A highly engaged community of ideal clients is every entrepreneur’s dream. In fact, with the sheer vastness of the internet and number of competing businesses, developing and growing your own audience is the only way a business will survive. Simply opening a space or starting a Facebook group isn’t going to fill your community with the people you want. You have to intentionally create an experience which attracts the right people to be part of the community.
Your Community is a Party
What exactly is a community? It isn’t a group of people in a space who all have something in common. It’s a group of people with common interests who interact and engage with each other — like a party. And, like a party, the type of experience you create will determine the type of relationships you build in your community. As soon as your guests walk through the doors, they will be able to get a sense of whether or not they want to stick around.
Party with a Purpose
Before starting my business as an idea development strategist, I spent 12 years as a wedding and event planner — coordinating hundreds, if not thousands, of parties, meetings, weddings, and gatherings. After a while, it was obvious how the guests would act depending on how the event was planned. The same is true for how people act in your community. It’s all in how you set it up – the purpose behind it.
When I was in my twenties, I threw a lot of house parties. I’d line the counter with liquor bottles, buy a few snacks, turn on the music and tell people to invite whoever they want. People would show up, have some drinks, get a little crazy and have a lot of fun. I’d see a few familiar faces but mostly strangers who didn’t know in whose house they were standing. As long as they didn’t trash my house or do something to warrant the cops being called, I just let the guests do whatever. No agenda. No direction. Just hanging out. After a while, when the booze was gone, everyone would trickle out and I’d be left sitting on the back patio, deep in conversation with one or two of my best friends.
They were great parties for 20-somethings looking to have a good time and not much else. But, did they help me build long-lasting relationships? No. Why? Because instead of interacting with the people I’d never met, I would talk to people I already knew. I didn’t have a purpose for the party except to have a good time. So, that is all that happened. We had a good time and went along our merry way after it was over.
When you are throwing a party for your business, your purpose is extremely important because it will determine the results you get from your community. If you are using your community to build brand awareness, start a movement or create an army of raving fans, your focus should be on creating an experience where engagement thrives.
The guest experience starts with your community structure. Just like a party, communities are a blend of guidance and freedom — how much of each part determine where it falls on the experience scale, from Baby Shower on the structured end, Destination Wedding in the middle, all the way to Frat Party on the unstructured end.
The Baby Shower Experience
High Guidance + Low Freedom
This end of the experience spectrum is a highly structured group with lots of guided activities and very little room for any of your guests to initiate their own. Just think about the last baby shower you attended. You arrived, gift in hand, only to walk into a perfectly manicured, Pinterest-worthy party with every last detail in place. At first glance, you aren’t quite sure if you measure up — if you are wearing the right outfit, if your give will be swoon-worthy enough or if you can come up with enough polite small-talk to make it through. Luckily, the hostess has all the activities planned out to a tee. You play a series of oh-so-cute games, munch on too-cute snacks and the prescribed time and leave with the perfect parting gift.
Sound familiar? Baby Shower communities are very much the same. Perfectly polished, styled stock brands. It’s highly moderated and there are lots of rules about how to act and interact with the other community members including restrictions on promoting and posting links. Each day is fitted with a theme and a prompt to guide the conversation.
Pros: These communities are typically high vibe and very positive. The conversation is directed by the group hosts, admins and a tight group of core followers.
Cons: Sometimes new people feel overwhelmed, intimidated or worried they will break the rules. If it takes a while to get the hang of the group, some members will “bounce” or not stay very long.
The Destination Wedding Experience
Medium Guidance + Medium Freedom
The middle of the experience spectrum is the perfect balance between guided experience and freedom to do what you want. This is what I would expect from a good Destination Wedding. You are committed to being present for longer than normal – a few days compared to a few hours. Your host makes you feel welcome by making recommendations on places to stay, how to get around and even gives you a nice gift upon your arrival. You meet up with friend and relatives you haven’t seen for a while and catch up. You even get to meet new people. The host has a few important things planned, like the nuptials, dinner, and reception, but the other parts of your trip are left unscripted and open for you to explore. There are no “official” rules, besides rules of good wedding etiquette. Generally speaking, as long as you make a scene, you are probably doing fine. You can’t help but to go home and tell your friends about the amazing time you had along with all the funny stories that happened while you were there.
With a Destination Wedding Community, your focus is on making sure your guests are enjoying themselves as well as participate in the few important things you have planned. As far as rules, it is more important that the people in the group follow general group etiquette, aka being respectful and supportive, than to have a list of strict guidelines.
Pros: This type of group fosters collaboration and interaction. Community members feel comfortable “hanging out” in the group and building meaningful relationships.
Cons: There is always that one uncle that gets overly drunk and makes a scene at a wedding. The same goes for groups like this. There will be some that take advantage of the openness of the group, so having a plan to deal with abuses is necessary.
The Frat Party Experience
Low Guidance + High Freedom
I have to admit, I’ve never been to a frat party so I’m going off the idea that I’ve compiled from Netflix, YouTube, and the other interwebs. I’m talking binge-drinking, party until you drop, passed-out-with-no-pants-on kind of frat party. People attending have only their own agenda in mind – get wasted, get laid, or preferably both.
Frat Party Communities are not too different. Community guests have an agenda – usually self-promotion and getting sales and aren’t concerned with long-lasting relationships. Typically, there are no guidelines or direction and group members are left to themselves to interact with each other.
Pros: These group types are easy to admin because no moderation is needed.
Cons: While some members will always be respectful and supportive, the disrespectful and selfish members will soon run rampant and overpower the group.
The Right Balance
Your purpose, your brand and your community goals will help guide you in finding the right balance of Guidance and Freedom for your community experience. But perfecting it takes some experimentation and some trial and error.
Announcing Badassery Style Community — the Book!
Yep, you heard it. We are putting down all of our badass community building know-how into a real live book filled with tasty tidbits of community building deliciousness and plenty of worksheets to keep you in action-taking mode. The official release date is July 15, 2018, but, you can pre-order it today.
About the Author
Kathy Rasmussen is the Cofounder and Artistic Director of Badassery Magazine and Cohost of Badassery Podcast. She’s passionate about giving entrepreneurs the tools they need to follow their dreams and live a life of happiness and purpose.