5 tips on building and engaging your startup’s community

Kane Fulton, January 22, 2018 3 min read

This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.

For startups, building out communities can be a tough but rewarding process. To discover how it’s done, Tech North invited Claire Rampen and Nufar Galin from London-based agency Collectively to speak at the Founders’ Network Summit. Collectively helps businesses find the best way to engage with their customers to create mutual value.

The duo ran through the Collectively Framework, described as an “a la carte” menu for community building that provides 10 touchpoints – from customer acquisition to product development, user-generated content, and funding.

Whether you want to build a new community for your business or engage and grow an existing one, we’ve picked out five pieces of advice from the presentation to help you get started. You can read more about Collectively and how it helps build communities on its Medium blog.

1. Write down your mission

The Collectively Framework begins with the Mission & Brand touchpoint, which asks businesses to investigate the question of why people would join their community.

“We always start by asking our clients to write down their mission and think about how their customers fit into that,” says Rampen. “Is there something in there that you would expect (or get) them to be passionate about?”

Galin says: “You need to understand the space where your customers are hanging out. Whether you’re starting out or already have a community, in order to monetise it’s critical to know what areas you’re good at, and which ones you can benefit from but haven’t covered yet.”

Startups can tap into and learn from movements that are both currently operating in their own country and relevant to their mission, Galin adds. For example, a mobility business for the elderly could promote Aging in place, the US concept of growing older at home instead of an assisted healthcare facility.

2. Identify your most engaged users

Communities grow when users become more engaged and transform into members. Rampen says that identifying more engaged users can help with this – whether that’s looking at existing customer service channels, spotting repeat purchases or contacting users who have sent complimentary emails to the business.

“These people are your absolute allies as you go through your journey,” she says. “One benefit is that you can decentralise power and delegate responsibility or an amount of privilege to more engaged users who want to help build your community. You don’t want to not own the community, but you don’t want to be solely responsible for it.”

Photography by Thomas Jackson at TyneSight Photographic Services

3. Make introductions to new users

Rampen says that contacting new community members on Facebook groups and pages can turn them into engaged users quicker.

“Sending a one-to-one direct message is such a powerful way to make them feel involved and welcome from the moment they join,” she says. “Whether online or offline, don’t underestimate people’s need to feel welcome – you can use your most engaged users that you’ve identified to do that.”

In addition to messaging, startups can set up buddy systems where engaged users reach out to community members to let them know what the rules of engagement are. A long-term decentralisation strategy, this can take the pressure off a startup’s community manager to constantly drive online conversations.

4. Allow members to show off

Engaged members of the community should be encouraged to show off in a bid to impress or help others – whether that’s demonstrating their ability, or knowledge on a startup’s offering.

“Ask your customers to build content for you and showcase their talents on the platform that you have created,” says Rampen. “When they speak to each other it can create mutually valuable relationships on top of your business.”

An example of this can be found in O2-owned mobile telephone operator Telefónica, which hosts its own support forums on its website. There, existing customers in the community do customer service on behalf of the company, helping new customers with a wide range of support queries.

“When it comes to sales, make sure your customers are empowered to distribute your product and get rewarded – not necessarily monetarily,” Rampen adds.

5. Start a funding campaign

Raising investment – and crowdfunding in particular – can be used as an opportunity to turn customers into a community by getting them to fund their business, says Rampen. Footwear ecommerce startup Nisolo did this by creating the Five For Five Club.

“Nisolo, a cult brand among its customers, eschewed traditional crowdfunding platforms by creating the Five For Five Club,” explains Rampen. “They asked dedicated customers to put $500 in return for free pairs of shoes for five years. That locked in their loyal customers, who would wear their shoes for years and tell their friends about the deal and company.

“You can see how they evolved customer relationships and content marketing around their community to create a powerful brand.”

How to, Marketing and PR, Founders' Network, Early Stage