Crafting a strong community takes the right balance of talking to your audience and actually listening them. Sarah Judd Welch explains the key tools for cultivation. Yes, content is one of them.
“As creative humans, we tend to always reach beyond our own limits. We want to keep learning and defy past accomplishments. In essence, we want to transcend ourselves. But we are most fulfilled when we push beyond what we can do alone. Whatever our goals, working with others may be the best path to happiness.” ~Scott Belsky (via 99U)
When do you feel most creative? Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, I bet that it’s often either during or right after collaborating amongst your peers. Community is incredibly important to the process of creativity, and often to the livelihood of creative people. Just look at how Quirky has created an opportunity for makers, bringing their creations to life and into the market through the power of community. Or, how creative talent is discovered through communities such as Behance.
Community is also a key aspect to creative production. According to Leo Babauta of ZenHabits.net, the No. 2 habit of highly creative people is participation. Leo says, “This can come in many forms, but it requires connecting with others, being inspired by others, reading others, collaborating with others.” The No. 1 habit is solitude, but he makes it clear that the key to creativity is balancing the two.
That’s exactly why creative people gravitate towards communities – for the collaboration, inspiration, and encouragement that they offer among like-minded people who share similar tastes, values, and creative processes. This is also why creative communities formed around an artistic interest (such as music or video) tend to be successful in engaging their members, especially where technology and art intersect.
Beyond the community-driven nature of creative people, the success of creative communities can often be attributed to the design of the community itself, its engagement strategy, and management technique. Two of my favorite examples of creative communities that have been successful, especially in terms of niche growth, are Vimeo and SoundCloud. Here’s why:
Vimeo is a video platform exclusive to people who create their own work, and is designed with community in mind. Unlike other video communities, Vimeo’s content is held to a high standard of quality by the community; the videos submitted to Vimeo are works of art crafted to tell a story. From the site: “Vimeo is perfect for showcasing personal moments, creative projects, professional work, and more.” To get an idea of the quality of Vimeo’s community content, check out the Staff Picks channel or the Like Knows Like channel, which we’re also huge fans of at Loyal.
Vimeo could’ve easily just been a video platform for creators to share their works and for consumers to view them, but they’ve gone beyond that. To foster a sense of community and engage their members, they actively encourage commenting, questions, and conversation. They’ve also created Groups, “communities and conversations around videos and other things people like.” Taking just a brief look at the Groups landing page, you’ll see that some of the most active groups have anywhere between 5k and 30k members with videos seeing up to 2,800+ comments – real, quality comments, not spam!
Vimeo also engages its community with its Video School – a place where members can learn to make better videos through lessons, tutorials, and “sage advice,” as well as participate in community challenges that recognize all participating community members for their work. Vimeo even holds festivals to celebrate their community as a reminder to members that they’re appreciated and to why they’re involved with the community in the first place.
By celebrating its members and offering value beyond a place to host videos, Vimeo is creating a sense of belonging and personal investment in its members — two of the psychological attributes of community membership. Although some people might say their 75.3 million unique visitors (Aug. 2012) can’t compare to YouTube’s 800 million (2012), Vimeo’s “small” niche community of engaged film enthusiasts is high-value for the platform, making it a destination for creatives.
Finally, as any well-designed medium-to-large size community should, Vimeo has implemented simple and clear-cut community guidelines that help set the tone for community conduct and interactions. Basic community guidelines such as these, along with an explanation of what happens if they’re broken, sets the tone of a community and pre-emptively creates an open culture.
With 40+ million registered users as of August 2013 (growing 700% within 2 years), SoundCloud is another great example of a healthy, viable creative community that puts its members at the center of their work. According to Alexa Global traffic Rank, the site has led all major Internet streaming music services in global web traffic — including Pandora, Spotify, 8tracks, and Songza – with 200 million unique visitors per month. From the site: “The heart of SoundCloud is its deeply engaged community of creators who share the sounds they create with each other and the world. SoundCloud is not only about sharing sounds, but also about sharing common interests, attitudes, goals and connecting with people who share your passion.”
A major part of SoundCloud’s success can be attributed to the fact that their product was clearly designed with its community in mind. When viewing a sound clip or song on SoundCloud, you can easily follow an artist, explore similar content, and read comments made by other community members at any point in the song.
