With community-led growth on the rise, a lot of businesses are rushing to create and grow thriving communities. But, rushing the process can lead to mistakes. Mistakes that are avoidable, with ample forward planning, preparation, and research.

In order to make the most of a community, and to prove its worth to stakeholders, you’ll want to hit the ground running.

Of course, as you build and scale communities, it’s inevitable that some things won’t go as planned or unexpected needs will crop up. It’s important to acknowledge that amending processes and adjusting plans will be necessary in order to ensure the needs of your community are consistently being met.

However, you can save yourself a lot of stress by knowing what to avoid doing before entering the process.

So, what are the commonly made mistakes in community building, and how can we steer clear of them?

Here are our top seven mistakes you’ll want to avoid when building a community.

CMOs: Know your customer, know yourself
As the co-founder and CMO of personal care brand Better & Better, Mary Costa knows how essential it is to be the representative of the customer in her role.

1 - Diving in without a plan

At Community-Led Alliance, we are always excited about anything community-related. This is why we understand how easy it can be to jump straight into launching a community without yet doing enough research, planning, or strategy building. We get it, you’re just keen to get started.

However, there are a lot of things to define and understand before building a community. You have to outline the following:

  • Value for the business
  • Value for community members
  • Community purpose

Value for the business

Have you thought about how a community can address and diminish existing pain points in your business? And can you outline these in your goals for the community?

This could be anything from wanting fewer customer service tickets, avoiding traditional marketing costs, or adding value to the customer experience to reduce churn.

With clarity on what you hope to achieve with your community-led growth strategy, you’ll be able to secure stakeholder buy-in a lot easier and you’ll find yourself with continued support from the wider business because they’ll have eyes on how it can work to benefit them specifically.

Value for community members

That brings us to the value for the customer. You’ll also have to outline what your community will provide, and what exactly will make the customer want to be a part of it.

Think about the pain points of your customers and how you can resolve that through the community. This is a good chance to look at user personas and get to grips with the audience you’re hoping to reach.

Don’t forget, it’s not all about revenue or positives for the business. While you’ll want to address those issues, the main goal should be about adding value for the community members. Without anything to gain from membership, customers won’t have enough reason to stick around. So make sure you are prepared to offer things like regular content and networking opportunities, and even events or courses as you begin to scale.

Putting the people and their enjoyment first will mean dedicated and engaged customers - and much more potential to solve whatever internal issues the business hopes to address.

Community purpose

Why are you building this community? What is your value proposition? Is this something that the industry is missing? Has similar work been done before? How is your community going to be different?

The power of CLG can have a tremendous impact on the acquisition, retention, and engagement of customers. But, you have to be sure that it’s being created with a clear purpose and concept, and not just for the sake of it.

2 - Failure to integrate community throughout your business

Community has the power to bolster the work of sales, customer support, product teams, and more. But oftentimes, it exists in a silo.

Integrating community into a business often means a slight culture change. You have to be ready to find the ways in which the community can benefit every last part of your business and vice versa.

Think about it this way, if you have access to a group of people who can help each other out and advise each other on their issues before ever needing to reach out to customer services, this could mean a reduction in support tickets on your end. It can even lend itself to creating or fleshing out an existing FAQ section, with the knowledge of what’s being asked in your community. That’s going to help your customer support team out a whole lot.

Or, when it comes to sales. Your community members have already invested in your product at least once, so they’ll definitely be interested in what else you have to offer. Your sales team should be well aware that this community is a great place to sell.

For product teams, access to the honest conversations that take place in a community can be a game-changer. No more need to send out all those feedback surveys, just dive right into the feedback being given daily in that community space. That’s a great opportunity to look at what the customers think is being done well, or what needs to be improved.

So, as you can see, community has a lot of power to improve the work of everyone in your business. Understanding, and being able to outline this before you’ve even started building your community can be a great way to ensure every colleague has bought into the idea of community. If they know it’s going to be something that helps them out in the long run, they’ll be more willing to help you out however they can to nurture the community too. It’s a win-win.

3 - Over-selling

As we said, a loyal brand community can be the best place to sell, because you know they’re already invested in the products or services you provide. So why wouldn’t they want to hear about what else you’ve got to offer?

Despite this, you have to be careful not to cross the line into over-selling.

It’s great that you have a lot to offer and you’re eager to get it out there, but the focus of community should always be about adding real value to the customer experience. This value can be lost if the members constantly feel like they’re being asked to pay up.

So, it’s good to ensure that you’ve got a great mix of free content, resources, and even free events or webinars, to counteract the selling. This way, members can learn and engage with you at no cost and will feel the benefits of this.

If they’re regularly feeling the benefits of free material, they’ll be much more inclined to have a look into the more ‘sales-y’ posts - because hey, if your free content is that good - imagine how good the paid stuff could be.

4 - Unoriginality

While community-led growth as a business strategy is still a relatively new concept, there are plenty of businesses that have already kicked their communities off in a big way. That means there’s always the potential for your competitors to have had the same idea and for communities to exist that are very similar to what you have planned. For this reason, you’ve got to do your research and make sure your community is going to be original.

