Community is dead, long live community!

Some current thoughts on the state of building communities and businesses

This post is a result of a conversation I had with Jim as part of the Rosieland meetups I host. Notes here (for members only).

Community is a trend. Community is not a trend.

Community is all the rage for 2020, but it’s a trend. It’s likely over time the trend will die down, at least that is what I feel. That’s not because community will exist less, be less important, or be less valuable, but more because community will become more embedded in our lives.

We may end up not calling it a community, but community will exist as a natural part of who we are and what we build.

We will shift away from the need to ‘always be marketing’ and ‘always be growing’ to always be delivering value and working with our people. Of course, delivering real value comes from understanding, appreciating, and conversing with your people.

We will trend towards being more authentic. People have talked about authenticity in the past, but really most of the time it’s often been about painting a picture that isn’t necessarily true.

I hope the 2020’s can shed light on being real. Truly authentic. Not any of that fake stuff. And this can and will often be achieved through community (that isn’t necessarily called community).

Community is about people and conversations

People and conversations are at the heart of any community. This is what people often don’t see, or all too easily forget.

Of course, you also need that thing to bring people together. A vision. A purpose. A thing that people get excited over.

You can have community where there are people and conversations exist. You don’t need a specific community tool to make this happen. A website. An email list. A Twitter following with a community mindset.

The pressure of maintaining and running a community within a platform is big. It’s a never-ending wheel of content and maintenance. Most people just aren’t up for the job, either from a founder’s perspective or even the pressure as a community member to participate.

Thought this doesn’t mean you can’t have community or a stronger connection with people.

It could be amazing to own a church to gather people, but you can also achieve similar results in open parks.

It’s also not necessarily what you want as a founder that counts. It’s what your people want too. People might say they want a special and expensive place to connect, but the reality is often different.

Community fatigue is a real thing

When every newsletter starts calling themselves a community.

When every product is encouraging you to join their community.

When every book starts a community around it.

When every course goes in with a community angle.

Then community fatigue will set in. People will tire. Not necessarily because they don’t want or value the community, but more because everyone is talking about it. The blame is then put on community.

In reality, people should be thinking about how to bake community in without feeling obliged to calling it community. They should give access to conversations. Provide value. Help and lift people up. Build and design their products with their people in mind.

This is all community building. You just don’t need to call it that. I suppose you would call it a ‘community first’ approach to product building.

In theory, this should end up with building something sustainable and of value with community principles baked into it.

Subscriptions are great for the business

But not necessarily great for the customers.

And yes, even I say this as someone with a monthly and yearly subscription offering. It’s not for everyone. It’s tough to maintain and even tougher to sell.

As someone with a business (and indie hacking) mindset, it’s a dream for many of us to have annual recurring revenue (ARR) based on yearly or monthly subscriptions.

But, as we tackle psychology and mindsets, it’s not too hard to see people reluctant to sign up to recurring payments. Whilst there may be huge value in what you offer, as a product or a community, when there is a recurring subscription people need to show up to use it. The pressure is real.

We should realize and be ok with the fact that it’s perfectly ok to succeed with one-off payment approaches too.

There are many people succeeding with one off payments for products and content. Having a recurring subscription, at the end of the day, is great for the business. Not always for the people.

The recent Indie Hacker with Rob Walling touches on these ideas, I’ve adapted them to a community perspective. It’s worth a listen.

There is no right or wrong answer here. You can find ways to succeed in your own way. I write this because I believe people should explore these things with an open mind.

Interintellect charges per event.

Trends.vc offer a subscription and individual payment per issue.

Rosieland is heading towards individual purchases in addition to the monthly + annual membership.

Nesslabs offers a cheap one year subscription and keeps her content from her newsletter articles free. I notice Anne-Laure keeps adding more valuable and pro content to her community. I love keeping an eye on what she is doing.

Communities subscriptions actually get complicated

I think people like to paint a picture that managing communities and payments are a doddle.

So with Substack, you can take payments easily. But with people in the EU (like me!) and VATMoss requirements, it actually doesn’t work. This is a big reason why I’m moving off Substack.

Services like Memberful will help with membership and payments. Whilst they may not be that hard too setup, these things quickly add up to create messy paid communities. Many people suffer with this.

The Gumroad approach is nice from a (EU) tax perspective. They also offer one off product sales and memberships. And I love how they have ‘paydays’. There is still a need to figure out how to integrate it with whatever you end up using as a platform.

Convertkit has launched paid newsletters too. It definitely looks interesting, though I haven’t dived into it yet.

Outseta is a great looking indie product too.

I’m not here to do a rundown of tools or options. There is no best when it comes to this stuff. However, there is a need to be open-minded and aware of the cons.

It’s easy to start a community, but it’s just as easy to get tied into something that becomes restrictive.

When I was speaking to Jim, he mentioned how he doesn’t necessarily want to build a community platform nor become a professional community builder. He is primarily a UX expert. His focus at the moment is to adopt community principles to create products that solve problems for the people he wants to serve. He is building his community through platforms (like Indie Hackers) so that he can focus in on understanding people where they are.

This is pretty important. His mind is open to what people want. He is letting go of the idea that ‘a community location’ is the answer. He is approaching it as a product development challenge. With the aim of designing and developing products that people need and will use.

I kind of view what Jim is doing as a mom test approach, with a community angle. Which, for me, feels totally the right thing to do.

Community is dead, long live community?

Hah, a bold statement I’ll leave with.

Community is dead, long live community!

Honestly, I don’t know what is really coming next for communities. Nor have I covered all the things. I do hope these thoughts of mine will get your brain spinning with better ways of building whatever it is you are building.

I do hope community will evolve into something more authentic and not the current state where everyone is rushing to cash in on the rush.

What do you think about all of this? Let me know in the comments below. 👇