This is a free version of the Software Ideas Community Marketing Guide on the community outreach. Originally, I was only planning on releasing this for members of the Software Ideas community, but I feel like there's not enough information on the topic of community outreach and how to do it properly.
So, I've turned the longer, members-only guide into a more compact one that's available for free! I hope you find it valuable.
Community Marketing, or community based marketing, is a modern marketing strategy that consists of three main parts:
While this process sounds self-apparent, it's common for inexperienced marketers to approach this channel in an entirely wrong way.
In this guide, we'll be looking at:
Let's get started!
Community Marketing is an excellent channel to explore early during the idea validation process, as well as during the early stages of a startup where you are still looking to acquire customers manually.
It works well as an early-stage marketing channel for several reasons.
For one, communities are filled with "early adopters," who will be willing to try a product that's rough around the edges in exchange for access to cutting-edge innovations in their niche.
Secondly, communities are where people in a niche get together, discuss, and share tools and best practices. It's a self-selected group that includes your ideal customers, making it a perfect place to be active when looking for customers.
However, community outreach is a linear channel, which means it only scales based on the amount of time you can spend on it. Compared with an exponential growth channel like SEO or a viral growth channel like referral programs, it doesn't have the same potential to reach thousands per day without enormous effort.
That said, we'll be looking a bit later at how you can automate this channel. But first, lets' look at how to find communities in your niche!
The first step to leveraging community marketing is to figure out which communities exist within your niche.
If you're starting with absolutely no knowledge of what communities exist within a niche, the first place you should go to is reddit.com.
Reddit is a collection of sub-communities, called subreddits, covering practically every niche under the sun. Each subreddit has the format
reddit.com/r/<subreddit_name>, making it easy to see which community you're currently viewing.
Let's look at some examples:
Want to find people who are obsessed with high-quality fountain pens? /r/fountainpens has 222,000 enthusiasts who love them!
Looking for a community for lucid dreamers? /r/LucidDreaming is 437,000 members strong.
Is your ideal customer a new developer? If so, /r/learnprogramming has 2.8 million members wanting to know more!
To find a Reddit community, you can simply use Google like below:
site:reddit.com <your niche>
This will typically lead you to random posts on Reddit. Check the subreddit name to see if it seems like the right match.
Notice how this also introduced us to a few other subreddits that may be relevant to our fountain pen company - /r/Pen_Swap and /r/pens, both of which are great finds!
To discover additional subreddits, the easiest method is to use this free tool. Simply enter a subreddit name and get a list of subreddits frequented by those users.
There are also some paid tools on the market, such as the GummySearch Audience Research Tool by Fed (a former Software Ideas subscriber) and others! What's nice about paid tools like GummySearch is that they can also be used for finding pain points & solution requests, keeping track of useful conversations, and monitoring keywords in relevant subreddits. If you're looking to dive deep into a community marketing strategy, these tools can be offer a lot of value!
With this approach, you can quickly find all the active subreddits for a given topic. And while Reddit is a great place to start, you'll also want to find a few non-anonymous communities as well.
Facebook remains one of the most popular places to start communities, thanks to Facebook Groups. There are many groups to search through, and unlike Reddit, there are often multiple groups that focus on the exact same topic.
Groups on Facebook can be either public (no approval required) or private (requires approval for access). Some even require an existing member to refer or invite you, meaning that you may not be able to get into 100% of the current Facebook Groups. Still, typically you'll be able to join at least a few groups that fit your niche.
You won't need an external tool to find communities as we did with Reddit. Instead, just use the Facebook search bar to find communities related to your niche - nothing fancy required!
Next, you'll want to look for any online forums or communities for your niche.
These communities often consist of the biggest enthusiasts of a given niche. These aren't people who want to passively see some stuff related to their niche while they scroll Facebook or Reddit - they're the people who love the topic enough to consistently go to a separate community exclusively dedicated to the topic!
There's no magic formula for finding these communities. Instead, you'll discover them naturally as people link to them in the Facebook and Reddit groups you've already identified. That, plus whatever a generic Google search returns for
<niche> forum and
Continuing with our earlier Fountain Pen niche, here you can see that we found a couple of independent communities from a simple Google search!
While Reddit, Facebook, and independent communities are typically enough to get started with community outreach, there are plenty of other places to look for communities as well.
For example, Slack groups and Discord channels are becoming increasingly popular ways to start an independent community that we haven't covered here.
These tools will have the most important groups for some niches, so don't skip them!
At this point, you'll have somewhere between two to twenty communities you could engage. That's a lot!
Figuring out which communities are the best to engage in is about exploring and getting a feel for the community. You want to look for groups where people seem to be getting along, have a large number of members, and allow you to link to products you own when it makes sense.
