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5 Myths That Kill Thriving Communities (And How to Avoid Them)

Let’s face it…

Building a strong community can be difficult.

In my time as the Lead Community Strategist at DigitalMarketer, I’ve learned there are many misconceptions that can kill your community before it’s even started.

If your community is struggling to get off the ground or is trending downward, it could be that you’re thinking about community the wrong way.

Today, I’m breaking down five common myths surrounding community management and offering tips and strategies you should be doing to encourage a thriving tribe.

Let’s get right to it!

Community Myth #1: “If You Build It, They Will Come.”

Community Myth #1: If you build it they will come

I see it time and time again – a company sets up a forum, Facebook group, or (worse) purchases an expensive enterprise-level community platform. They hire a community manager and say, “Make this work!”

They just know it’s going to be the next big thing since Reddit.

And… crickets.

The Powers That Be start to wonder…

  • Where are all the raving fans?
  • Why aren’t members talking?
  • Why aren’t people flocking in droves to my shiny new platform?

The idea that people will intuitively swarm to your online community and organically start discussions is one of the WORST assumptions a company can make.

It's vital to figure out the exact purpose of your community before you take the platform plunge. ~Suzi NelsonThat’s because setting up a community takes strategyespecially at the beginning. The magic doesn’t just happen.

It’s VITAL to figure out the exact purpose of your community before you take the platform plunge.

Before you launch your community – or if you are struggling to get your new community off the ground – here are a few questions to ask yourself to help ensure your community’s success:

1. How Is My Community Positioned?

Communities are made up of a segment of people (hopefully, a segment of your market) who all share something unique in common, generally speaking:

  • An experience
  • A goal
  • Or a strong common interest

You can think of it like this:

Community Myths Venn Diagram

If the mutual commonality your members share is too broad or uninteresting, it’s difficult for members to find something worth talking about, and doubly difficult to get them to form emotional connections with each other.

Let’s look at an example…

Harley Owners Group (HOG) home page

This is Harley Owners Group (or HOG), an online community for – you guessed it – owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Let’s break this community down…

Specific Group of People

HOG does a great job of providing niche spaces for a variety of their market segments.

For example, they provide unique spaces for different demographics, like an area for women to connect with each other or for riders to find HOG members in local chapters.

HOG membership groups

Mutual Common Bond

Behavioral psychologists have done the hard work for you and have figured out that people bond around three specific areas based on what they have in common. Namely…

  1. shared goals
  2. shared experiences
  3. shared interests

…or some combination of those three.

Notice what’s missing?

A product purchase.

Owning a Harley-Davidson motorcycle isn’t the only thing that unites HOG members.

There are tons of people who own Harleys who don’t identify with the HOG community:

  • They don’t dress the same.
  • They aren’t interested in talking about customizing their rides.
  • They don’t attend rallies.

What HOG members share is a lifestyle. Their motorcycles are an extension of their identity.

Scientifically speaking, HOG is a great example of a Community of Practice – where members share a specific hobby, profession, or interest. They…

  • Share the same passion
  • Get excited about the same things
  • Celebrate the same victories
  • Mourn the same losses

They identify with a certain lifestyle that non-HOG members don’t relate to.

If HOG was positioned to appeal to every single Harley-Davidson owner – not giving due consideration to specific customer avatars or the specific lifestyle they share – this online community would fizzle, not sizzle.

Just like with marketing offers, SPECIFICITY in positioning wins the day.

But what if you sell a product or service that isn’t, well… inherently interesting?

The Coffee Table Problem

Let’s take coffee tables for example.

Just about everyone has a coffee table in their home or office. But when was the last time you had a passionate conversation about it with someone else? How many coffee table enthusiasts are out there?

I call this The Coffee Table Problem. "I call this the coffee table problem."

Consider that Swedish, ready-to-assemble furniture company we all know and love… IKEA!

IKEA specializes in coffee tables. And chairs. And couches, bed frames, bookshelves, and other “boring” products that don’t necessarily have an intrinsic community “built in.”

So, how can a furniture company like IKEA create a community around a strong common interest?

Easy… they made a community that didn’t bond around coffee tables – they bond around home design!

Meet Share Space:

Ikea Share Space

IKEA was able to come up with a community solution because they have already mastered the art of serving their market not their product.

Safe to say that you should spend some serious time hammering out the positioning of your community. Miss the mark here, and you’re going to struggle to get your community off the ground.

Which leads us to our next question…

2. How Does My Community Provide Unique Value to Its Members?

It’s VERY difficult to start a new community that doesn’t offer anything UNIQUE to its members.

If there is a strong, active community that already exists for the members you want to serve, think very carefully about what makes your particular community unique in value.

If this is your struggle, consider adjusting your member criteria – the demographics of your new members or the common interests that tie them together.

Let’s look at that Venn diagram one more time…

Community Myths Venn Diagram

With the diagram above in mind, let’s say you start a community of moms in the United States (demographics) who want to require companies to offer paid maternity leave (common goal). But… a strong community for these women already exists.

