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Getting Small: A Counterintuitive Approach to Community Growth

Posted by Kenny S. on Jan 5, 2018 8:01:00 AM

3 minute read

January 2017 (3).jpg

Smaller is better… at least, sometimes it is.

I used to be a professional musician. My favorite shows — both to play and to watch — always took place in packed venues. To be honest, I’d rather play to 50 people in a crowded bar than 1,500 in a half-empty arena.

There may be 30 times as many people in the latter, but there’s something so much more electric about a room full of packed-in fans. You might entertain the arena concertgoers for a little while, but eventually, they'll go home and forget all about you.

But those 50 fans in the bar won’t. In fact, they’re the ones who won’t rest until everyone they know has bought a copy of your latest album.

They’re the true fans, the ones who have the potential to build an artist from the ground up.

What Does This Have To Do With Building An Online Community?

Kevin Kelly, co-Founder of Wired and all-around authority in tech and business is credited with coming up with the 1000-true-fan rule:

“To be a successful creator… you don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.”

Kelly’s observation is fundamentally the same as mine: the success of an individual (or a community!) lies not in the breadth of its reach, but the depth of its impact.

Yes, this is the age-old argument for quality over quantity. But it’s an argument we can’t hear enough, especially when community managers are routinely under pressure to cast as wide a net as possible to bring in new members.

A Counter-Intuitive Suggestion

So, my controversial advice is this: keep your community small… at least, for a little while. For a season, whether it’s during your beta test, early launch or a brand reset, throw up a narrow gate and limit entry to a select few.

The key to making this work is getting hyper-focused on your ideal community member.

When Sandi MacPherson started Quibb, she wanted to cater directly to important players in the tech industry. To that end, she only accepted 41% of the people who applied to join the platform.

That's right; she turned away 6 out of every 10 people who applied.

That might sound ridiculous, but the result was an elevated level of conversation in which influential people in the tech industry meaningfully interacted across the Quibb platform. That’s infinitely more valuable than a pack of teenagers sputtering back and forth about who-knows-what from the dank recesses of their mothers’ basements.

So, Get Small

I’m no enemy of scale. Your kids need to eat, so there will come a time when you need to ratchet up your numbers. I get it; really, I do.

But before you get there, take the road less traveled.

Take your time to develop a highly targeted, uber-valuable customer base. Get them excited about your product and give them the tools and incentive they need to advocate passionately [link to an advocate page you’d like to promote] for it.

Once you get that core of true fans in place, you’ll be ready to open up the floodgates. You’ll be surprised to learn that that initial group will do the bulk of the heavy lifting.

Topics: Community

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