Like Vimeo, SoundCloud also offers Groups for its members to engage with each other (there’s that sense of belonging again), and creates opportunities through unique challenges (and personal investment). They’ve also embarked on some very cool partnerships that allow members to interact with well-known (indie) artists, providing an incentive for being involved.
Among Soundcloud’s greatest community assets are its IRL meetups. By creating an offline component to their community, they’re offering their members an opportunity to build deeper connections and more meaningful relationships face-to-face. Who wouldn’t want to make a new best friend? However, the SoundCloud Meetups and Groups are very difficult to find; you have to really dig within the site to discover them. SoundCloud might consider highlighting these meetups front and center on the homepage, showcasing just how community oriented the company is.
SoundCloud also has clear and concise community guidelines. Take a look at them – overall, they’re reasonable and fair, and they definitely set the tone for the community culture. All of these elements groups, IRL meetups, blogs, challenges, guidelines – combined with people sharing their work and interacting with each other make for a sustainable community of creatives.
Are you involved with a creative community? Have you noticed specific elements that have contributed to their success?
Image credit: astylizedhysteria
Over the past few years, I’ve seen and felt first hand the skepticism of business leaders and traditional marketing folks around the financial return on investing in community initiatives. While it used to be that most of the evidence was anecdotal, today there are quite a few examples of community efforts moving the bottom line among the biggest and smallest of brands.
Let’s keep in mind the goals of community when talking about return: connect people to each other, make them happy, and make them stay (retention). All three of these goals strongly correlate with brand loyalty, referrals, and engagement metrics. With these in mind, consider the following statistics:
- It costs 80% less to retain a customer than to acquire a new one
- Increasing customer retention rate by 5% can increase profits by up to 95% over the long-term (HBS)
- Increased engagement on community sites can result in up to 25% increase in revenue (MSI)
- Friend recommendations are the number one influencing factor in purchase decisions (Brand Advocates)
Image source: Threadless.com
Although these stats are impressive, nothing demonstrates a point quite like real-life examples. Take Threadless – a creative community created by skinnyCorp that makes, supports, and buys great art – the perfect model of crowdsourcing and customer community success. At Threadless, e-commerce and community intersect; members submit designs (originally t-shirts, and now other stuff) that fellow members can purchase. Founded in 2000 with just $1000, the community has now grown to 2.5 million members globally with more than 500,000 designs submitted and nearly 5000 designs printed. Together, Threadless members have helped raise nearly $8.8 million for more than 1200 artists worldwide. How’s that for ROI on community?
Likewise, The Huffington Post, arguably the largest actively managed community on the internet, also benefits as a media company from strong community investment. HuffPo leverages its commenter community to distribute content and drive new and returning visits to the site with roughly 9.5 million pre-moderated comments per month. As a content trendsetter, the media powerhouse has sought to ensure a safe place for people to comment, according to its previous Director of Community, Justin Isaf. While the company does use an algorithm to help moderate spammy or inappropriate comments, the community is largely self-policed, reducing the need for headcount on HuffPo’s community moderation team. Partially as a result of its community, HuffPo sees 70M unique visitors and 1.1B pageviews in the US. alone. The results are clear: community engagement and distribution means more site views and unique visitors, a major selling point for advertisers and content sponsors.
Like Threadless, Fitocracy is a community platform. The fitness gamification network is built around a community of people motivating each other to get healthy everyday. The network has grown from 300,000 to more than 1.5 million users since it launched out of beta in March 2012 and has more user engagement than Twitter. According to founder Dick Talens, users come back to the app seven days a week even if they’re not working out – just because they’re so engrossed in the community. The app has also found a new way to monetize community with group fitness plans built around two of the most valuable benefits of any community – accountability and support among members. Aiming to replace the typical “gym trainer model,” the group fitness plans assign small groups of Fitocracy community members to one trainer for a fraction of what training would cost at a gym (plans are $50-77/month). The groups are held accountable to report their progress to the trainer and to each other through communication systems such as Google Hangouts and Q&As. Fitocracy has effectively monetized their community itself.
These examples show that community really can have a significant (and positive) impact on your bottom line, whether it’s through retention, increased engagement, referrals, or a revenue stream built around fulfilling the needs of an existing community. You’re most likely already interacting with your users, and many of them are likely already interacting with each other. Challenge yourself to reorganize the structure of these touch points to form a community that will contribute to your bottom line. Are you leveraging the value of community?