With people constantly coming up with new ideas and requests for community programs, it’s easy for a community leader to fall into the trap of getting spread too thin.
Before you know it, you’ve got a huge slate of different programs, and you wonder how you’re going to keep up with producing—and promoting—them all!
It comes back to a simple reality that we must contend with when building community:
The community will always take whatever you give it, and it will always want more.
The inevitable result is exactly what we see—burnout, disengagement, resentment, and ultimately a need for a reboot.
Good news! You’re reading this, and this is your key to avoiding this whole thing—or digging yourself out of it if you’re in it already:
Focus on just two programs.
This works especially if you’re just getting started, but can work just as well if you have an established community with a lot of offerings already.
I’m not saying to run just two programs—though you may do that at first—but simply to focus your energy on two.
And more good news—this applies equally to online and face-to-face communities!
Table of Contents
Program #1: The Public-Facing Social Gathering
Your first program is one that is free and open to the public. It’s your “lobby” event—a chance for non-members, first-timers, and curious passersby to get a taste of what you and your community are like.
It should be fun, easy to run, and provide a lot of value. It should also put your current members front and center, so the prospective members can get a feel for what your folks are like.
In my IRL community (a coworking space with a lot of creative, talented people in it), I ran two events like this: a happy hour and a member show-and-tell.
In both cases, we were able to set one consistent day each month when we’d produce the event, and it would be easy to provide value to both paying members and newcomers.
In the latter case, we had the added benefit of showing off all the amazing things our members were working on.
Funnel prospective members to this event
When you are meeting people who might be interested in visiting, you can funnel them toward this event, where you know you are going to be putting your best foot forward.
This gives you a critical and invaluable call to action to pass along to them, so they aren’t just vaguely interested in what you do—they’re invited to join for a specific gathering at a specific time.
This creates a powerful element of urgency that can help catch people who might otherwise avoid engaging.
Without directing people in this way, folks might show up to my community at some other time when I might not be as ready to receive them—stressful for me! I’d rather get as many prospective new members into the same room at the same time as I can, so I can be more efficient.
Be on your best game
I can’t be a super-social community leader every hour of every day—if anything, as time passes, my windows of time to do this get narrower and narrower.
So I have to be strategic about when and how I put myself out into the world. By having just one big, public-facing event per month on the calendar, I can devote more of my energy to making sure I am feeling good and ready to be super social on that day.
If I’m afraid of my social battery getting drained, I might block out time leading up to that event to recharge—maybe to even be totally quiet and unsocial for a few hours, so I’m as available as possible when the time comes.
Put lots of effort into it
Instead of spreading yourself too thin with lots of events every day, focus more of your energy on this event. Make it really good—iterate vigorously until you find a format and approach that people love and can’t help but keep returning to.
It might not be the first thing you think about. It might sneak up on you, presenting as a random side project a member approached you with one time.
Listen for the hints that point you toward what this event could be—it probably is something that is fun for you to run, possibly aligned with a personal interest of yours.
The more the energy around the event feels good for you and the people around you, the more likely you can turn it into an institution!
If you nail it, you can achieve the status of becoming just that—an institution. When people are marking their calendars every month for your event, because it’s consistently the same day and time and they love attending, you’re well on your way.
Program #2: The Members-Only Ringer
This is one program that sits right at the heart of what your community is about. It’s what provides the most value. It’s the thing that makes membership worth it entirely on its own, because people love it so much.
My ringer was a goal-setting and mastermind group called Cotivation. A small group of members would gather to share their goals, check in on progress, and workshop their way through challenges together.
It was such a powerful and simple program that got to the core of what membership in my community was about—helping each other overcome challenges and grow our businesses, while having fun and making friends along the way.
Create an allure
This program isn’t available to nonmembers—so we want people to be really curious about it.
When you are running your first program, make sure you take time to let people know about this program. The smaller portion of people in the room who might be ready to join as members will be intrigued by the opportunity to engage further. Tap into this!
Offer a secret opportunity
The event is members-only, but perhaps you can grant access to an interested nonmember to join—just this once, because you personally offered them the opportunity.
This allows you to entice them further by giving them something they can’t normally get, while asking them to commit to showing up at a specific time to participate.
If this members-only event is really good—and you’re going to make sure it’s really good—it should be irresistible to the person who is on the precipice of being ready to commit.
As with the previous program, you’ll have to work to identify and refine what this program is. It might be obvious at first, or it might take a long time to get right.
Regardless, your time and attention are best allocated to getting there—if you have to experiment with wildly different formats and times, so be it.
Learn from every event you run. Did nobody show up? Great! Let’s find out why.
Was it the time of day, or the content, or did you not promote it well enough? Each shortcoming can be converted into an invaluable clue that points toward the best approach.
Bring It All Together
Ultimately, membership in a community is about participation. Someone should be joining your community because they intend to participate in something specific that provides value.
The more deliberate you can be in designing activities that align with the needs and interests of the people you seek to serve, the easier it is for people to find, join, and fall in love with your community.
Members who join to participate in a specific program are far more likely to stick around, and to be better citizens. It’s well worth the investment!
If you want to learn more about community building, you can see how we do things in SPI Pro—our membership platform for people building online businesses. Join for my weekly office hours, where I convene people building communities to deep dive into strategy, and see how we run a community of our own—we’re always evolving our approach!