What is community-led growth in simple terms?
Say you’re a copywriter looking to get more clients.
You set up your socials, put out some posts, and wait for business to come pouring in.
Of course, that’s not how the world works — so after a few weeks of tepid results, you run an ad on Facebook or Instagram.
A few people respond and inquire about your services, and you land one client. Excited, you pump more money into the ad — and get a few more inquiries.
But over time, ad fatigue kicks in, advertising gets expensive, and you turn off the ads.
The inquiries stop. Back to square one.
The problem with relying on advertising
Most creators and business owners find themselves chasing after new customers constantly.
They run ads, net a few sales, and reinvest the money into more ads, hoping to get a few more sales.
While great for starting out, this approach ensures you’re always on the marketing treadmill. As soon as you turn off the advertising tap, the flow of customers stops.
Other business owners rely on referrals for their main source of business — but this only presents a different problem.
While referrals can bring you new business, it’s harder to pivot your services or communicate pricing changes to the market. You’re always at the mercy of your referrers.
There’s a better way.
What if you had a growing group of clients that you could communicate with directly without going through ads or referrals?
Better yet, what if this audience gave you direct feedback, well in advance of launching anything, to prevent product flops and ensure profitable launches?
Even better, what if this audience not only communicated with you, but also with each other, boosting engagement, knowledge-sharing, and attracting more like minds?
In short: what if you had a free marketing engine that cost you $0 to maintain, bought everything you sold, and grew indefinitely?
Welcome to community-led growth.
What is community-led growth?
Put simply, community-led growth places your target audience at the center of your marketing efforts.
It involves getting feedback to produce better content, products, and events for a specific audience by interacting with them regularly.
Community-led growth is different from:
- Product-led growth, where your product converts users into paid customers (like the Spotify app)
- Sales-led growth, where your sales team brings in new customers (like insurance companies)
- Founder-led growth, where marketing rests on the founder’s persona (like speakers)
- Marketing-led growth, where ads mainly bring in new business (most e-commerce businesses)
Why bother with community-led marketing?
Community-led marketing is a way to harness and encourage positive conversations around your industry, product, service, and audience.
This helps you build better offerings people want at a price they’re willing to pay.
People are always looking for solutions, and these searches happen outside your control — on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and in-person.
These same customers are always discussing competing brands, and they already have an opinion on yours — whether you know it or not.
Developing a market offering without direct input from your target audience is like racing an F1 track blind.
Here’s what happens to your time and money:
What are the benefits of community-led growth?
By placing your target audience at the center of your marketing efforts, you can:
- Understand your audience better: Learn what they care about, what they’ve tried before, and what they’re hesitant about.
- Form community connections: Help people with similar problems find each other and network more effectively.
- Market yourself: Teach your audience more about your offerings, your POV, and your unique selling points — with minimal interference from other competitors.
- Build and launch better products: Get direct feedback from your audience to launch better digital products, physical products, events, and certification programs.
- Build a pipeline of partners and employees: Build credibility with community members making them more willing to work with you or for you.
- Grow new channels more easily: Get free subscribers for your next newsletter, podcast, or vlog.
- Generate more content: Gather content from the community that you can curate for sharing.
The only thing it’ll cost you is time and patience.
Where does community interaction take place?
Community interaction can be online (e.g. Slack groups, Zoom meetups) or offline (meetups and events).
You don’t always have to start your own community, either. You can join an existing one and work from there.
For example, a copywriter would benefit from starting a WhatsApp group for other copywriters.
But they can also join an existing Facebook group or Telegram channel and interact there.
The hard work of setting up the community has already been done.
What is community-led marketing *NOT*?
Community-led marketing is NOT an opportunity to spam people with your offerings non-stop.
Your audience is not stupid and will exit any group that demands more value than it gives.
The 4 types of communities
There are four types of communities you can form or join:
- Product communities
- Practice communities
- Interest communities
- Celebrity communities
Product communities are formed around a specific product, like an SEO tool or gaming console.
Product communities make it easier to provide troubleshooting support, gather product feedback, and launch new features.
Practice communities consist of practitioners in a specific field, such as PR practitioners, copywriters, and therapists.
Members might have diverse interests but are united by the same job title.
These communities tend to focus on the nuts and bolts of the role, how to succeed in it, and where to get the best resources.
Practice-based communities can be useful to companies for gathering feedback on the best products and services that help that role.
For creators and business owners, these communities allow you to meet like minds, refer and get referred new business, get help, and vent.
Interest communities form around a specific interest like gaming, sports, or music.
The participants in such communities have different jobs but are all united around the same interest.
Celebrity communities or fan groups gather around a known personality like Beyonce, BTS, or Elon Musk.
The community’s content, events, and products all center around the celebrity or band.
What are the best channels to build a community on?
Don’t overthink this — just pick a channel you’re most comfortable spending time on. This can be a:
- Twitter community (P.S. Join ours here)
- WhatsApp group
- Telegram group
- Facebook group
- LinkedIn group
- Discord server
- Circle group
- Slack group
The main requirements for any community platform are that it should:
- Allow you to control who can join, view, and publish content
- Allow conversations between members, not just from you to them
- Allow people to use it on their phones
- Be easily accessible to your audience
You can open other channels once you’ve nailed the first one.
