pace that they’re comfortable with.
When this is supported by an online marketing funnel using the SSF Method, it allows you to bring in brand new members to your community easily and effectively, without having to worry about where your next member will come from.
The beauty with somebody who is in the slow lane is that they already know what the problem is. You don’t have to explain that there’s an issue. They already know, but what’s even more effective in the slow lane is the fact that this person is searching for an authority.
They’re searching for somebody that knows this information, and typically that person would be you. Because of the blue ocean strategy and because it’s such a very powerful thing, an authority in the group is looked at as an authority by everyone, including new members.
That is one of the greatest assets of having the community: being able to bring people into that blue ocean so that you can impact people in an even greater way.
3. Gated Community
Now, I’ve seen Facebook groups get increasingly popular since I’ve had my community. A friend of mine started one 6 months ago and he has 10 times the amount of people in his community as mine. However, I still generate more revenue in my community.
Why? Because Facebook groups and communities aren’t about quantity. There is no strength in numbers when it comes to communities. You may have 25,000 people following you, but 25,000 people following you and 25,000 people becoming your advocates are 2 very different things.
See, when you have a gated community and you cultivate that community, it allows you to have the perfect customers and the perfect potential customers.
It allows you to build a community increases familiarity. It allows a level of exclusivity which also increases engagement. It increases the want to contribute to the community and be able to help others without selling and because there’s this level of exclusivity and being gated, somebody feels that it makes a little bit more sense to them than just some community they joined and they never fully engaged with.
The beauty of having a small community is not only the quality people that are there but the people that are there feel like they’re a part of something real. They’re not just part of a Facebook group, but they’re part of something that’s larger than them which is exactly what we want people to feel. In order for someone to engage in a deeper way, they have to be engaged and they have to see the bigger picture.
4. The Onboarding Sequence.
After someone signs up to your community it’s important that you properly onboard them.
If you ever get a chance, take a look at Joey Coleman’s “The First 100 Days.” In it, he talks about the onboarding sequence from the time that someone makes a decision to the time they become an advocate.
In the 100 day process, it’s really important that you, as the community leader bring them from a place of uncertainty about the community to a place of complete advocacy.
Now, in order to do this, we use the 100-day process as well as a series of emails and check in’s that distribute content, share popular posts, and connect with like-minded people inside of the community.
This may just be 1 email a week or a couple of emails a week at the beginning. But it allows you to get them engaged inside of the community and help them understand that they are part of something larger.
This isn’t a place to sell. This is a place to onboard, and while these people that are coming inside of your community will more than likely become your customers in time, in the onboarding sequence we want them to be comfortable, and just get to know us and see us as an authority.
If we make that, and we allow that to happen, they’re going to be somebody who stays inside that community and who is an advocate of that community, and even a protector of that community, for months and if not years to come.
5. Community Guidelines
While the vast majority of people that come into a curated community will automatically look to follow the leader and contribute, there will be people that don’t understand the premise of the online community.
It’s important that you have very clear community guidelines upfront. It’s also important that you don’t play favorites and that the people who come into your community are equal. Now, some may be customers of yours, some may be even good friends of yours. But by playing favorites, we create a “you vs. them”. Specific guidelines allow you to have an equalized environment where nobody feels discriminated against if they’re not a customer.
As the person that owns this community, we can’t make it feel like a dictatorship. It needs to feel like you are just one of the top contributors, and that you’re here to help bring the conversation together. These guidelines are very, very important, but it’s also important to be fair and upfront when the guidelines are broken.
6. Value Bombing
One of the biggest issues with communities is that there’s not enough content and communities aren’t a place to just post links.
When you have a community, you want to be able to show your true brilliance and that brilliance typically comes in with what you actually help with, what it actually goes back to the business with. It’s incredibly important that you do what I call “value bombing.” By taking pieces or ideas that you have for the day and just opening up Facebook and typing it out, you’re providing value. It doesn’t have to be perfect, what matters is the core content.
On a daily basis, I post at least one so-called “value bomb.” They aren’t planned, there’s no content editorial calendar. They’re simply things throughout the day that I think about, or that I have particular experience with.
It may be as simple as me writing it while I’m on a toilet, but what it allows me to do is build content that can later be reproduced into different content types, such as blogs or videos or podcasts. It also allows me to test what content people like, what content people engage with and further than that, it creates a community where people know they’re going to get value.
It’s not just a place for masterminding or just a place for discussion, but it’s a place for you to show that you’re an expert in your field. That’s incredibly important.
7. Application Process
The application process is incredibly important. For your community, I recommend having a landing page. A landing page may have a video an explanation of what the community is all about, why it exists, how it exists, and what they get once they’re inside.
For one of the communities we used to manage, we would get someone to enter their name and their email address. After we got their name and email address, they go to the full application. At the full application, we got them to enter about a dozen fields, everything from their location to where they’re doing business to the amount of revenue that they generate on a month to month basis.
In our case, we were looking to ensure that they were not in startup mode, that they were looking for the right things, that they were going to be a contributor to our community and that they had something of real value that they could add.
When this application was submitted, it came to us and we then approved or rejected those applications. This allowed us to curate the community and on the backend of this, we had an email stream that let them know if they’ve been rejected or accepted.
This also allowed us to track who has gone through the application process and when they apply again in the future, we could then see if it’s a good fit then, compared to when they applied the first time.
