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Ask GH: How do you start and grow a niche community like GH?
I can't speak for all communities, but I can share some insights about GrowthHackers. Like successful startups, it started with an unmet need. I've always craved a place where I could engage with other people that share my passion for growing companies. A place where I could share and learn. Additionally I've always wanted a place where I could get inspired with ideas for growing the customer bases that I'm responsible for expanding. I felt a void and figured others did too.
Once we decided to do it, we started building a platform. Of course it took longer than planned even though it was built on Wordpress and existing templates. Today's GrowthHackers.com is very different than the template it started from.
Once we "launched" the real hard work began. It helped to have a presence online already. It also helped to have a group of passionate people on the team to share the load with. In the beginning we submitted the majority of the content ourselves. But a few community members quickly become major contributors too (Anuj and Nichole in particular).
It also helped to have a topic that people are passionate about - both in a positive sense and a negative sense. If it doesn't spark passions it isn't interesting.
Our story is still evolving, so we're far from declaring that "we've made it." As the founder/CEO of a company, it's hard for me to find time to be active every day. But increasingly I find that GrowthHackers is my fun/relaxing time. Learning and sharing is a break from executing. I can't do it too often, but when I do, I enjoy it. That doesn't mean it doesn't require a lot of time and effort though. As a team, we need to be playing "full court press" until the community takes over and becomes self perpetuating.
The other thing that is important is to not over commercialize the community too early. Ultimately GrowthHackers is a property owned by Qualaroo, but like any "media" property we need to balance our financial needs with the needs of the community. Traditionally media properties have capped themselves on a percentage of pages or airtime that are allocated to "commercials". We'll need to have the same self imposed restraints.
Hope this helps. These are the things I think and have thought about on a daily basis since launching 100 days ago. Monthly visits are steadily climbing (I'll insert a graph later) and we've now attract over 80,000 unique marketers/growth hackers. I'll keep you posted on the process.
One other note... while it was useful to be able to leverage my online presence in the beginning, it has also helped enhance my presence. For example, my Twitter followers are up about 50% in 3 months. Another example is that one of my board members was talking to a WSJ journalist recently and mentioned my name. The journalist said "that's the GrowthHackers.com guy right?"
So while the site originally drafted off of my presence, I'm already finding myself gaining a much bigger presence as a result of it. I bring this up for someone who maybe feels like their presence isn't big enough to leverage. It tends to be a fairly symbiotic process.
Sean - thanks for your insights (& for the mention) above.
To your point of being able to leverage your presence - you clearly had (have) a lot of reputation & authority that could get people to notice you
Any thoughts on how someone who doesn't have that advantage - even a relative nobody - might go about getting the right people's attention to start seeding communities, that they feel might meet similar unmet needs?
As Visakan indicated too, presence is a part of the equation, so I think you need to put some focus on that. One short cut to building presence is to publish video or audio interviews with a lot of the "experts" in the topic matter. I've seen this work pretty well over the years. I believe it's because people watch for the expert, but can't help to notice that the "other person" asking the questions seems to know a lot too.
FWIW, I spent the first 10 years of my career in obscurity. I started building my "presence" in about 2008 by focusing on the following two things:
1) Learn through helping
2) Don't do things that could hurt my reputation (such as focusing on companies with low potential or enforcing contractual payments if someone was disappointed with my advising)
Helping 1:1 led to blogging ideas (I realized the areas where I had unique thoughts), blogging helped me crystalize ideas and led to speaking, speaking led to deal flow, deal flow gave me more wins and perceived authority.
Some people try to short cut a presence by being really abrasive, but I don't think that is a very sustainable strategy (and of course not your style at all).
It takes time and effort. Comedian Louis CK described this in an interview (http://moz.com/rand/so-why-do-i-have-the-platform-the-recognition/):
"There’s people that say: “It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.” I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by “new at it,” I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute."
The Growth Hacking part comes in when you think about how to accelerate that process, instead of doing blind trial-and-error. You get the right people's attention by asking the right questions, by getting them thinking. At the simplest level I think this is about ruthlessly pursuing your curiosity (and, of course, be pleasant enough that people aren't turned off from you.)
I think a lot of people underestimate the power of the newbie. Newbies can be valuable too, because they have fresh eyes. They'll ask questions that experts might not think to ask. I recommend starting a blog and asking questions on it, even if you don't have the answers right away. Then look for the answers, describe your process. This in itself helps others!
I'm basically echoing Sean here. The first actionable that I'd suggest is listing out all the questions you can think of, and then putting that in a blogpost, then try to find the answers to them, and blog those, too.
Thanks a lot Sean, this helps a lot. GrowthHackers is a great community and I'm trying to build a similar vertical community for event planners.
I think Xianhang Zhang nailed it with his blogpost "Disregard Ideas, Acquire Assets" http://blog.bumblebeelabs.com/disregard-ideas-acquire-assets/
"Without an initial community of high quality users, Stack Overflow would have died. Joel Spolsky & Jeff Atwood ran, at the time, two of the most popular programming blogs in the world and were able to generate sufficient interest and attention to get SO over the initial cold start hump."
So the community begins with a single individual. You want to put out stuff that resonates with other people. You can't create a community out of thin air, you have to build relationships with others. When you're just starting out, nobody's going to be interested in setting up a niche community with you- or to be more precise, the high-octane, high-quality people that you want onboard won't. So...
1: Identify the space you want to operate in
2: Get damn good at it (blogging is the best way, in my opinion)
3: Reach out to people who are interested and start having conversations with them, build relationships with them on Twitter, via email, make friends
4: Feature their thoughts and ideas on your blog, ask people questions, have your posts shared and discussed
5: When you start having more discussions than you can personally handle, launch the community.
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