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Community-led growth: join vs. build

When community-led marketing is tied to product- and brand-led marketing, it thrives. But knowing where to start is difficult if you have never been down the path of a true community-led marketing initiative. 

An industry friend of mine works for a well-known venture capital firm. One day, he emailed me asking if I had the time to meet with a CEO at one of his portfolio companies. The company provided a cool new solution to help software development teams accelerate their code releases. The company was young and was just getting off the ground with ten customers. 

Mila (for the sake of this story, her name was anonymized), the CEO, was wondering how she could build a community around her company. She was getting some pressure from her team, her board, and other friends in the development community to start a community because that seemed to be a trend working for other better-established firms. 

Starting a brand-led community at this time made little sense to me. When you only have 10 customers, you will not have much going on in your community. Imagine attending the next Board meeting exclaiming that your user community was seeing incredible success. 

Mila didn’t want to be in a scenario where she shared, “Nine of our ten of your customers decided to participate at the next Board meeting. We have a 90% participation rate.” While statistically good, ten customers are too small for virtually any community growth metric.

Instead, I suggested that Mila and her team invest time in the developer community in their local region around Tel Aviv. Developers Tel Aviv has 3,423 members. The Israeli Unity Developers meetup noted 2,250 members. Node.js Israel has over 7,000 members. These are just a few of the hundreds of pre-established communities that include people that might be interested in learning more about Mila’s solutions for developers. 

“Get out in the community to understand what people are talking about. Spend time with them to understand their most pressing priorities”, I told her. “Once you spend enough time embedded in these communities, you will have more choices about what to do with your own community motions. First, you might benefit from taking on a leadership role in one of the existing meetups. Second, you might identify gaps not served by the local communities and then have one of your employees start and promote a new meetup that addresses those needs.”

“If you spend enough time in the community, you’ll find the right path,” I told Mila.

This blog is an excerpt from Derek Weeks' book: Unfair Mindshare, a CMO's guide to community-led marketing in a product-led world.