Community Building vs List Building: The Down Side of Focusing on Numbers
You’re heard the common expression, “the money is in the list,” right? I mean, it’s smart to build your mailing list, but you’ve got to build it the right way or else you’ll struggle when it comes to growing your brand.
Amanda is a romance author and has a mailing list of over twenty thousand readers she emails regularly but she complains that she hardly hears any feedback or gets any messages from her subscribers. They never ask her about what’s coming up or request any specific series… even when she asks then for feedback! She’s frustrated because she’s not able to reach the next level.
Monica is also a romance author and has a list of just over four thousand readers. Like Amanda, she emails her list on the regular. She gets plenty of feedback and is always messaging with her readers. She knows exactly what readers like about her writing and what they’re looking for next. She’s making money and next year she’ll be able to turn her writing into a fulltime business.
What’s the difference between Amanda and Monica? Why is one authorpreneur seeing so much success that she can quit her evil day job while Amanda continues to struggle? Let’s see if we can figure that out together.
Are Your Subscribers Engaging with Your Content?
The quick and dirty answer is that Monica built her list differently than Amanda. Instead of focusing only on numbers, Monica searched for subscribers that matched her ideal reader profile. She monitored the health of her list and removed subscribers that didn’t engage with her content. The result is a smaller list but one that is far more engaged than Amanda’s.
You’re making a huge mistake if you only measure the size of your list and don’t take engagement into account. Low engagement can be a sign that you’re not connecting with your community.
Are Your Subscribers Buying Your Products?
After you take a look at your engagement level, I want you to look at what types of content your readers take action on. Of the readers who open your emails and read them, how many take action? How often do they go on to purchase your books or a book you promoted?
If you have a new—or tiny—list, you may not see a lot of activity at first, but as your list grows you should start seeing your subscribers take action. If you don’t, it’s a sign you’re promoting the wrong books or your community isn’t connecting with the messages you share.
Are You Asking for Engagement?
Some authorpreneurs send tons of emails but never include a call to action. A call to action is a place within your content where you ask your reader to do something. For example, when you read and review a book you might have enjoyed, you then ask them to read and review the book, too.
If you want engagement, you have to ask for it. And it doesn’t always have to come in the form of asking your readers to buy something. You might ask them to complete a survey that will help you create your next promotion or ask them to leave a comment on a blog post.
When it’s time to build your email list, make sure you fill it with readers that are genuinely interested in you. This will help you grow a thriving community that loves you/your brand and engages with you regularly.
Community Building Myths That Can Hurt Your Members
You want to build a community around you/your brand. You know you have a lot to offer potential member, but before you get going you need to learn about a few myths that can derail your community if you’re not careful.
Myth #1: Building a community is the same thing as building an audience.
An audience is passive. They will generally offer applause—or sometimes boo—and that’s it. An audience won’t share your latest blog post or make video reviews about your books. They may like your work but they’re not likely to tell everyone about them.
A community will gush about you and your brand to erryone (#notypo) That’s what happened to Coca-Cola. Two fans created a Facebook page for the brand that eventually turned into a thriving a community. Now, Coke could have legally demanded the right to the page, but instead they embraced the community and treated the page owners to a special tour of the Coca-Cola museum. The result? Positive buzz about their brand… Priceless.
Myth #2: Building a community is organic.
While your community might eventually grow organically, they usually don’t start that way. Most authorpreneurs spend a lot of time and attention investing in their community. They begin by hand-picking fans and inviting them personally. They also work hard to ensure the community is safe for readers.
In the beginning, the community will probably be small and made up of people that know each other. This means your time investment will be tiny at first. You may only spend a couple hours a week interacting with them. But as time goes on and more join your community, you’ll find the time you invest grows. That’s why it’s helpful to have community rules/code of conduct and a few moderators or senior members around to handle small issues that might pop up. This frees you up to focus on conversations where your input is needed or requested.
Myth #3: Building a community will bring in big money right now.
It’s possible to make money from a thriving community but if your goal is to make a ton of money and you don’t care about the members, you’re not likely to be successful.
Your members want to know you care about them and value you them before they’ll buy from you. This doesn’t mean you can’t make recommendations or write books around your community’s desires. It does mean you shouldn’t create or promote a product just to earn quick cash. You’ll likely lose the support and trust of your community if you do that.
Building a community isn’t always easy and can take weeks or months to grow your group into an active, thriving gathering, but keep promoting the group as often as you can, and you’ll see results.
How to Start Building Your Community Today
There are people out there just waiting to join your community if only it existed. Don’t let your fears keep you from creating it! Here’s how to get the ball rolling:
Decide on the goal of your community.
The first thing you want to do when building a community is to decide the goal. It’s a good idea to look at the end result your ideal reader wants. If your ideal reader wants to learn how to run a marathon or all about clean eating, then the goal of your community will be to share information on those topics.
