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Build, don’t borrow, your own community influencers

December 9, 2021
Rosie Sherry
Community Lead
Build, don’t borrow, your own community influencers
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

Each week we go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. We share tactics, trends and valuable resources we've observed in the world of community building.

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In community, invest in growing your own influencers

The more I dive into the world of community, the more patterns I see.

One of these patterns is the influence marketing has had on our craft. By this I mean community strategies that are driven with growth marketing vocabulary and mindsets, instead of carefully thinking about what the community needs and starting with community discovery.

In practice this can manifest in many different ways. Today I come at it from the good old influencer angle.

The benefits of working with someone with high reach

We shouldn’t be blind to some obvious benefits of working with people with high reach, for example:

  • They can generate buzz and awareness
  • It could help new pull new members in
  • The content they generate could be of value

This all sounds good, but these benefits can often create a false sense of security for community teams. Our excitement leads to expectations of big community growth, the reality usually disappoints. We come to realise that actually this is scale, it’s an influx of people. This is not growth. If it was growth, people would truly value what is going on and stick around.

In other words, you may think people are coming for the community, but in reality they are coming solely for the persona of the influencer.

Instead, what we normally witness is a spike in community activities followed by community debt — people, data and activities that instead of adding value to the community, they become a burden. We are left with the stress of dealing with it all and trying to figure out what to do with it.

Essentially, these relationships tend to be  transactional. It will have to be you chasing them constantly. Almost forcing certain things by informally agreed or contractual obligations.

People with high reach and who aren’t attached to your community won’t hang around any longer than they need to. They are too busy. They gained their experiences elsewhere. They have no emotional connection with your community.

A more sustainable perspective is to curate a culture of nurturing your own influencers.

The other option is to invest in your own influencers

As long as you have a long term community view, investing in members who have little or no reach is the best and most sustainable way to grow a community. This is hands down my preferred approach — however people don’t like it because it’s a really slow process.

You could compare it to raising and investing in your own children. Just like family, community is often very much a labor of love.

Another way to look at it is with more of a business perspective of investing in your people. Just like people talk about a ‘fight for talent’, the need to ‘invest in your’ people, or even to ‘plan for succession’ of your top employees — a similar mindset can be applied to community building..

We can’t just expect people to turn up and want to contribute. We have to put in real contribution to support people along the way. In a community context “Invest in your people” brings a whole new meaning.

We can nurture from within by:

  • being there from the early days
  • helping people up when they are down
  • understanding them as humans
  • know what lights them up
  • believe in the things they want to do
  • see that spark that needs lighting
  • give them opportunities to grow

It turns out building your own influencers doesn’t look like high-reach work at first, but  what happens when you do this for a long time?

People fall in love and grow with your community. They form a bond, create connections and experiences that will keep them coming back year after year.

They’ll learn the ins and outs of how your community works. They know exactly where to point new people, not just any people, but the right kind of people.

They will talk about your community. Not through contractual agreements, but because they feel the social necessity to do so.

They will have stories to share — it’s impossible to growing up in a community without stories to share —  that will be shared, perfected and repeated over time.

Your marketing team will love your home-grown influencers

However, this is not marketing. This is community.

✅ Done right.

Invest in your people and support them along the way. What you’ll end up with are a whole bunch of influencers, supporters and fans who will have your back.

This is the dream. And this is possible.

It is also a much more enjoyable experience when the relationships feel less transactional.

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