A Membership Community – To Build or Not to Build?

The word on the street is content marketing is king. Joint ventures and affiliate marketing make the cash register ring. And selling online courses is a great core product for your platform, right? If you agree, check out my saas for teaching – Heroic. It’s awesome.

But when it comes to building your community, what’s the best route? Should you build forums or Facebook groups? Accountability groups? How involved should you get?

Last year Darren Rowse shut down his membership site on problogger.com. He was making money at it, but it wasn’t on fire. His audience wasn’t benefitting. His motivation was lagging. So he shut it down and started podcasting instead. Now he is on fire, his audience loves it, and he’s got great momentum.There’s no doubt building your audience is important. You have to deliver value. The lesson here is your format needs to support your core mission.

But what is your core mission? Are you trying to help individuals primarily? Or are you trying to build community of people that know each other and learn together? Choose your route first, then apply the right vehicle.

A team is capable of more than a person. You are teaching others to have some kind of outcome. That outcome could be 10 times more effective when your groups become teams. I’m biased towards the power of groups. Building a collaborative community takes more work. What are the benefits?

• people who know each other are more likely to be avid fans of yours (confirmation bias)

• having members who are avid fans creates a high value community for new members to join

• members who collaborate are more likely to get the transformation you have sold them on

If you are willing to put in the effort to build a high value community, then you are going to need some help. I’ve seen some great online courses try booting up accountability groups and failing. The reason why is leaders expect their members to know out how to make accountability work on their own.

Knowing how to be reliable, and hold others accountable is not a common skill members show up with. And for you, you probably didn’t plan to spend time training your members how to work as teams.

Accountability groups can work, but you have to create a peer coaching mindset for your members.  Don’t expect members to know how to do it. You need to provide a simple framework with some introductory training. And a simple feedback process to keep the train on the rails.

I’m creating a short video to describe a simple framework, and sample content that you can use. Check back next week for the bonus.

Along with setting the mindset, you’ll need some software. Here are some options to work with.

• Forum Software – set up an evergreen forum. It will take work to seed the board with good topics, and achieve decent traffic for lift off. You also have to maintain the quality of the board over time. But if you don’t make a forum, your members will be asking for it.

PHPBB is a free and open source system. You can customize the look, but have to host it yourself. So it will take time to setup and customize.

Invision Power Board (IPB) has great features, lots of developer support, and they can host it for you. But it’s not free. It’s used by Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, Michael Hyatt from Platform University. Evernote also uses IPB for customer forums. IPB is the best software to use for forums. There’s also an addon module for user generated groups.

• WordPress Plugins – you can set up your forum in WordPress with a plugin. But I don’t recommend it because WordPress can be really slow. If you feel frustrated about the speed of WordPress when writing blog posts, then it’s more of the same when setting up your forum.  Yet, if you are going to use WordPress, here are some the best ones. http://www.wpbeginner.com/plugins/5-best-forum-plugins-for-wordpress/

• Facebook groups – These are so popular lately. I’m in many ‘accountability’ Facebook groups that get handed out with online courses. Yes they are easy to set up. Yes members are automatically vetted and not likely to be obnoxious. But there’s little long-term value in them. Having Facebook be part of my learning experience is like trying to study in a noisy lunchroom. It’s not very effective for me the user.

Also consider how information gets lost quickly. The news feed marches on, and users are not likely to go sift through old posts in the feed. The contribution from your community members get lost in the Facebook soup.

So in summary, Facebook groups are simple for you the leader to implement, but on the whole, not so great for your users to go deep. But they are good for socializing. Even if you build a forum for members, you may want a public FB group for brand awareness.

Returning to the question at hand, are you committed to leading the charge and building and engaged community? Creating an online course is a no-brainer. It’s a great way to deliver your material to your customers.

Choose your primary focus, individuals or community. You get to be an energetic leader either way. But choose!


Josh Race is a writer, community leader, technologist, husband, and father 2 rascally toddlers. He has lead a large scale daily accountability group since October 2012, and regularly writes about the impact of structured groups on personal performance. He is the founder of the Heroic, the platform for leaders who believe in coaching, to create, sell, and lead digital workshops and courses.