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  • Writer's pictureOyindamola Deyi-Daniel

The Role of Community for Startup Success

Now, more than ever, people see the importance of community and are intentional about the kinds of community that they engage in.

Startups are beginning to include community building as a strategy for growth.

While community can truly help you connect to users and build brand loyalty, you'll not get any result if you don't do it right.

We put together this conversation to uncover strategies for community building and see how much impact it has on startup success.

Meet The Speakers

About Haneefah Abdurrahman

Haneefah is an award-winning community manager who loves communicating and meeting people.

She is currently the programs and community manager at Ingressive for Good, a tech non-profit on a mission to train 1,000,000 African youths and place 5000 of them in jobs.

Being the community manager, Haneefah manages the tech programs, scholarships, networks, and student community.

She won the community manager of the year award at CMX and is building a community for community managers in Africa.

It’s worthy of note to mention that she writes the Ingressive for Good newsletters that people absolutely love!

Haneefah will be diving deep into how important leveraging community is for any type of business or startup in this conversation.

About Salem King

Salem is a content creator and content strategist. It’s funny that he thinks he is an accidental social media influencer.

He is passionate about storytelling and community as a whole. In the process of pursuing what he loves and reaching out to the people he is trying to help, primarily creators, Salem happened to see a community form around him.

He had to learn on the job.

All these things he learned from experience, including managing a large online community, came together to become the book he wrote.

For someone who had learned so much from the people around him, he thought to package it as a book, so more people can learn from him,

Salem is glad to be joining this conversation.

Highlights of the conversation

What a Community Really Means

A community isn’t just bringing a group of people together. It’s more than that.

It has to be based on shared value, understanding, and care amongst community members.

It's made up of a group of people who're coming together for a reason, and that reason is the shared value.

For example, In Ingressive for Good, our community members come together to meet each other because of tech. They either want to start a career in tech, want to get a job, or want to access opportunities. It's also around that value of tech. - Haneefah Abdurrahman

So you must understand that these people, who are coming into the community, want to know and help each other.

They want to grow. That's what shared value is.

Every single member of a community has shared values behind their mind and help each other to make sure that they remember. - Haneefah Abdurrahman

Remaining Connected to Your Community - Salem’s Story

Salem started as someone who was just creating content consistently and in about a month, he went from 50 comments to hundreds of comments.

Salem always made sure he replied to all of his comments. Sometimes he tapped on people's profile to know more about them so he could drop a more personal comment.

You know, I just felt like, wow, somebody took 60 seconds out of their attempt to engage in my content. The least I can do is respond to their comments in a personal way. - Salem King

He didn't even know this was a community-building strategy and that he was connecting with people who would later be super fans.

I'll say the whole process was very humbling and one of the ways I've tried to stay connected no matter what is by encouraging more communities to form through my community. - Salem King

Salem is not just excited about having a large community of about 50,000, he understands that things still happen in small communities of 50 - 100 people.

He now knows that community is a very important need and that as long as humans have existed, there has always been a need to exist in communities.

I encourage every Creator, every business owner, and every leader to allow communities to form around them. - Salem King

Engaging With Your Community

There are cases where people say “Oh! I have 5000 followers or people on my mailing list, but they don’t talk to me”. How do you make people engage with you in your community?

1. Create Collaboration

Find out what organizations or companies your community already loves and engages with and collaborate with them.

For instance, if your audiences like jazz or they love Tik-Tok, and trending stuff like that, Those are kind of the places that you want to create collaboration. Don't be inaccessible. - Haneefah Abdurrahman

2. Interact

Don't close the door on people. Make them feel welcome. Be inclusive!

One good thing that we love to do at Ingressive for Good, which is a lot of work, but we love to do it, is that we make sure to answer every single e-mail and almost every single comment in every single conversation. We try to drop a ‘Like’ or a ‘good job’. Something that would make them open up and come back to keep having conversations with you - Haneefah Abdurrahman

It’s a good thing to help community members take initiative. Be the first to do what you want them to do. When they see that, it’s easy for them to do it too.

3. Give a Lot

You need to be willing to give a lot when it comes to building a community. It is different from marketing.

Even though there has been a lot of comparison between community building and marketing, community is more about giving.

You need to have a giving spirit and really never take more than you give when working with your community. - Haneefah Abdurrahman

Motive for Building a Community

Should you build a community for the sake of conversion or just for awareness?

