Building a community is fundamentally a give and take dynamic — on any platform, from LinkedIn to somewhere in “real life.”
Just like in-person relationships, extend an offer before making an ask to make the best first impression when you connect online.
So… How do you bring people together?
I found a surprisingly simple answer while building out my own community of 10,000+ professionals on LinkedIn.
The Best LinkedIn Communities Are Like Ones You’d Join “IRL”
The smartest way to use your resources is to empower the people behind your brand. I’ve found that the strongest communities contain a mutually beneficial dynamic. A loyal group of supporters offers more lifetime value than a temporary media buy ever could.
Over the past year, I’ve leveraged LinkedIn to launch a product and end-to-end rebrand, close new clients, and steadily build a talented team from the members of my virtual community.
Step 1: Create Impactful Content on LinkedIn
In May 2018, I started with 6,558 connections. I hadn’t put any serious effort into LinkedIn yet beyond adding people I met in a professional setting, nor had I started sharing content. When I did, it definitely wasn’t systematized like it is today.
Fast forward 365 days: I currently have more than 10,000 connections.
How did I do it?
I started by sharing content that encapsulated my passions, purpose, and what I want to offer the world around me.
When you create useful content for a thoughtfully selected group, members will return the favor by engaging and sharing it with their own networks.
My content creation process started by answering this pivotal question:
What do I care about?
Answer this for yourself by outlining themes in your life you wish had more coverage.
You can give those issues a voice. When you do, you’ll find others who care just as much as you do.
Personally, I love sharing inspirational stories about young professionals making an impact. I balance thought provoking concepts with actionable best practices for digital marketing and business to round out my content cycle with both evocative and data-driven resources.
I systematized my robust content cycle by putting a repeatable process in place.
Each new post or article I write links back to one of these 4 topic categories:
Business & Marketing for LinkedIn
When I’m drawing from my professional knowledge, I share content around business leadership and marketing.
Lay out your post by explaining the context: What’s the “why?”
In this post, the main point I try to make is the importance of thinking in terms of the future as I think about growing our business.. I emphasize how much I care about spreading highly specific messages at a rapid pace.
The message readers receive? If they work with me, I will have a vested interest in their growth for the long term.
I simultaneously share what I believe while branding myself with intentionality. This sets me apart from “get rich quick” schemes that masquerade as business.
Step 2: Thought Provoking Topics for LinkedIn
In college, I started an emotional health platform for people to share vulnerable stories and make connections with like-minded peers. It might not be my main focus anymore, but it will always be something I want to impact and care about on a personal level.
Here is an article I wrote about this topic with my editor, Catherine
The point of the article was to offer a different type of content than a brief text post. Longer form content like this provides a more intimate peek behind the curtain with genuine disclosures about who I am. Along with easily consumable content, give your readers something more substantial to ponder once in a while.
Writing longer form content also shows your readers you’re invested in them, and that you’re committed to creating high quality resources to empower their success.
Step 3: Personal Journey & Professional Experiences
What’s the point of sharing your thoughts if people don’t know who you are or where you’ve come from? No one likes people who brag online, but sharing your journey with others doesn’t have to be self-promotional.
I try to stay humble when I share my accomplishments. Being authentic and honest helps people see the trajectory of my personal and professional progression without coming off as a fraud.
As you build your business or online brand, document your journey and highlight the value of what you’ve learned. Show others how they can consume and apply your insights.
Notice that in this post, I used pictures to show the experience and used evocative text to describe the feelings I was experiencing.
Drawing readers into your story visually and emotionally offers them inspiration and empowers them to visualize your success reflected in their future.
Step 4: Storytelling About Others
Taking the focus off yourself sometimes is absolutely critical. The best way you can use your platform is not just for personal gain, but to show you care about others and what they offer in this world. Featuring those around you in your content makes people feel special.
Aaron Watson, CEO of Piper Creative, is a good friend of mine. (If you need a podcast, I definitely suggest using him.)
In this post, he shares his story about belonging and shift from his sports community to business.
Interspersing stories like his between my own gives my readers a breath of fresh air. It demonstrates that my interest is focused externally, and that I care about the people around me who are the beating heart that pumps the life force through my community.
We all have a purpose and backstory that led us to where we are. Uncovering that part of you, showing genuine interest in others, and giving them a voice will build long term relationships that are so much more than just transactional.
Cultivate Targeted Connections
Creating content will help you discover your core purpose. As the saying goes, though, “You can’t market to an audience if you don’t have an audience.” At the end of the day, you need a strong base to build a real community.
Take these steps to connect with the future members of your carefully curated community:
A. Find people with similar titles. When I’m trying to build connections with CEOs and Founders, I create entrepreneurial content and search for people with aligned experience. To build connections with college students, I use the same process tailored to their interests and needs. I always keep who I’m targeting in mind when I write content initially.
Why is this important? If you want people to engage with your content, create it for specific audiences that correlate to the types of people in your network.
B. When you meet someone at a business event, go home and email them something specific you remember from the conversation – so it’s meaningful. Then follow up with them on LinkedIn to build your network.
C. Target existing interest-based groups that align with the demographic you’re aiming to connect with. To find a junior marketer that comes recommended, look through the American Marketing Association (AMA) group online for undergraduate students to mentor.
D. Search for Content on Specific Topics
Sports business professionals can be found by typing keywords into the search bar like “sports business.” Track and engage with the posts that pop up, then connect directly with the users you notice commenting on and liking those posts.
E. Think long term. Aimlessly adding people to artificially inflate your numbers might make you look good in the short term, random or surface-level connections won’t benefit you in the future, if they even last that long.
Ask yourself questions like these to find the right types of connections:
- Where are you trying to go with your career?
- What types of people would be beneficial to connect with?
- Who do you want to learn from?
F. Foster real connections where people can empower each other, not beg for likes. The number one tactic to avoid, even if it sounds tempting, is building a growth hack group for the sake of it. All that will yield is empty, transactional, and temporary interactions.
Activate Your Tribe
So, you’ve created impactful content and built an engaged community. Now take a step back and ask yourself the question:
What is my community all about, and what am I activating it around?
A great example I’ve seen of this purpose-driven perspective manifests in calls to action. Examples you could tap into for your own brand include:
- Driving sales for a book launch
- Sharing a product release
- Driving new subscribers to an email list
- Cultivating connections between existing members of your community,
Creating content that impacts a specific audience offers them tangible value and helps people navigate situations in their own lives.
Once people become familiar with you and your story, they will be far more inclined to not only engage with your brand online, but also to invest in your products and services. If you’re an author who has been churning out free engaging content for months and even years like Nir Eyal, people who have been following your journey and consuming what you’ve disseminated are highly likely to subscribe to your blog or purchase the book you’ve written.
After pouring your heart and soul into connecting people with each other and creating innovative resources and actionable insights, there is nothing wrong with asking them if they want to buy a product you already know aligns with their interests or to join an email list where you’ll be sending them exclusive and highly curated content. In fact, if you’ve read this far already, join mine!
Forging a Path Forward: 5 Years Out
Communities take time to build. Keep in mind that trying to monetize a community or making asks too soon will push people away.
Applying a few of these takeaways on your own journey will empower you to turn virtually any platform into a launch pad for personal and professional growth.
Imagine: the more consistently you commit to a repeated process of sharing and engaging with others online, think of the exponential returns that will continue to grow year over year.