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5 Myths About Building an Online Membership Community

Inspired by conversations with community experts, my own clients, and observations across dozens of communities over the last several years, here’s the top five myths I see in community building. 

Myth # 1 It’s passive income

Erin Halper hit this home in our community dissection interview. A lot of people are attracted to a community offering because they think it’s a “set it and forget it” kind of asset to their business. 

This myth is so big that it contains three more myths inside of it. If people fall for this myth it's usually because they arrived at one of these myths first.

  • ❌ The automation myth: I can just automate everything in my community so I don’t have to actively manage it. 

  • ❌ The member-led myth: I’ll set up the space and if I get the right members to lead it alongside of me, I won’t have to do much work. 

  • ❌ The gamification myth: I’ll just set up a points system, badges, or gamification to get the behaviors I want to see from my members.

While there is a kernel of truth in each of these approaches, none of them ultimately build thriving, profitable community-powered businesses without thoughtful community design, strategy, and daily effort.

The truth is, building community takes consistent, determined effort, attention, and care. There’s nothing passive about it.

Myth # 2 Build it and they will come

This is true even if you already have a substantial audience.  I’ve seen people with absolutely massive audiences launch great community offerings and get less than 1% conversion rates. I’ve also seen people with very small audiences (myself included) launch profitable community offers.

The truth is you must be able to get your community offer in front of the right people and stay visible by appropriately nurturing prospective community members (without giving away the farm).

My favorite way to do this is with partnerships. Shoot me a note on LinkedIn if you’d like for me to write about that next ;)

Myth # 3 I will have to produce double the amount of content

This one is a nice myth to bust, everyone relaxes when I talk about this one. People approach community like how we were trained to approach social media: in order to provide value we think we need to create loads and loads of content. 

The truth is while some content is needed to get the wheels turning, communities by nature and by design need far less content than you think. 

Instead of setting yourself up to produce more and more ask how you can prompt your members to share with each other in meaningful and valuable ways.

Myth # 4 It has to be recurring and live forever

This one makes me the most anxious. A lot of people don’t start communities because they are afraid if they build it, they’ll HAVE to maintain it and keep it going forever. 

While recurring revenue is a fabulous model, some of the most incredible online communities I’ve been a part of have an end date. 

The truth is if having an endless open enrollment creates resistance, give yourself a break and simply put an end date on it and declare that it’s a test.

Myth # 5 It has to be hosted somewhere everyone already has an account.

One of my favorite things to talk about: where to host your community. While many communities (and particularly connection-centric communities) tend to get started on more common social network platforms like Slack, Discord, Whatsapp, or [god forbid] a FB Group, we are seeing a huge trend in communal experiences moving away from social platforms and onto privately held communities. I've noticed that education-centric community experiences tend to adopt these newer platforms (like Circle and Heartbeat) more easily, but there is migration across the board.

The truth is that while good marketing goes to where everyone already is, good community builds where people feel safe. Which is more and more on all-in-one platforms.

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