When architecting your community strategy, my clients will often find that they have two different types of members. One member comes seeking knowledge (let’s call them “learner”) and another member comes to connect with peers in the industry and share their knowledge (let’s call them “expert”). I've noticed this trend for quite a few clients and I wanted to take a second here to recognize an important, but often overlooked step in the evolution of your community.
In order for your community to become a gathering place for learning, you first have to create a community of experts.
Heartbeat as a case study.
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Long ago in a virtual kingdom far far away, I was invited to join a community for Heartbeat customers. I was not a Heartbeat customer. Of course, long-term the vision was to have a community for all the customers who were using Heartbeat, but they were in beta with very few customers to be found.
So instead, they started with a mastermind for community professionals hosted by the founder, Murtaza, inside their customer community. We gathered periodically with guided questions from Murtaza. I remember being quite impressed that our little group was active and engaging despite being so small. And due to Murtaza’s fabulous networking skills, it’s also where I met some of the most amazing community builders.
When the platform took off, they brought me on to help transition the community to be a space for their customers. The community changed pretty significantly. And what we offered didn’t fit what all of the past non-customer members needed. But that initial beta provided a foundation of experts who were both connected and excited to share their expertise in the community.
The Point: Your community will evolve
Your community, if it's doing anything good, will evolve. Let it. Stay rooted in the values and vision, but don't get so caught up in your ego with current success that you lose sight of the need to iterate and make it even better.
When crafting a community with a learner/expert dynamic, focus your beta community on serving experts and shifting over time to your long-term vision of serving both members.
What will be valuable for the experts in your beta community (usually the ones who will be most excited to help get something off the ground), might not be the same structure you end up providing in your community long-term, which can feel really hard.
This doesn't mean you abandon your early members and leave them hanging out to dry. But it does mean that you remain open and flexible to how the value you are providing in your community will change over time and your community design must evolve with it.
I’m here to give us all permission that it's okay to shift.
Because often, before you can create a community to help all members, you have to create a community for experts so that your community can later become that gathering place for value exchange.
A Note on Experts
I know I’ve been using the term “expert” here, which might be causing some anxiety. I don’t mean that you have to bring in the best of the best in your specific industry. Not at all actually. What I mean by “expert” is someone who is just one chapter ahead of the learning members. Just one chapter, not even two!
So some of your “experts” might be members who are thriving and absolutely crushing it. Or it might be someone tangential to the space who is creating a lot of content about your topic or hosting workshops. Look for someone who is also getting started in their own work because they will be eager to build and partner with you long term rather than just take what they can from your audience and peace out.