Consider the culture.
Every community has a culture shaped by the creator and its members. When you’re thinking about culture, you want to consider your personal values. If you’re a nutritionist who writes about clean eating, you may stress the importance of healthy foods over calorie counting. That means one of the values of the community would be to eat foods that are nutritious instead of focusing on calorie counting like other groups.
Walk alongside your members.
Some authorpreneurs think that in order to build a community they have to be experts. We’re never done learning! Ever! Start your community right now. It can be more helpful if you walk alongside your members and let them see your journey. Don’t be afraid to share where you are in this moment. Your members won’t be upset. They’ll be happy to find someone else that understands their struggles.
Find a co-host.
If you’re nervous about building a community on your own, look for a co-host. This would be someone who complements your brand. Having a co-host benefits you by cutting your responsibilities in half while benefitting your community by giving them the support of two hosts instead of one. You’ll want to build your community with a co-host you know and like. You should have a plan in place for what happens if one of you becomes too busy to participate or if one of you wants out of the community.
When it comes to creating your community don’t get hung up on which platform to use or what software to buy—your community doesn’t care! They just want your time and support.
Be Vigilant: Problems to Watch for When Building Your Community
Many authorpreneurs have excitedly grown communities—work on it for a few weeks or months then find it all falls apart. They wonder what they did wrong and why their community flopped.
It wasn’t because the author didn’t care about their community. It’s probably because they ignored small problems that eventually blossomed into big problems. Keep your community health and strong by being vigilant and watching for these problems:
Problem #1: Negativity has taken over.
A flower can’t grow without the sun and a community can’t survive when the spirit behind it turns negative. Once members focus on negative people and events, bickering takes root. Then arguments break out and soon, your community begins to shrivel and die.
It can’t always be sunshine and roses, but positivity is essential for long term community health. Combat negativity with positive discussions. Encourage readers to look for the good in situations. Challenge each other to random acts of kindness. Have a thread set aside for sharing positive news.
Problem #2: Members start moving on.
People sometimes outgrow a community. It might be that your community served its purpose.
There are ways to handle this issue. First, you should promote your community regularly to attract new members and to keep your group from becoming inactive. Second, regularly reach out to older members. Follow up with them and see how they’re doing. Ask them to participate in a particular thread or invite them to share what they’ve learned with the community. Make it clear that older members are treasured.
Problem #3: You’ve outgrown your community.
Just like a member can outgrow a community, so can the creator. That doesn’t signal the end of your community. It just might be time to rebrand. If you’ve built a strong community, your members will likely follow you during a re-brand. Just be honest about the change with your community and let them know what this new community will be like.
If you don’t feel like a re-brand is right for you, you can also entrust your community to someone else. You might know another author that already loves the community and would be a perfect leader.
Most community problems can be fixed if you recognize them early. If you see a problem and don’t know how to solve it, reach out to a trusted mentor for advice on how to keep your community healthy.
4 Signs that Your Community is Thriving
Numbers don’t tell a community’s full story. You might be tempted to judge your success based on the number of members or how many you posts each week, but hold your horses. While those numbers are helpful, there are other signs that tell you if your community is thriving.
Sign #1: Community members feel safe.
When your members feel safe, they’ll give you honest feedback. They’ll do this because they care about you and want to see you succeed. That means you should prepare yourself to hear feedback you might not always like. Your community might tell you that your most recent book wasn’t their favorite. Eep!
It’s important that you handle any feedback gracefully. If you don’t, members will stop being honest because they’ll fear upsetting you. That doesn’t mean you have to act on every suggestion you receive.
If a suggestion recommends making a tweak that will hurt your brand, you can thank the member and say that their idea isn’t a good fit for you right now. This way your reader feels heard and you’ve kept the door open for honest feedback in the future.
Sign #2: Community members help each other.
Try to make readers feel valued and respected as you build your community. When they feel valued, they’re willing to turn around and help other readers. A chain reaction happens. One member helps another who helps another and before you know it, your community has earned a reputation as a kind and supportive place.
Sign #3: Community members pitch in.
When readers love your community they pitch in and offer to help without asking for anything in return. It might be that one reader offers tech support when your community suffers a problem or another volunteers to help with the weekly newsletter.
If you’re used to managing your community alone, it can be difficult to let others in to help, but try to accept what’s offered. When your community handles routine tasks, you have more time to invest in the community itself. What happens? Your community grows even more!
Sign #4: Community members are accountable to each other.
As your reader community grows, bonds begin to form and you’ll notice that members look out for each other. They’ll hold each other accountable and nudge other members who need motivation. This is when you’ll know you’ve built a community that’s special.
Community building isn’t easy so don’t get discourage when it takes a while to see signs of progress. Keep cultivating and valuing your members and watch as your community thrives.