Listen to Your Community - Tom RossListen to Your Community - Tom Ross

Listen to Your Community

You know what’s an under-rated skill in community building? Listening. In a world where everyone seems to be fighting for the biggest megaphone to blast their message at the masses, the simple act of listening remains one of the single most effective skills in a community builder’s arsenal.

If you are in a rush, here are the key takeaways from this article:

Let’s get meta, shall we?

As many of you know, I’m currently working on my next closed community, hopefully launching late July. I’m SUPER excited about this, and it should also provide an excellent teaching tool for this article. I’ll be documenting the entire process of launching my own community with you all, super transparently. 

First up, I have to share the domain I got for this community of community builders. I was gonna keep it a secret, but I’m legit so proud of this:

Could that be any more perfect!? 😀

(hit comment below and let me know if you love it too).

Why you need to listen

To avoid listening is to assume, and assumption is a bad idea for any budding community builder.

You may have an approximate idea of the community you aspire to build, but without talking to prospective members, you can’t ever really understand the deep nuances of what they want from this space.

My aspiration to create a ‘community for community builders’ is great, but fails to answer some key questions:

  • Who is the perfect person for this community?
  • What will they want most from it?
  • What would success look like for them as a result of being part of this community?
  • What is my core value proposition?
  • What content should I plan for members?
  • In the wide-range of possible topics around community, which do they care most about?

I should never be guessing the answers to these pivotal questions, I should be asking.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. Tons of you filled out a recent Google form that I slipped into a recent newsletter. I’ve been reading every response and sending personal emails back, with further probing questions. The result? Pure inspiration and clarity.

This is actually similar to the approach I took when starting my community at my company Design Cuts. I had one-on-one conversations with our first 300 members. After a 30-60 min phone call with one of our members, I’d always walk away feeling motivated to serve them better, and would have 1-2 ‘golden nuggets’ of feedback that I could then channel back into improving our platform. Those conversations ultimately led to the insights that let us grow so explosively in year 1. 8 years later, and we’re adopting this exact same approach as we prepare to launch our latest community platform for our members.

What your early feedback tells me

Based on these early conversations I’ve been having, I’m getting a deep insight into what potential members want from this community:

What you’re telling me you want:

  • Mentorship
  • A roadmap for community building
  • One-on-one help
  • Accountability (and accountability partners/motivation)
  • Interactive workshops
  • Genuine friendships
  • Valuable answers to questions
  • Chemistry between members
  • Networking opportunities
  • A clear, unified purpose for the group
  • Collaboration opportunities
  • Opportunities for member conversations when I’m not there (mini group calls etc)
  • Smaller groups within the group
  • Actionable points to follow
  • Sense of belonging that peers are experiencing the same things
  • Group brainstorming exercises
  • Benefitting from various perspectives
  • Support during the tough times
  • Feedback on things we’re trying

Here’s a look at what you don’t want:

  • Too much noise
  • Being dumped into the community without direction
  • Lack of activity
  • Poor quality content
  • Lack of support
  • Hustle culture
  • Shaming

Here are a handful of content ideas that have stemmed from these conversations. I’m planning presentations on all of these for members:

  • How to use your audience to launch a closed community
  • How to find your ideal community members
  • How to make community management sustainable
  • How to encourage community members to interact with each other (with less of your direct involvement)
  • Finding confidence to start/run a community
  • How to keep members coming back (retention)
  • A list of the best community tools

There were surprises too

The biggest surprise is that the majority of interested people don’t currently run a closed community yet, but aspire to launch one. They have a social media audience, and want to make the leap to community owner.

This is something I hadn’t considered, but as a result of listening, it will invariably become a key pillar inside this community.

Imagine not knowing all this!

In the space of a couple of weeks, I feel like I’m learning more and more about how to make this community a truly special place.

I’ve already decided to pivot from monthly live teaching sessions to weekly, as there’s just so much content I want to cover. There’s also a ton of ideas brewing for how to create really fun, personal, friendly micro community spaces within the community.

It would have been SUPER dumb of me to leap in and launch this community without doing this exercise of listening. I could easily have made a mis-step or not properly developed/defined the value proposition for members.

Please share your feedback

I’m not done yet. I’m still listening and learning. I’m definitely not ready to build this thing until I’m totally clear on exactly what you guys want from it.

As a result, I’ve put together a new survey. Even if you filled out the original, please take the time to complete this one. It goes more in depth and will help me plan the first batch of presentations and live sessions for members.

It also includes a field where you can register your interest in being one of the first 100 members (I’m capping this initial launch at 100 people, so those early members are going to benefit from a lower price than others, and all the fun of the early period).

Click here to complete this survey and register your interest.

The actionable takeaway

If you’re planning to launch your own community soon, over-commit to active listening. I’m sending multiple surveys and having hundreds of conversations at scale for the best part of a month, to ensure that I start my community off on the right footing.

Don’t get swept up in the excitement of your idea and launch it gung-ho, without laying a proper foundation first.

Promise me? 🙂

Oh, and as ever, hit ‘comment’ on this article. Let me know what you thought of this issue. I always love to hear from you.

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