By Emma Davies, Founder of A Year With My Camera and Disciple community owner
Many traditional businesses assume they need to work with the social giants if they want to build an engaged audience – but the mass market social model no longer serves everyone. I learnt that building a business on a foundation of community and shared passion is much more effective at helping fulfilling people’s needs and creating a more meaningful connection between a brand and its customers.
As the role of brands in people’s lives has shifted, so have spaces that enable communities to thrive. To effectively connect people and create a functioning community, there must be a communal forum for users to connect with the brand and each other around their shared passion.
For me, my Disciple community app has been this space. Since their conception, traditional social media platforms like Facebook have been the go-to for online communities, but now we have reached the stage where Facebook can no longer serve them appropriately. Having started as a space for personal connection, it is more difficult than ever to find this core value of connection via Facebook.
Through my experience of growing a community of thousands of people, I want to share how I have come to realise that creators should be looking further than Facebook to build their online hub. Here are my top five benefits of escaping from the social media shackles.
1. Take back control of your community and ownership of the platform
The best platforms are those that serve the unique needs of the communities they host. By owning your platform, you are able to customise it to meet these needs and requirements.
Owning your platform means you can create bespoke pages and groups within the larger community – and foster a truly safe space for members to create meaningful connections. Customisation and platform flexibility are key for community growth and engagement.
Online communities allow people to connect with each other and share their passions in ways that may not be possible in their immediate personal lives. So when breaking down geographical and social boundaries, it’s important to build a safe and encouraging environment.
Custom platforms remove the risk of users being hacked, banned or trolled. Cancel culture is itself cancelled and people are left to enjoy being a part of the community simply for what it is.
2. Promotion of inter-community engagement
Once users learn that the platform is independent of all of the fears they may have had around joining a social media group, they become much more engaged. As is the case with passion projects, the more people put in, the more they get back.
With unlimited possibilities for groups and niches of the community to grow into, engagement grows naturally with the community. While photography is the broadly shared interest for mine in particular, there are so many different sub-sections within that. If my members want to share pictures and tips specific to flower photography or portraits, they are able to do so with ease and the comfort of knowing that their messages and posts won’t be removed by overzealous moderators.
You can also boost engagement from your existing community by inviting them to join custom platforms from other networks and email lists. I have seen enthusiastic adoption of the community from my existing audience on other platforms. More than half of my members on the Disciple app are active every month compared to only approximately 10 per cent in my equivalent Facebook groups.
This is due to members being able to navigate the app more efficiently than the Facebook groups permit – with benefits like faster loading time, and no distracting ads. This in turn means members are quick to drop in when they have a moment’s down-time. The upshot of all of this is that other members see an active, attractive community where questions are answered quickly, friendships nurtured and fresh member content updated constantly.
3. Ability to connect more directly with the community in more meaningful ways
These communities are separate from Facebook, which means it takes a more conscious decision to join. Downloading an app is a much larger psychological commitment than simply clicking ‘join group’ on Facebook. The benefit of this is that people who are signing up to join the community are already invested by the time they do and are prepared to contribute to the community much more.
4. You no longer have to rely on the Facebook algorithm to reach your community
As well as increased engagement, new value can be unlocked in communities that have previously needed to rely on the Facebook algorithm. No longer will a community be limited by the controls that the traditional platforms place upon them.
Facebook serves organic (non-paid for) content to just 6 per cent of a group’s audience, on average. So followers are not seeing the content they signed up for, and creators are simply sending it into a void. With niche custom communities, this content is delivered to everyone involved, every time of asking. The result is community members receiving more of the content they are there for and creators able to share information, events and new products effectively, unlocking the full value of the community.
As creators continue to build online communities, I would urge them to look beyond traditional social media platforms and towards more custom communities. Building on the passion of community members will create meaningful connections and high brand affinity, recapturing the grounding philosophies of communities before the age of the internet.