The four types of users you need to grow a community

Over the past week, I spent some time trying to segment Volley’s user base. There is quite a bit of overlap between the segments, but I was able to identify the source of each member, and the impact of different types of users on the community’s growth.

I narrowed it down to four types of users: early adopters, wait list, VIPs, and referrals. Even though these were generated from Volley’s user base, I’ve seen the same pattern in most successful communities. Unfortunately, there are also some startups that come to mind that have shut down partially because they were unable to acquire and retain all four categories.

A better understanding of the different segments will help you attract these users to grow your community.

Early Adopters

Who are they?
The early adopters of Volley were people who joined the first iteration back when it wasn’t invite-only. The prototype had some flaws, but these users didn’t care. If anything, it made them more invested in helping us improve the experience as we learned from our mistakes.

Why should you care?
Listening to these users helped us understand what features we needed to build or remove. They also let us know that Volley sucked on mobile, and that making it easy to use the web app on their phone was a priority. Early adopters validate your assumptions, point out major weaknesses, and help shape your community.

How do you get them to join?
Even if you’re an introverted solo founder that spent the last year (mistakenly) thinking that stealth is the way to go, there’s still hope for you. Start by asking friends to join your community, just to see how humans, who haven’t spent hours developing each feature, interact with your site. Then you should invite online contacts from social networks by sending each one a personal message. You can’t growth hack this.

Wait List

Who are they?
Our prototype users loved us and the community, which meant it was time for a reality check. After relaunching as an invite-only community, we wanted to accelerate growth but we weren’t ready to onboard thousands of users all at once. A wait list is a great way to start collecting emails from people who want in.

Why should you care?
Users willing to sign up for a wait list are more likely to be engaged once they finally receive their invite. A wait list also makes it easier to ensure new members remain loyal by providing them with an incredible first impression. You can count on these users to share their honest feedback on your current state, without being biased by your progress.

How do you get them to join?
Our first 650 invite requests came from our feature on Product Hunt and its newsletters. Since Volley is targeting members of the startup community, Product Hunt resulted in high quality users. Sites like Product Hunt, BetaList, and attract early users and help you quickly grow your wait list. However, you should also invest time on niche sites where your own target audience hangs out.


Who are they?
Volley’s VIPs are people that inspired us and have gone above and beyond to support the startup community. We haven’t even met some our VIPs, but we have seen them generously share their expertise and connections with others. Your VIPs might not be the same people we reached out to, but they should have a large network and be able to relate to your core mission.

Why should you care?
The value these influencers bring is increased visibility of your community to all of their contacts and online followers. VIPs massive reach will result in more users, and you’ll see a boost in activity every time they participate.

How do you get them to join?
After finalizing our VIP list, we sent each one a physical invite, which you can read more about on the Volley blog. You’re going to have to go the extra mile and be creative to get the attention of your VIPs. Don’t ask too much of these influencers. Accept that they won’t have time, even if they love your idea, and start by getting them to commit to something small.


Who are they?
Our referrals are users that were invited by existing Volley members. Each request created on Volley can either be replied to or volleyed (forwarded) to a friend better suited to help. Contacts that aren’t users yet, will be invited to the community. You referrals will be the friends of your early adopters, wait list, and VIP users.

Why should you care?
The most powerful form of marketing is word of mouth. It doesn’t matter how much of a marketing pro you think you are, users will always be better at promoting your community. The invites users will send to their friends will have a high conversion rate, and overall engagement tends to increase when users see familiar faces.

How do you get them to join?
We’re still working on improving the volleying process to increase our referral rate, but our first step was to create a built-in invite feature. You should at least start by making it ridiculously easy for users to invite their friends. Adding incentives will encourage them to do so more often, especially when the reward is offered to both parties.

Early adopters, wait list, VIPs, and referrals are all necessary to successfully build and grow a sustainable community. It’s never too late to examine your user base, and focus on acquiring the type of user that’s missing from your community.

[Image by fitzsean]

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