Four guiding principles for growing an online community

Since starting Product Club, I've entered yet another unknown realm with vast rabbit holes of knowledge. Growing a community. What I lack in experience, I can at least make up in desire to not make the same mistakes that have been committed in the past. To give it the best chance of success I spoke to some people who have succeeded and failed at fostering a community. Three reoccurring themes emerged, and led me to these four guiding principles:

  1. The value comes from the community, not you. Be an enabler of that value.
  2. Just like offline communities, people come for the event and stick around for the people. Make the event worth coming to, then get out of the way.
  3. As the community grows, the network effect grows more powerful. However, there is a tipping point where a community becomes so vast it must be lead - lest it descends into chaos (or a self-promotion hub). Deliberately keeping the community small is a considerate thing to do, as it makes it more valuable to those who need it most.
  4. Async beats sync. The immediateness of instant messaging conversations works for work-based communities. However, learning based communities benefit more from long-form async discussions. It’s easy to get lost in frenetic messaging threads, whereas forum threads are more easily consumed and discovered.

So in a nutshell, the principles for Product Club are: The value comes from the community, the event is the purpose, and like a good stew, keep the community numbers low and conversation slow.