What type of content should you share in your community group?
To sustain a community, think matchmaker, not marketer.
Your job is to get people to engage with each other so conversations can carry on without you.
A community that heavily depends on your participation as a founder carries risk because if you don’t engage, nothing happens.
Divest yourself from that risk as quickly as possible.
Here are some content ideas to kickstart your community:
#1 Host Q&A sessions
This allows people to get their burning questions answered by an expert.
This expert could be you or someone else brought in for that purpose.
For example, if you run an online community around personal finance, you can invite a tax accountant or budgeting coach to answer people’s questions about money management.
#2 Post jobs and business opportunities
The whole point of starting a community is to provide more value than you ask for.
People join your community to better their lives in some way.
Money and career advancement are great ways to meet that need.
#3 Share useful content you’ve found or created
Post a steady stream of tweets, videos, newsletters, and templates for your members.
Encourage other people to share useful finds they come across, too.
#4 Co-create content
People like seeing a familiar face.
Involve community members in your podcasts, newsletters, and live videos to co-create content, then share that content in the group.
This creates FOMO and boosts engagement.
#5 Share great deals
Share exclusive discounts and news only to insiders.
For example, if you run a family therapy Facebook group, launch your group counseling services at a 10% discount, available only to your members.
10 tips to grow your community more effectively
Community-led growth takes time.
It’s not an overnight growth strategy, but you can speed up that growth in certain ways.
Here are 10 of them:
#1 Be consistent
In the beginning, it will just be you posting most of the content. You may receive little to no direct engagement, and that’s fine.
90% of your audience will be lurkers, but rest assured they still see your content and will share/engage with it when it resonates.
Encourage participation where you can.
#2 Insist on introductions
Have everyone share something about themselves when they enter the group to provide context and spark possible connections.
You never know who in the group might need their services.
#3 Don’t always talk business
People also want to share memes, jokes, and engage in lighter conversations.
Indulge these desires from time to time.
#4 Moderate lightly
Divergent views are great for healthy debate.
Don’t ban people for petty reasons — you’ll make people feel unsafe to share their thoughts.
Think of your community as a campfire conversation, not a dictatorship.
#5 Share admin rights where appropriate
This ensures the community can live on in your absence.
Shared admin rights also make people more invested.
#6 Meet people and share photos
Host and attend in-person meetups and share pics with the group.
This help to put faces to names and encourages future attendance at meetups.
#7 Celebrate the best of your community
If someone lands a new job or client, creates a newsletter, or achieves something else noteworthy, highlight their achievement in the group.
This encourages others to reach for the spotlight.
#8 Create brand ambassadors
Give them the resources and authority to spread the word about your community, product, or practice.
#9 Host Live videos and Spaces
In place of meetups, live streams and Spaces help people put faces and voices to names.
They also allow people to share their thoughts in a more nuanced way than text alone can offer.
#10 Gather data continuously
Who is your main audience, and what do they engage with?
Where are they located, how old are they, and what do they do for a living?
What do they like to eat or do for fun?
These little facts help you engage better with them and set up events they’d enjoy.
14 ways to monetize your community
Over time, your community can sustain you full-time. Here are 14 ways to monetize an engaged community:
- Premium channels: Offer more resources and personalized recommendations
- 1-on-1 coaching: Sell your time and expertise for cash
- Paid newsletter subscriptions: Sell access to insider-only emails
- Digital templates and tools: Create and sell templates that help people get started faster
- Courses and certifications: Create video and text courses and offer certifications
- Super Follows and Ticketed Spaces: Leverage your community to add Super Followers to your Twitter account (if eligible)
- Marketplaces: Create a platform for members to sell their offerings, like an e-commerce website for a community of jewelry makers
- Competitions: Create games and tournaments with appropriate prizes and charge for registration, like an e-sports tournament for a gaming community
- Events: Host paid events like wine tasting for wine lovers or conference tickets for digital marketers
- Merchandise: Create clothing and accessories related to your community, like aprons for chefs and t-shirts for sports fans
- Paid research: Sell companies access to market research, such as charging cosmetics brands to survey a community of makeup artists
- Ads: Sell sponsorships to brands that want to reach audiences like yours
- Referrals: Offer a small fee for each new client a community member sends your way
- Paid job listings: Charge companies to advertise job vacancies in your community of candidates
The only limit is your imagination.
Build a community around youR BUSINESS
Marketing around a specific community is a winning strategy. You get to build better products and meet cool people who introduce you to others like them.
Launching your own community isn’t difficult, either. If you’re reading this on a phone, you likely already have WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, Discord, or Slack installed on it.
Create a group on one of those apps, share the link on your socials, and start building an engaged community.
Bookmark and revisit this page often for ideas on how to grow, sustain, and monetize your community.
Till next time,
Mohammed Shehu, Ph.D. writes on content and marketing for creators and brands. You can find him online @shehuphd everywhere.