You can adjust your community by adding more demographics, such as a community of moms who live in Brooklyn.

Alternatively, you can add more common interests – a community of moms who want to require companies to offer paid maternity leave by organizing marches.

Adjusting positioning creates a unique space for your members that they can’t find anywhere else. You want your ideal members to think, “Finally, a place for me!

Next, our final question is…

3. Do You Have a Plan for Introducing Passionate People into Your New Community and Getting Meaningful Discussions Going?

Believe it or not, people usually don’t automatically engage in an online community.

"You want something in place to make new members feel like they've found their tribe."They browse the content and make sure it’s for them. They read conversations to get a feel for things. Even then, they usually don’t comment or create their own content without a friendly nudge.

Regardless of platform, there are two big ways to help get people talking.

The first is how you welcome your new members.

It might be an automated welcome message…

An example of a automated welcome message from the BabyCenter Community

a newbie corner…

An example of a newbie corner

…or maybe a video!

An example of a Welcome Video for the DigitalMarketer Community

The point is, you want something in place to make new members feel like they’ve found their tribe – that their presence is welcome!

Be sure your welcome message (whatever the format) gives newbies an idea of your community culture and how they can best participate.

Also, include a call-to-action (CTA) within your post to get them talking to each other right away, as we do, twice, within this post:

DigitalMarketer Community Welcome Post with CTAs

The second method for giving that participation “nudge” is to introduce members to each other.

This tactic has worked wonders for our DigitalMarketer Engage group, a community for DigitalMarketer Lab members.

(NOTE: Not a DM Lab Member? Start a trial membership for $1.)

If you know two members have something in common, take the initiative to make sure they (virtually) meet!

Introducing community members within DigitalMarketer's community

The more members realize they have in common, the stronger the community will be.

Bottom line, starting a community takes some serious thought and strategy when starting out.

Don’t just launch a platform and hope for the best. Answer these three questions and use it to help you put a plan in place to create a strong and active community.

The next community management myth is…

Community Myth #2: “Community Management Isn’t a Full-Time Job.”

Community Myth #2: Community management isn't a full time job

I’m going to go ahead and take a pretty strong stance here…

If you hire a community manager and they can’t find enough community stuff to do during work hours, you either…

A) hired the wrong person or…

B) your company doesn’t take community seriously

Now, a lot of companies will hire part-time community managers when first starting out. But new communities are what need the MOST time and attention.

Not dedicating enough time and strategy often leads to community failure.

That’s because community managers worth their salt don’t just moderate – it’s not all about removing spammers and banning trolls.

Community managers spend a lot of time creating community culture. That is the…

  • beliefs
  • customs
  • language
  • rituals
  • behavior

…that make a particular community unique.

Creating culture manifests itself in a few community tactics…

1. Creating Community Guidelines

First, a good set of guidelines informs culture because it gives members an expectation of what kinds of behavior are expected – and what behavior results in a ban.

Instagram Community Guidelines

Community managers not only work to establish these guidelines but also make sure their community members are behaving accordingly.

Good guidelines help create a safe space for all those member-to-member relationships to take place.

2. Encouraging Community Member-Specific Language

Next, an indicator of a strong community culture is that members share a specific, members-only language.

Consider the model of community success: Reddit.

They constantly use words like karma, upvote, doggo, neckbeard, etc… Words that have little meaning to anyone not in the know.

Reddit Community Glossary

Successful community managers keep their eyes peeled for member-specific language and encourage it rather than squash it.

3. Creating Consistent, Discussion-Driving Content for Your Community

Finally, communities that only broadcast – such as post news stories, blog posts, or even offers with little to no context – find that discussion is difficult to create.

Members often join communities to get a particular question answered. Once they get the information they are seeking, they will disappear forever unless they are given a compelling reason to come back.

You can give users a reason to come back by consistently creating opportunities for conversation and discussion. This is the cornerstone to providing the motivation for participation.

For instance, consider this monthly post we refer to as #ResourceRoundup in the DigitalMarketer Engage community:

DigitalMarketer Engage Resource Roundup

Each month, we ask our members to share with the group their resources on a specific topic – in this case, their marketing tech stacks. This gives other members the opportunity to connect with each other beyond just having a DM Lab membership.

Now members know they have so much more in common and are able to connect on a deeper level, like giving each other tips and suggestions:

An example of DigtialMarketer Engage community members giving each other tips

Implementing the above three tactics along with…

  • integrating new members
  • resolving conflicts
  • and yes, deleting spam and banning trolls

…and you can see how community management is not (nor should it be) part-time work.

This leads us to our next myth…

Community Myth #3: “Community Is Just Another Marketing Audience.”

Community Myth #3: Community is just another marketing audience

No. No, no, no, no, no.

I often share community management strategies with our DigitalMarketer community, and this is the #1 myth I bust every time we get to talking about online communities.

