Growing an audience and creating a community are not the same thing. Yes, they’re related, but they’re not synonymous.

Your audience often is your content business’ primary asset – it’s the number that attracts advertisers and sponsors, and likely determines what they will pay.

Your community is the lifeblood of your business – it’s the people who engage with you, your content, and each other to ultimately sustain and grow your business.

Audience and community are not synonymous. Audience is your business' primary asset. Community is the lifeblood of your business, says @AnnGynn. #ContentEntrepreneur #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet

An audience is a transactional relationship. A community involves mutually beneficial relationships.

If you’re in business for the long haul, creating a community will make that possible.

Tilt Advice

1. Detail the reasons for creating a community. What does your business want to achieve? What would community members get from it? You must account for both the business and the audience’s goals when creating your community. Otherwise, it won’t work.

Perhaps your business wants a place for audience members to share their experiences and on your topic. Or maybe, you want the community to have a place to interact with you, to ask questions, offer their input, etc. Or you want to create a place where they can connect with each other, creating conversations and interactions they couldn’t have elsewhere.

Use this information to write a mission statement for the community.

Write a mission statement when building a digital community in your #ContentBusiness. It should speak to both your and your community members' goals. #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet

Caveat: Let the community lead. If conversations or themes pivot to unexpected areas, be flexible enough to allow them (unless they’re off-topic or harmful.)

2. Determine admission criteria (if there should be). Do you want anyone who can access the site to be allowed to participate? Or do you want the community to be a subscriber-only benefit? Can community members invite others to join?

Caveat: If you implement an opt-in process, make sure to review and admit new community members at least daily if not more frequently.

3. Establish community guidelines. It’s better to establish operational and behavioral parameters, along with the ramifications if they’re violated before a problem arises. Keep it simple and easy to understand.

Add your community mission statement at the top.

Caveat: Make sure to include contact information or a link for people who want to file a complaint about a guideline violation.

4. Pick a primary community platform. Look for a platform that your community could easily use (or is familiar with) and let you achieve the reasons for creation. In most cases, these will be third-party platforms like a Facebook Group, Twitch, Slack channel, Discord server, etc. It also could be directly on your site, making it as simple as the comments section on your blog.

5. Start building the community. Bring in your team or a handful of go-to fans to start the conversations and engage right away. Potential community members will likely check it out before they decide to interact or join. You want to make sure there is something for them to see.

6. Go for launch. If possible, create an exclusive private launch to entice your subscribers or dedicated audience members to check it out. After a week or so, open it up to a wider group (your standard admission criteria.)

7. Live in the community. You don’t have to bring a blanket, but you should make time to interact a couple of times a day. Plan topical questions or interactive posts that will give community members a reason to engage.

Caveat: Respond to everyone, even if it’s just an emoji. People like to know their contributions have been seen.

Acknowledge comments and input from your digital community even if it's just an emoji. People like to feel seen, says @AnnGynn. #community #creatoreconomy Click To Tweet

8. Assess success. After a month or so, look back at your goals and see if you’re achieving them. If not, troubleshoot the potential problems. Do the topics work? What about the format? Do enough people know about it? Make adjustments and improvements, but don’t give up. It takes a while to build a community platform. 

9. Let the community drive. Ultimately, you know it’s a success when the members, not you or your team, assume informal control. They start conversations, point to new opportunities, and clear up misconceptions new posters may have. Your role can take a backseat (or at least the passenger’s side in the front seat), contributing to conversations as appropriate and enforcing the guidelines when they’re not being followed.

And that’s how a community differs from an audience. You’re not just growing numbers; you and they are growing a new environment that’s good for them and your business.

Please join your fellow content entrepreneurs in The Tilt community. We’re all gathering on Discord.

About the author

Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. An IABC Communicator of the Year and founder of G Force Communication, Ann coaches and trains professionals in all things content. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.