Overcoming FMD [Founding Member Dilemma]

It's Tempting to Search for the Right People to Start Your Community

After months of hard work and planning, the soft launch of your community is around the corner. But there’s a difference between bringing ordinary people in and bringing the right people in. After all you, your team, your squad...you built this community for someone.  

I call this the Founding Member Dilemma (FMD). There's a tipping point in the time and resources spent creating something that leaves to this situation.

It's why I encourage community founders to launch early and launch simply. Sometimes our best intentions turn out to be road blocks to the greater success of the community.

When you are looking for a specific type of person to be a part of your community then you are experiencing Founding Member Dilemma.

Done properly, the community should only speak to the people who want to be there. If you are having anxiety about getting the right people to come through the door, then something bigger is likely in play. The real question to ask is: Do I have a member identification problem? Or do I have a community design issue?

You Can’t Build the Perfect Member

This isn't a criticism. It's literally impossible. Community members are built through their experience in the community.

It’s not what they bring to the table, and what they do inside your community, but how they interact with the other members. This experience shapes ordinary members into something more, and that cannot be architected.

There is a misconception that clicking buttons and pulling levers on the infrastructure of your community is what builds a proper home. Yet history is full of incredible communities, large and small, that didn’t use anything like the technology that we have at our disposal today.  

Your Best Plan Right Now Isn’t Good Enough

Another way to look at your challenge is that you simply don't know enough. You as a community founder still have to learn.

And like your community members, you are going to learn by doing. By being together, by observing others, by cultivating, and by being cultivated.

This is a process that takes time. It’s why the soft launch is a really critical window. Not to get right at the start, but to get involved as it happens.  

It's during this time but you will observe how members interact with one another. With the software. With the instructions. They will start to shape norms and rituals, and these early ripples are important for you to observe and amplify whenever possible.  

A formula of this process would like like this:

Soft Launch => Observe Member Activity => Create a Winning Formula

You Learn Only as Well as You Observe

Admittedly, this portion does have a heavy technology component. Since you can't be on 24/7 while your community is growing, you do need to have the ability to see activity on a per member basis.

Is it number of posts or number of engagements? Perhaps it's the number of logins. Maybe it's the number of likes? It could be something as simple as welcoming other members.

For example, your community may be built around collecting recipes, but the most important members in your community might be those who connect different members who share similar food passions. How could you have predicted that?

As you create the foundation for your community be sure to invest in technology or processes that allow you to capture this baseline information. By quantifying the member experience, You will be able to identify trends end behaviors that set certain members apart from the rest.

Armed with this information, you can then begin supporting those members specifically and also give up a path for other members to walk in those same footsteps if they so want.

Pick Up the Phone

The real test as to whether or not someone wants to become a founding member is if they're willing to talk to the process of the community itself. Not just the “what” of the community, but the “how” as well.

Founding members are able to articulate both sides of that equation. What's working and not working for them personally, and how they think things can be improved or changed for everybody.

The best way to make this happen is to Engage your members and ask them for candid feedback. Give them an opportunity to get on the phone with you. Whether it's a small group setting or a one-on-one. Being in touch with these early members as much as possible will rapidly accelerate your ability to create something that's sustainable.

Stay the Course

A certain level of humility is required in order to learn from how others use and experience your community. The sooner you can develop this skill, the closer you will be to achieving the success that you have been working so hard to achieve.

Remember, your expectations are only built on what you think is possible. Let members inside in order to find out what’s truly possible, and build upon that. After all, communities are living things, and you have to give them room to grow.

Good luck, and keep us posted on your progress.

Author's Note

If you like this post, I have also written more on the topic of Community Design including creating your community brand and new member onboarding. Find me on Twitter (@pmccrann) and let's connect.