Truth is, beyond your business needs, humans need community as it's a basic need.

A lot of times we need community just for the sake of community.

You know, in my book, I talked about Maslow's hierarchy of needs and how he arranges the most important needs of man. The first is food, water, and shelter. The second is safety and security, and the third one of the most important things you need to actually have a fulfilled life is community, a sense of belonging. - Salem King

If you have a community, you are already meeting a basic need.

A lot of business owners and creators forget that when you give people something and you create an atmosphere where they are comfortable, they are more likely to buy.

People are more likely to buy from people that they know, like, and trust.

It's important to treat it as if you solving a problem for them.

Human beings are inherently selfish. Everybody's thinking about themselves.

You know, nobody wakes up in the morning, and is like, “how do I make a business more money?” Nobody's thinking like that. They're thinking about their own problems. So as a business person, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the people that you want to buy from you or the people you want to convert. - Salem King

Of course, there are some needs that they have to pay to get met, but they still need to see that you are intentional about meeting that need for a sense of belonging.

They want to have someone to talk to and to feel the empathy that comes from the community.

Human beings are really obvious. People can tell a lot of times when the only reason you're doing this thing is just because you want to convert them - Salem King

When people can tell that you truly care about them, they will start to talk about their experiences, and through word of mouth, there will be more awareness and conversions.

Build a community for the sake of community. If this is done right - awareness, conversions, these things will be byproducts. - Salem King

Important Community Metrics to Track

Generally, anything you don't track doesn't grow right.

So what metrics do you look out for when you are assessing your communities?

1. Support.

If your community-building strategy is to help members answer whatever questions they have and drive customer satisfaction, you need to track the rate at which people get their questions answered.

You should track the rate at which people were answering questions before the community and compare it to the number of questions that are being answered by your community members now. How fast are community members answering each other's questions? - Haneefah Abdurrahman

2. Product Testimonials/Feedback

If you are building your community around a product, then this is a really important metric to track.

Collecting and tracking feedback and testimonials is a way to ensure that you are improving your products to meet the needs of community members.

A lot of insights from those conversations are the kind of metrics that you want to track. One particularly great example would be the data community in the Ingressive for Good community. There are a lot of features that community members introduced, or you know, just like randomly talked about. - Haneefah Abdurrahman

3. Acquisition

If your community goal is to acquire new customers, you want to track how many leads or customers are from the community.

This is also where brand ambassadors and advocates come in. How many brand advocates do you have without even asking for brand advocates?

You want to pay attention to what your community members are saying to each other. Is it positive or negative?

4. Engagement

Engagement is one of the most important metrics to track when you are driving your community through content and resources.

You want to know how many people are downloading your resources, commenting, and contributing.

You should check your email analytics to see the open rates and click-through rates.

5. Retention

Here, you want to know how many people keep attending your events. Commenting on your posts and how long they stay in your community.

Are they spending two minutes or five minutes per day in your closed community? Are they sharing your community link with other people?

You need to know if the same community members are the ones who keep coming back to your events and that you are not losing people along the line.

Basically track metrics that prove that community members are being retained, it proves loyalty.

6. Success

This metric is more about product adoption, you want to connect your community member acquisition to how many people are actively using your products.

How many people are downloading your product?

Content Frequency

Have you ever been in a situation where you received emails from a particular brand consistently and then you start to feel like it’s too much, so you eventually unsubscribe?

Since you don't want to piss off your subscribers or community members, Is there anything like over-creating content?

The frequency of the content you publish should depend on the channel you are using to send it out.

Usually, creators should have different channels they are using to reach their audience.

Over-creating content may not apply to social platforms like Twitter or Instagram because your audience has a choice on whether to consume it or not.

However, if you are sending emails, you need to be cautious of the frequency as emails are more personal, and too much of it can cause people to unsubscribe.

It's important to be more civil with how you are bombarding people with emails because that's coming directly to their inboxes. That's personal. - Salem King

Another thing that can also guide your content frequency is to monitor your insights, this way, you know what they like and what they are happy to engage with.

I'm big on social listening. It's not just about creating, listening is also important. Basically, keeping your finger on the pulse of your audience checking what they like? What do they respond to? - Salem King

Don’t just create and move on. Check how people are responding to the content you create. What are they doing with it?

