I was groomed in the world of commerce before I made the jump to the community space. Community was viewed as a marketing tool, a part of a greater initiative to increase sales.
And as anyone who comes from that world knows, marketers are experts at simplifying the world into consumers and pain points. You (the consumer) have a problem that could be fixed by a product or service available on the market.
Back then, it was my job to come up with catchy and compelling ways of telling stories that show the customer how they become the hero of the story when they use, buy, or consume whatever it was we were selling. Community is used primarily as a way of showing the success of that product or service and proselytizing it to others.
This isn’t necessarily bad, but as I’ve grown in my depth of understanding of a community-led model, I’ve been able to see how the "Always Be Closing" mindset fundamentally skews our approach to solving people’s problems.
Understanding the product-led model
The product-led model goes like this: Here’s your pain point and here’s a product or service to help alleviate it.
Now, if we adopt this posture, we spend a LOT of time trying to figure out how to highlight and enhance your problem. Because the more you feel and recognize that problem, the more likely you are to get the product or service.
This can be helpful, but it can also be incredibly manipulative and create problems and issues that don’t exist just so that you’ll spend money. *cough* *waves to beauty industry*
The problem with the product-led model is that it’s stagnant. Even if you do hit the mark and create the best product to solve a specific issue, it doesn't consider the fact that the needs and pain points of your customer base are ever-changing. A new problem will surely arise.
Community, on the other hand, asks if there is a better way to find the solution. One that is naturally a little more protected against the possibility of manipulation.
Enter the community-led model
The community-led model looks like this: Here’s your pain point and here’s a community of people gathering to overcome that same obstacle.
It took me a long time to reframe my understanding of how we solve people’s problems.
The inherent beauty of a community-led model is that by gathering a group of people who are all trying to solve the same problem, that problem naturally unfolds without you needing to force it or insert your own assumptions. You see more nuance to the problem, and you’re able to note how the problem evolves over time and space.
The product-led model might solve someone’s pain point today or even tomorrow, but the solution is temporary. A community-led model keeps you in step with the new and evolving problems of your target audience.
But that’s not all that a community-led model does for you.
When strategically designed, a good community can provide just as much value as your actual product, if not more.
In the product-led model, people are reduced to mere consumers of someone else's product. The buyer has no say in the process of crafting the solution. There's also the ethical conundrum of highlighting a problem that might not actually exist.
Now, contrast that with the community approach: Every member identifies the problem, takes ownership of it, and leads the way to creating solutions that work best for them.
As a community leader, you concentrate your efforts on fostering an environment where the actual problem unfolds and your product evolves to assist. Instead of spending your time crafting a compelling narrative, you spend more time like a scientist: trying to understand the narrative that's already there and discover creative solutions.
After all, what better way to address a problem that's impacting a community than to involve the people who live with the issue on a daily basis?