I recommend using this type of application process as it not only allows you to collect a vast amount of information about your target audience and those that you want to be able to target in your business, but it also allows you to ensure that you’re attracting the right people. It also goes a long way toward making people feel a certain level of exclusivity when they’re admitted into the community.
8. Integrating Your Business Model
When you’re thinking about developing a community you need to think about whether or not it makes sense for your business model.
In this case, we’re talking about free communities. Yes, they’re curated, yes, you spend time on them, but it’s still a free community. Further to this, it’s important that you look at your business model to see how it fits. Will you have a free community as well as a paid community?
Do you generate the largest share of your revenue from selling your main products? Or from selling some type of higher level mastermind? You also need to understand how and when within your value ladder people come in and out of your Facebook grou.
It’s important that you are intentional about the way that you go about building your Facebook group.
It’s critical due to the fact that if you’re not ready to have your business model and your community together, then you need to think about whether or not you are ready to build a community without the business.
The issue with building a community first without having a product or service is that people don’t look at you as a business. When someone comes into your community, while you don’t want them to see you as being salesy, you also want them to see you as being the authority in the market, and that you provide an enormous amount of value. You want them to know that there’s a certain amount of value past the paywall that they can access if they want.
As your community begins to grow, you’re going to want to look for the key people inside of your community. These are going to be the people that are your superstar advocates.
They’re the people that have bought into your brand and bought into the community, and you want to give them a certain level of attention. You want to give them a certain level of understanding and a certain level of “power.”
What this allows you to do is spend less time in the community as they spend more time starting new topics, replying to people that are inside that community, and helping them really formulate that community and how it grows.
They’re also going to be the driving force of your community and typically, what will happen is that those folks will become your super customers. They’re incredibly valuable and a lot of the time, you can’t even pay employees for the amount of work they put into developing your community. From the start, I highly recommend having 3 or 4 of these ambassadors, and it’s a world of difference for starting the blue ocean strategy for your community.
10. The Growth Sequence
What you need to understand about communities is that they’re very much of a hockey stick curve. At the beginning, they take a lot of time work. In order to start a proper community, you really need to have at least 100 people, which is why I recommend using online lead generation to fuel the people that are coming into this type of community.
At the same time, the growth hits a peak. For us, in January of 2016, our community was 400 people. Since then, we’ve gone to 2,400 people. These are entrepreneurs that have revenues on average, of over $100,000 on a yearly basis.
Over 100 members of our community have million dollar plus businesses. This is our perfect audience, and these are the people that we want to work with in our business here at INFINITUS.
Now, the growth that we had came from many different places. It came from a launch, it came from a referral contest, and a few different pieces.
However, here’s what you need to know: at the beginning, starting your community and growing it slowly will help you to have a strong base. By having that base, you’re going to create a community that is stable.
Without that stability, your community is not going to have the ambassadors and the people that feel like they’re part of something greater. It’s incredibly powerful to start slow, understand what your community wants, what it desires, and then build it piece by piece.
While anybody can sign up to LimitlessBusiness.com, we like to do small spurts, every 60 to 90 days where we really, really promote it, and what this allows us to do is to have upgrades.That way we’re able to go from, for example, 400 to 800 members, and then from 800 to 1100, and then 1100 to 1700, and then from 1700 to 2000, and then 2000 to 2400.
While there’s a trickle of members on a week by week basis, these spurts allow for brand new blood to come into the community and for the community to evolve, but not evolve fast enough that it loses itself and its culture.
Much like TV shows that come on at the exact same time every single week, whatever you do in your Facebook group has to be consistent.
If you post specific pieces on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, make sure it’s always Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. If you’re going to do a live stream, perhaps once a week, make sure it’s the same time each week. If you’re going to post content everyday then post content everyday. By having consistency inside of your Facebook group, it allows that person to know what to expect.
When somebody knows what to expect, you have a greater chance bringing that person through a favorable experience.
12. The Secret Sales Pattern
To this point, we’ve developed all of the behind the scenes but how do we actually make this generate revenue?
Well, if we have slow laners and fast laners (SSFMethod.com), we automatically are able to sell to them via email while they continue to receive value from the Facebook group.
This allows us to have a further level of engagement and buy in when we’re emailing them and having webinars, sales events, or launches.
However, this is just one piece.
By having a community, you can have your customers and you will have your customers easily come out when somebody is looking to buy something and ask the question.
By having a community, you can overlay the community with a specific question that you come back to later. It gives you a place to launch a product or service.
While you’re never directly selling, what you’re doing is teasing pieces of information. You are allowing someone to have the sales dialogue in their head without ever actively selling to them.
By doing this, you create an enormous level of trust, want, and need. More than anything else, a blue ocean strategy makes it so that when that person logs onto your webinar or gets on a strategy call or goes to your sales page, it’s literally like hundreds, if not thousands of testimonials standing behind you.
That power is incredible.
It’s incredible because you are able to harness the social proof without ever having to ask for it.
You’re able to harness the ability of your community to stand behind you because you’ve created and fostered it. We typically see this coming right from the start. If you look at launches online that have communities on the backend, they’re the most successful ones.
Community overall is all about business because businesses are part of communities. If you harness it right, you’ll profit greatly.
Over the past years, these are the biggest lessons I’ve learned from having very successful communities in multiple niches…
So now it’s your turn to activate the blue-ocean strategy in YOUR business. The beauty of this is that it’s the most effective, highest ROI method of turning leads into customers, automatically… for just a small investment of your time.