"That's when the community magic happens."If a business is going to invest in community – a true community, where members are building relationships with each other – communication is completely different than communicating with marketing channels.

If communication within the community is made up of marketing messages – or if the conversation is mainly a back-and-forth between your company representative and members – you are NOT creating unique value for your community members.

That’s more like an audience than a community.

By contrast, if communication is mainly member-to-member – and your community strategy serves to make that easier – that’s when community magic happens.

To illustrate, here is an example of a marketing message:

An example of a DigitalMarketer marketing message for a heatmap tool

…and here’s an illustration of community content:

A community content example for DigitalMarketer Engage

The first image is not designed to drive a discussion – it’s a marketing message aimed to get people to take a certain action.

The second is meant to get people talking!

I can’t stress this enough: A community is NOT a place for direct sales. Because your community is not a marketing audience – it’s an entirely different animal.

Don’t get me wrong, fostering strong member relationships and creating a unique community will result in lots of amazing business benefits, resulting in…

  • increased retention
  • reduced churn
  • improved customer satisfaction
  • amplified sales through word-of-mouth referrals

…just to name a few. "A community is not a place for direct sales."

But it’s a SLOW game. Results can take months or even years of work, but it pays off!

Next, the community myth surrounding member participation.

Community Myth #4: “Most Community Members Don’t Participate, So It Must Be a Failure.”

Community Myth #4: Most community members don't participate, so it must be a failure

Conversations about this myth tend to surface as communities reach a critical mass – that means that the majority (50%+) of community content is generated by members themselves.

Community activity levels may be looking good, but a high amount of your community is made up of lurkers”: Community members who don’t actively participate in the community; they “lurk” in the background reading the content but do not post or comment themselves.

"Just about every community on the internet has the same issue."And the number of lurkers in your community has your boss in a twist.

In truth, just about every community on the internet has the same issue.

Consider that there’s an entire concept around this idea called the 1% Rule. This says that, in general, only 1% of community members actually create new content while 99% are non-participants (or lurkers).

If that seems discouraging, the next school of thought is marginally better: It’s the 90-9-1 Principle that says…

  • 90% of members tend to just browse content
  • 9% will contribute (like edit a Wikipedia page or comment on an active discussion)
  • 1% tend to create brand new content or start new discussions

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t create a strategy to reach your non-participants – I discovered that creating specific community content geared toward lurkers resulted in a 44% increase in member activation.

But it’s a fact of community building: Most of your members will lurk, and everyone has to be okay with that.

Which takes us to our final community myth…

Community Myth #5: “Community Managers Are Solely Responsible for the Community.”

Community Myth #5: Community managers are solely responsible for the community

Again, nope.

The best brand communities involve participation from as many company employees as possible.

One of the leading ways to bring value to members is to increase their level of access to the business, and what better way to do that than by allowing them to talk directly to resident experts?

When the entire company has ownership over the community, amazing things happen. ~Suzi NelsonCommunity managers can work wonders with strategy and relationship-building between members, but when the entire company has ownership over the community, amazing things happen – namely, building the sense of trust between your members and your company.

The benefit of the whole company participating in the community is difficult to quantify because – when you boil it down – you’re talking about making transactional customer-to-company relationships and turning them into emotional relationships.

Take a look at this recent conversation that took place inside of the DigitalMarketer Engage Facebook group, where a member of our community describes what it was like to experience a marketing funnel from our Director of Marketing, Justin Rondeau (Justin’s response is included because it’s so great!).

An example of DigitalMarketer staff member participating in the DigitalMarketer Engage community

Because Justin is an active participant in our community, our members feel an emotional (rather than transactional) relationship – and that plays a huge part in…

  • Retention
  • Reducing churn
  • And even ascension

Another one of my favorite examples of company participation is the FabFitFun forums.

FabFitFun Forums

I’ve scoured the internet for the brilliant community manager behind this ecommerce brand, but for the life of me, I can’t find him/her. To me, that means something amazing…

The entire company is responsible for running the forums.

A quick scroll through the conversations reveals one staff member revealing a “spoiler” in their upcoming subscription box…

FabFitFun Forums

Another introducing free members-only workout videos…

FabFitFun Forums

And several different employees starting up conversations on topical threads, like this one:

FabFitFun Forums

It’s so great to see such a community-centric company!

So, here’s the truth of the matter…

Community managers shouldn’t have to go it alone.

Companies who help their community managers incorporate other members of staff into community discussions and initiatives will have a leading edge over their competition.

With these five community management myths debunked, you know understand what is or what could be holding your community back. Use this understanding to create intentional community management strategies!

(RELATED: 6 Essential Strategies to Build a Thriving Customer Community)

Suzi Nelson

Suzi Nelson

Suzi Nelson is a leader in the community management space and is the former Lead Community Strategist at DigitalMarketer. She has a degree in Journalism (Strategic Communications) from the University of Kansas and is an avid defender of the Oxford comma. Connect with her on LinkedIn or

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