Which posts are they saving? Saving means they like it so much they want to look at it twice. Which posts are they sharing? If they are sharing it, It means you resonate with people that they know, so they want other people to experience it. - Salem King

It's also important to ask your audience questions about what they like. However, ask in a way that makes it easy for them to give feedback.

One thing I see creators do a lot is they just ask “what kind of content do you like to see from me?” That's a good question, but it's too vague. It's also like you're giving them assignments to think about what kind of content they will like. You can make it easier by giving them options. - Salem King

If what you are creating is what people want, then there is nothing like over-creating.

Where should you host your community?

Choosing a platform to host your community should largely depend on the type of people you are building your community for.

I belong to a community of content marketing professionals, it's on slack. It makes sense that it's on slack because a lot of people there are people working in non-tech roles, so it makes sense that it’s on slack because a lot of them already are on slack for their jobs. - Salem King

You must know your target audience enough to know where they can converge and engage easily without elongating their learning curve.

There's so much more information, so much more intricate details about each audience you're trying to reach out to that will inform the decisions you make about what platforms to use, how to communicate with them, what times to communicate with them, the frequency of content creation, what language to use? What should the tone be? All of these things. - Salem King

There's no one size fits all approach to community.

Each community leader, each organization, and each creator has to be intentional about understanding their community and how they want to receive information.

Can a Community Outgrow a Business?

It’s very possible for a community that was formed around a business to grow so large beyond the business.

There's a human touch to everything and the nature of human beings is that we will continually evolve, you know. So, of course, communities will evolve away from companies or outgrow them or become larger - Salem King

So Duolingo has this amazing community where you can learn languages with your peers, even outside of the app. They've made it so much that you can see people that you are learning with. I think a couple of months ago, earlier this year, on clubhouse, we are starting to see community members forming teams and groups and having conversations. It's a plus for Duolingo because, at the end of the day, everybody will still come back to come and learn on Duolingo or teach on Duolingo. - Haneefah Abdurrahman

A lot of times as the business grows, goals evolve, and communities evolve too. It’s at this point that communication is important to manage growth.

Who Should Manage A Community?

There is a lot of confusion about who is in the right position or who has the right skill set to manage a community appropriately.

Should your social media manager do it? Should you hire a community manager or should you use your in-house resources?

The answer to this depends on how much community is important to you.

I don't think businesses should just wake up and just be like, “oh! we need to have a community”.
Not every business needs a community if you are being very honest. There are a bunch of businesses that don't have any community around them and are thriving.
These days, a lot of businesses just be like “oh! It’ll be nice for us to have a community. Let's do it.” No, you need to have a clear reason and objective why you're deciding to have a community, and if you're doing it, you have to do very well. - Salem King

Every business is expected to do their cost-benefit analysis before they make decisions like starting a full-blown community, this includes considering the resources you need to do it right, like hiring a community manager.

I understand that sometimes startups have to bootstrap and run lean. So somebody who gets employed as a social media manager may have to work as a community manager. But long term, if the community is central to your business model and all of that, you should either train this person so that they are more adept than the average social media manager or hire a skilled community manager - Salem King

So, depending on how important community is to your business model, you should either invest in the best people you can get or invest in the people you have so they can be the best.

Community Onboarding Process

When people are joining your community, some activities should be in place to help them feel welcomed and settle in nicely.

In Ingressive for Good, you have to fill out a form to share some of your details with us. And then there's an automated email that you get, that kind of welcomes you. “Hi, welcome to the community. These are what we are and what we do. These are our values and these are the type of programs that you can have access to. Here is a quick resource for you that you might enjoy and then very importantly is a prompt to join the Telegram group or talk to us on Twitter and use a hashtag so we can find you”. - Haneefah Abdurrahman

You should onboard new community members on the platform where your community is, showing them a clear, step-by-step guideline on what to do after they have gotten your welcome message.

You should also activate challenges that make community members talk to each other.

Community Building Strategy

There is a balance between having a strategy before you launch a community and learning while at it.

Anyone who has worked in startups knows that a lot of times you have to ship something that you don't 100% feel like is ready because it's in people using it, you know what you need to add. So on one hand, strategy is important because before you start building, you need to know that you have enough resources to undertake it. However, there's so much to learn about the community you want to serve that you will not know until you start to serve the community. - Salem King

The balance is to first know who exactly you want to serve and have a solution to an existing problem that you can communicate clearly.

