It’s easy to see the successes bloggers like Darren Rowse and Chris Brogan are having with social media and think, “I want that.” Darren’s ProBlogger Facebook Page has over 47,000 Likes, and Chris has over 109,000 people following him on Google+
I’m not in their league, but in less than 2 years my LinkedIn Group, Sticky Branding, grew to over 24,000 members. People see these successes, and want to replicate them for their businesses.
But cruise the social media highway, and you will find countless Facebook Pages and LinkedIn Groups that are floundering or abandoned. They’re virtual ghost towns. They were set up with good intentions, but failed to ever get off the ground.
For example, there are over 1.3 million groups on LinkedIn, but only 3% of them have 1,000 or more members. And less than 0.017% of groups break 10,000 members. Vibrant, engaged and growing social media communities are not the average.
The reason so many groups fail is they don’t achieve a critical mass. They don’t reach the starting point of 1,000 members to form the seed of a community.
Communities start with 1,000 members
Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus, argues that groups function best between 8 and 16 people or more than 1,000 members. He writes, “Being a participant in a midsize group often feels lousy, because you get neither the pleasures of tight interconnection nor the advantages of urban scale and diversity.”
A few hundred followers isn’t enough. You’ve got to break 1,000 members to get your group off the ground, because as Shirky explains, “Better than 99 percent of the audience members don’t participate, they just consume.”
Only 1% of an online community are active Content Creators, the rest are not. 90% of a community is silent. They don’t forward articles, respond to comments or even press the Like button. They simply consume. The remaining 9% are Curators. They share the community’s content through retweets, shares and Likes, but they aren’t actively creating new comments or engaging with other members.
To carry on a group conversation you need at least 10 active Content Creators. They’re the kernel of your community. They keep it going, and make it a fun vibrant place. Without 1,000 members it’s very hard to foster and sustain conversations and engagement.
Grow your community through your network
Getting your first 1,000 members is hard! There are no silver bullets to achieve this milestone. It’s hard slogging.
The first 1,000 members will come from your network. They will be people you know, and they’ll join because you ask them. They are there because they like you, trust you and want to support you.
I chose to build the Sticky Branding group in LinkedIn, because I was very active in the platform. At the time I had around 700 connections, and it made sense to build a group where I could invite people I was already connected too.
When the group launched in May 2010 I invited all my connections, and 300 of them joined. This was a good starting point, but the next 700 members came one invitation at a time. And that was eight months of hard work.
I made a point of being an active networker. I attended conferences and events, followed up with old clients and colleagues, and reached out to people far and wide. It was a good opportunity to connect and meet people, but it was also the touch point to invite people who shared in my interests of branding, sales and marketing. They joined because they were intrigued, and they joined because I invited them.
Avoid promotions to grow your community
It’s easy to get frustrated with the invitation process, and try to find shortcuts like promotions and giveaways to grow your group. Avoid this temptation.
If your goal is to grow a community—a place where like-minded people engage, share ideas, help each other and carry on conversations—you need a specific type of member. You need members that buy into the purpose of the community, and share similar interests and values. You need members who want to be a part of a community.
Promotions and giveaways don’t attract people seeking a community—they attract people seeking free stuff. You may get a surge of new members from a promotion, but it’s not likely they’ll stick around and become active members in your community.
Take pride in your community
People can spot a promotion-driven group from a mile away. The content is all about the group owner (the brand), and not about its members. These aren’t communities, they’re marketing platforms.
The best groups have engaged group owners that love connecting with new people and sharing ideas and content.
Above all else, enjoy the experience of organizing a community. Have fun growing your group, and take pride in it. If you love your group it will be easy to ask people to join, and it will be easy to go out into the real world and talk about the exciting new group you’re building.
Your passion and excitement is infectious, and it will accelerate your group’s growth beyond anything else. It will be the most effective way to get your group past the 1,000 member mark, and enable it to grow into a boundaryless community.
For more strategies and ideas on how to grow a boundarlyess social media community check out my ebook, Nobody Likes To Dance Alone: How to grow a social media community. It draws on my experience growing the Sticky Branding group, and shares practical ideas on how you too can grow a vibrant community.