Managing the Doors to Your Community

Image of seven closed doors. All are white except the one third in from the left that is yellow.
This is my door. There are many other doors like it, but this one is mine. 

What is the best way to bring people inside to your community?

This was one of the most popular topics during the summer Community Design Bootcamp that I facilitated for It was clear that community builders of all levels are seeking some version of “best practices” for launching and maintaining a successful membership process.

There are many different ways to integrate new members. Our group was focused on the intersection of optimizing both the implementation and the marketing. In other words, if it’s easy to go and it really works...winning!

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. There are several different options to consider, depending on how your community progresses over time.

Access = Value

Most community builders focus on capturing best practices from other communities and community leaders. About optimizing the experience to create something valuable for the members. Access to your community is no different.

Done properly, access reflects your strategy and your brand as a reinforcing mechanism.

The structure and ability to access membership in a community is a direct signal to current and prospective members about the community’s value.

The Problem

Most community builders are ecstatic when someone joins. It's a validation of their work. It's a sign that they are on the right path. That their work is valued!

Having members inside the community instantly reveals the amount of work required to sustain a community.

What was once a book or a course is now a community.

What was once an annual conference is now a 24/7/365 live digital experience.

It isn’t double the work, a community is an exponential increase in work.

This is nowhere more true than in communities where the door is always open and people are always joining.

Someone is always marketing. Someone is always creating. Someone is always onboarding.

Feel the burn yet?

Option 1: The Mini Launch

This version is perfect for new creators or creators with a new community.

Instead of opening the doors to a potentially unlimited experience, open with the end in mind. Open with a deadline.

Customers can join an eight-week course. Or a six-week experience. Or a month of meditation. It doesn’t matter.

The timeline is justification for creating a well-run experience. The timeline provides enough contextual structure to build something meaningful for the customers and structured in a way that the creator will have the ability to learn from it.

Option 2: The Scheduled Opening

In this scenario, opening the community follows a schedule that's built out across a year. There are designated times during which the community will be open to new members. Open = Welcome; Not Open = Try Again.

The best case scenario is that this “annual” schedule maps to a schedule that the membership follows. A community of fashion designers might be sensitive to an annual event. Fitness instructors know that it’s crunch time around the New Year (see what I did there?).

This approach requires a deep understanding of the community. And respect for the fact that there will always be exceptions to the rule. So the goal is to solve for 80% of the population. With enough critical mass, the schedule will work.

A fixed schedule enables community builders to work backwards on all aspects of running the community. From marketing to infrastructure, from staffing to preparing new members. All of that can be built in once a date has been established

This is very appealing for community builders, precisely because it takes a virtual experience and adds a real-world component to it. What originally felt never-ending now feels like a graduation period or a wedding. Or a birthday party. What better way to re-imagine what it's like to bring on new members than planning a party?

Option Three: The Rocket Launch

This option is very reminiscent of content launches and movie premiers. Instead of optimizing for a season or a schedule, this version is built around the ability to create buzz and generate sign-ups.

There are broader considerations when using this approach. Timing is everything!

For example, launching an expensive product around the end of the year when everyone is holiday shopping is not a great idea.

Launching an intensive six-week course at the start of summer is also not necessarily a good idea!

Launching that homemade ice cream experience in December? You might want to chill.

However the upsides are also tangible. Events that run independently of the timing of year are appealing to the consumer. They're especially appealing to affiliates and others who could stand to benefit from helping with the launch.

This approach presents the opportunity to build an even deeper sense of scarcity. After all, no one really knows when the next launch will be!

Even though this version can be intense for the community builder, it is also over quickly and everyone can get back to business as usual.

Option Four: Friends Only

With this option, the doors of your community are open to those in the know. The only way to join is to be recommended. This is a type of intentional friction that can help to increase the value of the community.

This approach works very well for communities where people have their friends on the inside. It does not work well if you're looking to diversify membership, as you grow.

Option Five: The Token Opening

With this option, prospective members need to purchase a token in order to access the community. Think Friends with Benefits $FWB. This is either digital currency or an NFT that has been minted and specifically provides the holder with access to the community as well as other benefits.

This is currently much more popular in technologically oriented communities, but expect to see it reaching a broader market soon enough.

Not everyone will need to buy access, however. Eventually there will be options to replace the Token or the NFT with some kind of proof of work. Also recorded on the blockchain, this proof of work will verify that that holder has completed a challenge, a task, or a job. With this proof, the holder will be eligible to join the community period.

Good luck with your opening, be sure to keep me posted of your progress. You can find me on Twittter @pmccrann