You can't build a community just because you want to have a community. It needs to be based on the fact that there's a need and you have a product or a solution. - Salem King

With that basic information, you can start building your community and keep improving as you grow.

Document every step of the journey, and learn what's working.

What triggers engagement? What makes people actually talk? What makes people interact? What do they like about your product? What do they like about your solution?

Then apply all of it to your strategy for the community.

I believe it's important to have a strategy at the beginning, but keep it open and flexible. Let it be an ongoing strategy that will be adjusted as you go, rather than you know something that stops you from taking any new steps. - Salem King

Your community will most likely not be perfect until you invite people to your hot mess and then clean it up from there.

Partnerships for Community Building

Partnerships are a good way to share the responsibilities of providing what your community needs to grow.

You want to make sure that you're partnering with other organizations that would help your community members grow. Also, help you carry some responsibilities that come with running the community and driving engagements - Haneefah Abdurrahman

Some important questions that you want to ask yourself include;

  1. Why would you want to partner with this organization?

  2. Why are they important to you and your community?

  3. What do you expect from them and what will they bring to the table?

  4. What are you also bringing to their own table?

  5. How will your members react to that kind of partner?

  6. Will it be a formal or a loose partnership?

  7. Will it be a long-term partnership or a short-term partnership?

Always look at partnership from your community members' point of view - Haneefah Abdurrahman

Understand your audience and use that to make decisions about what type of strategic partnerships you should create.

Overall, partnerships are really important for your community, and again, be very careful. Be very wary and don't just do it on the whim all the time. Try to do a lot of thinking before diving into that partnership. - Haneefah Abdurrahman

Doing Giveaways for Community Building

Doing giveaways seem to be a strategy a lot of brands are using for community building. It may seem to be working but may not be of great benefit in the long run.

When you start that way, it becomes very difficult to stop which is bad for a business that is trying to make profits.

A lot of times, the whole point of building community is that you're trying to generate leads that are a little more than just leads - warm leads, people who already understand what you do. So when it's time to part with money, it's not as difficult, right? But if they came in as receivers, it's really difficult to change them to anything else. - Salem King

Ambassador Programs for Community Building

Ambassador programs are not necessary for all types of communities, however, if your goal is to generate leads or acquire new customers, then set up an ambassador program.

At Ingressive for Good, one of the main reasons why we started the ambassador program was to reach more students. Again, it goes back to metrics. We have a goal to make sure that 40% of our community members are students and that's why we started the ambassador program. So imagine you know, having ambassadors across institutions in Africa, these are ambassadors that are building their community there. - Haneefah Abdurrahman

If acquisition is a major goal for your community, brand ambassadorship and referral programs are a very good strategy.

Setting Boundaries in Your Community

In communities, it is possible that people start to get very comfortable, which is what you want, but there might be a sense of entitlement that comes with it that could eventually drain you.

People will keep asking.

You need to learn how to be valuable without being a walkover. - Salem King

To handle this, it's important to communicate your boundaries very clearly.

Communication helps a lot. You know, it's important to communicate very clearly, so people know this is what you get from me. This is what the contract is - Salem King

First, you need to decide on what lines you don't want people to cross and then communicate it firmly without feeling bad about it.

People feel bad and that's why they allow other people to walk all over them. But you shouldn't feel bad if you're offering a whole lot of value, and you decide that by 8:00 PM, I don't want to respond to any messages. You can't. Basically, you need to rate yourself. If you go to a bank, for example at 5:00 PM, nobody's going to answer you, and everybody moves accordingly. - Salem King

You need to have things about you that won't compromise regardless of who it is and make sure that everyone who works with you, everyone who is a member of your community understands this.

Over-communicate it!

With time, everyone will know the rules and you'd even have those who will be on the lookout for you.

So for example, one of the rules is don't share a link or don't share any information on the group without, you know, our approval. And if somebody does that, a lot of the time, you find a community member that says this is not allowed and the tag you - Haneefah Abdurrahman

It's also important that you guide how conversations flow in the community. A good way to do that is to have a calendar on what discussions should be going on per time.

Wrapping Up

It was indeed a value-packed session with Haneefah and Salem and they had some final words for us.

Everyone who is deciding to start communities or be part of communities should understand that it's a great responsibility and you know, just take it seriously and do it well. - Salem King

If you are not serious about your community, it'll fail. so just like every other thing else, take it seriously. - Haneefah Abdurrahman

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