To start, you should only engage with 1 to 2 communities, and add more over time if you'd like.
Try not to get stuck here. Just choose one or two, and get started!
Community Outreach is a type of "Warm Outreach," which is different from cold outreach because the lead is already open to receiving your message.
Let's look back at the community marketing definition from the top of this guide:
Community Marketing, or community-driven marketing, is a marketing strategy to attract customers that involves:
- Making connections on social media sites or niche-based communities,
- Identifying users who would be a good fit for your product/service, and
- Making them aware of your company in a value-adding way.
We've made good progress on #1 by identifying the communities we want to engage. Next, we need to recognize users who would be a good fit and make them aware of our company/product in a value-adding way.
So, how do you identify good-fit users?
Simple - by the questions they ask and comments they make!
Going back to this example, we can see here that the user who wrote the post is looking for a note-taking app.
If we were in the note-taking software market, this would be a fantastic opportunity to share our product with this user, as well as everyone who clicks on this link!
You can see that the top comment is a user doing precisely that.
Posts like these are the easiest ones to engage with, because you're helping the poster by sharing the link to your product - a complete win-win!
However, you usually won't find enough posts where you can perfectly fit your company. So instead, you'll want to look for posts where you can squeeze in a mention to your product while still providing value to the original poster.
Here, you can see that the product being mentioned, a React template, isn't exactly what the user was asking for. However, ixartz did a good job of providing a valuable answer (it's the most upvoted comment on this particular post), and included a mention to their product because it's relevant: they like Stripe enough that they use it for that product!
It also gives the poster an example of a how Stripe works on a real-life product, so it makes sense to link to for that reason as well.
In other words, even if an original poster wasn't looking for exactly your product, you can still create value by writing the most valuable reply in the post, and linking to your product in a way that makes sense.
Every community has different rules around self-promotion, and you need to be sure to respect them, or else you risk being banned.
The trick to self-promoting is simple: do it in a valuable way for the person you are promoting to!
Let's look at a couple of bad community marketing examples and see what we can learn:
In this case, the self-promotion is so lazy that it is almost spam. There's no context - they didn't even try to explain why putting the link there makes sense. In many communities, a low-effort post like this would be removed or even lead to a ban.
In this case of self-promotion, the founder didn't do anything to actually provide value to the audience.
You can tell what the point of this post was, which was only to talk about the company. Was there any effort to create a valuable resource for the readers? Nope! Was the post relevant to the niche? Nope!
First and foremost, your posts in communities need to be enjoyable to read for the group you're writing for! Only after you've hit that standard can you worry about promoting your product or including a link to your software.
Here's a good example of providing value while also linking to your product. This is from the founder of NoCode.mba, a site for learning how to use no-code tools:
In this example, the poster wants to share a promo code but isn't sure how to do so in a value-adding way. So, they compensate with jokes at the beginning of the post.
While this certainly isn't the worst example of self-promotion, how could it be improved?
First of all, the poster could have included the promo code at the end of a value-adding post, instead of the entire post being about the promo code.
For example, this poster seems to be an expert on AWS. They could have created a post where community members could ask them any questions they have about AWS, managing cost, etc. Or written a post on the "Top five mistakes you're making on AWS."
At the bottom of the post, they could have linked to the promo code for community members who need a paid solution.
This approach would have led to more engagement, more upvotes, and likely more conversions!
If you're feeling awkward about self-promoting and feel the need to apologize or make jokes about it, you probably aren't providing enough value to your readers.
Caring is the most critical and overlooked aspect of community outreach. Not caring about the people that make up the community is 99% of the reason why people fail in their outreach.
It sounds cheesy, but it's true. Not caring about the needs of the community leads to many of those examples of bad outreach that we looked at earlier.
Always double-check your post before submitting it and ask yourself, "Is this comment truly helpful to the person I'm writing it to? How would I feel if I received this comment in their shoes?"
You should imagine that they will be thrilled to read your comment - or at the very least, that they'll find it helpful and not a waste of time.
The good news is this:
If you genuinely care about helping those you respond to, all of the technical tips and tricks we've talked about will fall in line automatically, because you'll be focused on the right things.
Community Marketing is one of the most popular channels for founders to leverage, yet it's done wrong more often than not.
Now that you have the right mindset, tools, and community marketing tactics in place, you should find lots more success when engaging in this marketing channel!
If you're interested in the full version of this guide, it will be releasing in a few short days for Software Ideas members. It will cover a few additional community marketing concepts, such as:
If you'd like to see more of our free content, check out our Founder Flubs series, available on our blog or directly on Indie Hackers.