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What I Learned Dissecting 22 Brand Communities on Youtube

Even with a hard-earned minor in mathematics, I’ve always preferred qualitative data over quantitative. But this last season of of Community Dissection has equipped me both with a large enough sample size to see patterns emerging (quantitative) as well as stories and experiences from navigating these communities that could just about fill an entire 24-hour day (qualitative). This experience has profoundly impacted my understanding of Community as an industry. Here are my summarized takeaways from this first season!

How I started dissecting brand communities

I started Community Dissection on a whim at the end of last year. I started it at about the same time I started recording a new podcast with my community bestie, Victoria Cumberbatch called Community Alchemy. I threw myself into the unknowns of both projects. The risk and work paid off. I was able to test and compare two half-baked ideas against each other (quick math: one half-baked idea plus another half-baked idea equals approximately the same value as a 1.25 fully baked and beautiful ideas).

How the community dissections work

Every week I invite 1-2 Community Professionals to dissect a new community with me. These first 22 dissections focused on huge, free customer communities run by big brands because 1) they were easy to access without getting in trouble, and 2) the brand communities were aligned with my target client and who I was hoping to attract at the time.

I changed up the format several times, but finally settled on a rhythm where guests join and explore the community on their own for 10 minutes. Then we come together and start recording. It flows nicely and people get a chance to warm up to each other before I turn on record. (Thanks Rosie Sherry and Tim McDonald for your helpful reflections to get there!)

How it’s going

While the Community Alchemy Podcast was ultra-fun, I found over time it lacked the specificity and clear purpose that Community Dissection brought to my business. This is how Community Dissection supports my business objectives:

  1. Colleague referrals: It keeps me exposed and visible to other community professionals (keeping me top of mind for referrals for projects).

  2. Quality of my work: It keeps my work sharp and gives my audience a taste for how I think about community design. I'm critiquing publicly with other professionals and I’ve gotta bring my A game.

  3. Breadth of experience: It provides case studies I can reference to potential clients. When they are describing the community they want, I have an entire library I can pull from saying “Yeah, I've seen a similar approach that worked really well in the ___ Community. Here’s where it rocked, here’s where we’ll need to be thoughtful.”

  4. Generating awareness. It creates awareness for my work, but slowly. I put this one last. Youtube is a long game. Two to three years is the goal. So while I don't think I'm nailing the algorithm (my thumbnails could be better, I need to go back through and come up with better titles for the early episodes), I am definitely getting better results, more views, and seeing more subscribers with each episode.

This is the data of my audience growth starting in September when I was producing 0 content to today.

What people appear to want

The most popular video by views is the Notion Community (lol kill me 💀). This was the very first episode which we frankly blundered through 🤦🏼‍♀️ The SECOND most popular video is dissecting the Spotify community, followed by Canva and LEGO Ideas. Spotify and LEGO Ideas were easily two of my favorite communities we dissected, but Canva and Notion were two of the most disorganized communities (and we had OPINIONS about it!). I also think the Spotify success was in large part due to how my guest, Margaux (who is amazing!) shared about the episode on her social as well.

Note to self: prompt guests to share their episode on all of their channels!

Other note to self: make it easy for them to share with some samples of what they can say.

Working theory: extremes are more entertaining to watch. I’m considering focusing my energy on communities I know I really love, but I might have to do a slower frequency because they are hard to find and coordinate.

What I learned

I now have a really good handle on the state of brand communities. After each episode, I made internal notes on how I would rank a Community’s overall health, events, conversation, content, onboarding, and leadership development. These are the averages across the 22 communities we dissected.

Overall health 3.6 ⭐️

Events: 2.5 ⭐️

Conversation: 3.7 ⭐️

Content: 3.8 ⭐️

Onboarding: 2.5 ⭐️

Leadership Development 3.2 ⭐️

What the data tells me

I was absolutely shocked by the lack of an onboarding experience in countless communities we joined. You CANNOT just throw people in the deep end, people! That first 30 days is THE most important window in determining how people will engage long-term in your community. If your community struggles with engagement, take a sharp eye to your onboarding experience.

The next element of community programming that was sorely lacking in communities across the board was events. They either did not exist, or we could only find an archive, or they weren’t touted in the community at all and we had to do a ton of digging to find them.

And finally, my last observation is that content scored higher than conversation, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing in my book. It means that a lot of communities still fall into the trap of treating their members like an audience rather than a community. Content is an awesome tool to leverage in a community, but I like to think of it as a supporting resource, not the main meal.

What’s next?

While it’s been accessible and fun to rip apart big brand communities, the next season of Community Dissection will focus on membership and creator communities. These tend to be paid communities usually with a founder or creator at the helm. I’m pivoting for a couple reasons:

My client base is shifting. While I used to primarily build and launch brand communities, more and more creators have sought out my services and I’ve found I genuinely enjoy these projects more. In the same way I really benefited from having the knowledge of the brand community dissections, I want to increase my repertoire of creator communities.

These communities are way more fun! Like I said, I enjoy building them, and I enjoy being a part of them! And they HAVE to be fun! These communities are paid, so they have to provide a ton of value for their members. I’d rather spend my time dissecting communities that are making a meaningful impact in the lives of others and that tends to be frankly hard to find in brand communities.

How you can help!

I’m looking for:

  • Spectacular creator communities to dissect. Think of your favorite community you pay for. That one! That’s the one I want to dissect. Please tell me what it is at

  • Amazing Community Professionals to partner with. If you have at least 2 years of community building experience and would like to participate in a dissection, send me an email at and I’ll get you on the list!

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