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[Community] Three Stages of Community Development: Where is Yours?

Posted by Krista Gray on Mar 29, 2016 10:00:45 AM

4 minute read

3 stages to grow 2

No two communities are alike! Some feature online and offline components; others differ by member characteristics, interests and motivation. Maybe most important to note, communities vary based on their development stage.

So whether you’re starting from scratch to create a brand new community, looking to increase participation among members or at a point where you can set bigger goals, first evaluate where your community is today and where you’d like it to go as you work to develop it further.

Understanding these three stages will help you identify the right resources and tactics that you can use to develop your community. These are:

  • Stage 1: The brand new community – building relationships early
  • Stage 2: The developing community – learning to manage growth
  • Stage 3: The established community – sharing responsibility to manage scale

Stage 1: The Brand New Community – Building Relationships Early

Early communities are fun!

Groundwork for developing one involves a ton of research, which might include honing in on a target demo, type of person and even which platforms and products to use for discussion and engagement among members.

When structuring your new community, do your best to keep the vibe casual and upbeat. Not only will this give you valuable insight into how members feel early on by helping them feel comfortable, but it also will promote organic growth as members begin to find value in being a part of the group.

Communicate early, communicate often

Use this early time as a prime opportunity to talk to the people in your community and learn as much as you can while establishing guidelines as the tone evolves.

Serving as a representative for your company is essential at this point in time, so do your best to facilitate and encourage company to community communication. Use the volume of feedback and testimonial from members as an early form of success measurement.

CloudPeeps, a platform for freelancers, is a great example of a company that has done this exceptionally well. Their Peeps-only community kicked off on Facebook with a community strategist who fostered regular discussion and company/Peep interactions.

Keeping an eye on discussions and chiming in early on, the team was able to establish the right kind of tone and a loose sense of structure that helped the group grow into the strong and supportive community of freelancers that it is today.

Stage 2: The Developing Community – Learning to manage growth

As your community begins to grow, you should start thinking about ways to recognize and reward members who are helping to lead the charge.

Developing communities still call for heartfelt and authentic participation - and given the volume of feedback you’re getting, you might consider scaling your collection system to begin to quantify trends in testimonial and thoughts.

Create community guidelines to manage growth

Since the size of your community has likely grown, this is a good time to begin setting up a bit more formalized structure too. Think about sharing community guidelines that inspire collaboration, which will allow you to use output (content, product or service feedback) and positive community behaviors as metrics for success measurement at this stage.

Getting members to talk to one another is important at this point in development and will help create a sense of true belonging. Making the community feel like ‘home’ will take you far and is rewarding to watch.

I experienced this first-hand after nearly a year of developing the Pearl.com (now JustAnswer.com) Ambassador Program. The first sign of development progress was the influx of feedback I started receiving regularly; there was so much that I needed to create a more streamlined process for collecting it!

The second marker was seeing professionals jumping in to help one another with ambassador specific questions or requests without my support. Maybe even more exciting, the respectful tone I had worked hard to set among competing community members no longer required enforcement. It simply existed.

Stage 3: The Established Community – sharing responsibility to manage scale

More mature and established communities shine at scale, so take learnings from previous stages to replicate and grow your group. You’ll know your community is ready for growth when you notice it’s supportive and shows signs of self-organization.

This may come in the form of trusted users or appointed internal help like ambassadors, or even moderators who can help maintain the participation, tone and structure you previously put into place. At this point, your hands on presence is required far less - if really at all.

Sharing management responsibilities with passionate members

When managing an established community, your appointed ambassadors should help directly aid growth by engaging with prospective users or customers. Their role as facilitators will be the key to achieving scale and accomplishing your goals, as well as meeting any other community health metrics you’ve solidified during the development process.

A cool example of an established community is Reddit, where you can see that the initial strategy has been successfully replicated across countless sub-categories. Even more, people with proven credibility help streamline and organize the on site content and community commentary.

Redditor to Redditor interactions make up nearly all participation on site, and members directly share Reddit with prospective newbies. At this point, a company can track and measure key metrics that define continued community success.

Do you manage a community that’s thriving at one of the three development stages? Share it with us in the comments!

Are you looking to launch a brand new community or take your existing community to the next level? Get our Community Playbook where you can learn from experts on how to build, grow and manage a community!


Passionate about the intersection of people and technology, Krista Gray helps individuals, small businesses and early-stage startups share their ideas with compelling content and smart marketing. Before founding GoldSquare, she built community at JustAnswer.com and Tilt, among other San Francisco companies. Say hi on Twitter @thekristagray.

Topics: Community

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