As we stressed earlier on, this is another reason why it’s really useful to create a value proposition, user personas, and conduct thorough competitor research.

Having all of this under your belt, will not only help you to stand out from the crowd, but it will help you along the way in growing your community because you’ll have clearly defined what the community is there to do, and how it plans to do so.

5 - Under-resourcing

In order to succeed, your business needs to be able to invest in its community and the resources it needs. This means everything from the platform it’s built on, to the people managing it.

Community managers

A big mistake a lot of businesses make, is thinking that the role of Community Manager is not one in its own right. Often, it will be assumed that the requirements of this role can be adequately fulfilled by an existing employee on top of their existing workload. While it may be manageable to some extent, it leaves room for whoever is managing the community to lack the time or energy needed to fully dedicate themselves to the community.

A community that lacks the drive from those who have created it, will not be able to grow at anywhere near the same rate as a community that has a dedicated employee to fully invest their time into it. Without this, the moderation, organization, and maintenance of community are at a huge disadvantage from the get-go.

If this level of management cannot be achieved or isn’t in your plans, it’s time to consider if a community is the right step for you.

Choosing the right platform

While it can be tempting to host the community on a free platform, such as a social network, there are a lot of things that you will lose control over.

When hosting on a social network, you’re not able to set and maintain the rules, you can’t own the advertising and selling opportunities (the social networks will push their own ads to your customers, and yours will be lost), you won’t have ownership of the growth of the community and data privacy is not as secure.

So, you’ve got to be mindful of this when choosing a platform, and be prepared to dedicate a portion of your community budget to a platform that is designed to host communities.

Beyond the cons that largely affect you or the business side of community, it’s important to remember that this is also in the best interest of your members. If they’re not provided a place that truly lends itself to creating meaningful connections, then they won’t be able to feel the full advantages of the community - and if that’s the case, then you’re in no better of a position than where you started.

6 - Too much or too little moderation

Okay, we recognize that this can be a bit of a tricky one. After all, we’re essentially aiming for the goldilocks of moderation. However, it’s an important one to try to get right and you’ve got to be prepared to adjust regularly according to the needs of your community.

Moderation is absolutely necessary, in order for all members to feel safe, and comfortable in their community. So not outlining clear rules for what people can and cannot do is an absolute no-go. When establishing your rules, though, make sure you’re not restricting people too much or they’ll feel too worried about posting or saying the wrong things.

A good example of this is the guidelines at the CMO Alliance.

Screen grab of CMO Alliance Community guidelines

We’ve made clear what kind of attitude we expect from our members in the ‘Please be…’ section, right from the start.

Then, we let people know what won’t be tolerated. It’s important to note that our community managers will then continue to enforce this when members go against the rules. A personal touch is needed in these instances, as each situation will be different. If a member posts something that doesn’t align with the community’s focus, it may mean a post deletion and reminder of the rules. But, if someone is being disrespectful or even harassing another member, it could likely lead to their complete removal from the community.

We then outline where people should go to post different content and point them toward who to ask if they’re unsure of where to post. This helps keep the community organized and allows members to know exactly where to go for what they need.

In addition, we’ve got a “random” thread, to make sure people know it’s not all serious and we want to encourage fun here too.

7 - Prioritizing growth before value

Of course, when showing value to your business, it can be tempting to want to aim for high numbers in terms of community members so you can show just how many people are interested in what you do. But, while prioritizing rapid growth can get you a lot of members, you may find yourself with little to no engagement from them, as you’ve failed to establish value.

Without building a strong base of value for your members, you’ll see that those who have joined may pop their heads in every now and then, but they won’t be engaging with you regularly. Total membership may be high, but you’ll have no one looking at what you’re sharing. Plus, when you need to get in touch with them for feedback or case studies, they’ll not feel inclined to help you out - why would they if they’ve not seen any value from your end?

You have to make sure that your primary aim for community is establishing value for your customers. Plus, you’ve got to make sure you’re in there interacting with them and making yourself known and available. It’s this that will keep them invested, and will encourage even more people to join and get involved. Steady growth and engaged members should be the aim and will pay off in the long run.

How CMOs can unify their customer experiences
One of the oldest rules of business is that the customer is king/queen/non-hereditary head of state. And they need to feel like this in every interaction with your brand. While this can be true everywhere, there are few industries where this is more important than restaurants and hospitality.

To sum up

Community-led growth is becoming increasingly popular among a number of organizations. By facilitating interactions between users, businesses can gain a deeper understanding of their user’s needs, pains, and gains in order to serve them better and convert them into their best brand advocates.

It’s exciting, right?

We get it. But it can be easy to get over-excited and rush the process of community building.

Only with careful planning and consideration will you be able to maximize the potential of your community.

So, with these mistakes in mind, you can be sure that you’ve got an eye on what not to do as you prepare to launch. You can hit the ground running with clear objectives, a well-defined purpose, and stakeholder buy-in. This’ll put you in a position to achieve your goals, and prove the value of CLG to your business even sooner.

You’ll thank yourself for going in prepared - and your customers and organization will too.

Are you building a community as part of your role as a marketing leader? Whether you need advice or have top tips to share, the CMO Alliance Slack Community is the perfect place. Sign up today.