How We Solve

Marketing, Podcast

Ep 99: How to build an authentic community with Greg Ashton

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Ep 99: How to build an authentic community with Greg Ashton

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Problem: How do you build an authentic community?

This article mentioned that 64% of visitors to online community sites said they were visiting community platforms more often than they did a few years ago. 46% of the people they talked to believed these communities had grown in importance to them over time. People log on to the internet for many reasons, but one enduring reason is connection. Everyone wants to engage in meaningful ways with people who have similar interests and passions. With that in mind, how do you build an authentic community?

I saw a quote on Twitter. I think it was maybe two or three years ago. It says basically ‘every business claims to have a community, but if you’re not actually fostering the connection between the members, then you basically just have an audience’. I don’t have a community. So that kind of hit me pretty hard, that mantra. I think GROW at its core is, just a community of marketers. Due to technology, and how the world changed a lot, particularly during the pandemic, and even before the pandemic —I think we’re living at a time when most people are lacking that sense of belonging. One that comes from being part of a true community.

Authentic Interactions

When you live in a small community, most people know each other, and they’re interested in each other’s lives. They want to help each other out. When you live in big communities like L.A. and New York, it’s hard to find communities that allow you to interact as closely as possible with the community. Greg Ashton, CEO, and Founder of GROW, an online community of emerging retail brands, talks about his experience in creating and nurturing communities. 

We are really trying to build a truly authentic community that people want to be part of. Something that they get value from and that they tell other people about. And in a strange way, it just comes down to human empathy. Like the understanding of small towns and small communities and then just scaling that belief into something much bigger. 

Step # 1: Let Conversations Happen Naturally 

Often, the downfall of online communities in e-commerce, tech, and SaaS is that their members are forced to discuss topics that aren’t really relevant to them. The best way to avoid this? You can ask them about their daily challenges, whether it’s at work or at home. You will be surprised how many of them have similar experiences and offer solutions to those who share the same issues. 

Talk daily about challenges they’re facing. And, they’re just asking really human questions, like, ‘who is going through this as well?’ The results to me are always just surprising and that everyone is the same. Everyone is dealing with the same challenges   Professionally and personally too.

Step #2: Give them a place and forum to connect

Even though online interaction is great, Greg recommends that the community also meet in person. These gatherings need not be big. In the aftermath of this pandemic, the GROW community realized how much more they can accomplish, despite these events occurring on smaller scales in different places.

We will be having significantly more in-person events in 2022 and in 2023 big events, small events, and happy hour events. The only requirement is that we keep people connected physically throughout the year. And it doesn’t have to just be the big kind of annual occasion anymore. Grow used to just be an annual occasion, but now  we’ve realized, and again, the pandemics just confirm this, that we can do this much more.

Step # 3: Give them a place they can connect all year round

Starting with just a Slack group, the GROW community was able to bring in new tools and better ways to connect online. You can start small, but slowly integrate new platforms that solve common and recurring problems. Integrating these platforms in their usual online activities will make sure your community is there when they need it. 

Thinking about the present and then also what they’re going to be doing in the future. And I think, building a community today is pretty much the same concept. We just have these amazing tools —tech tools that augment that very human inclination of coming together, finding things in common with other people.

Step # 4: Make sure the community keeps on adding value to their lives

That’s why it’s so important to be very selective about whom you invite into your community.  Growth marketers have varying opinions and ways of looking at and solving problems. Experts in their fields, who are also humble enough to learn from others, will ensure that the community thrives. Making sure community members keep learning together should be the main goal. 

I realized that now, GROW is scaling so rapidly. It’s important for us to retain that initial draw, value, and intention of connecting the best people. And we already touched on it, but we’re still being very selective with whom we actually let into the community. Growth marketers are truly the best in the world on this particular topic. And we will ask that person to run a master class or who has a particularly strong opinion that doesn’t potentially match everybody else’s opinions on how you should go about your next influencer marketing campaign. And you will be surprised that there are actually some very diverse opinions in marketing. There’s a lot of major failures that go with every kind of success story. And we always like to highlight those stories as well.

How can community builders and managers retain the interest and authenticity?

(00:31:14) “Connect year-round and give people that place to talk year-round. Make people feel like they’re actually part of a community. And I think that that feeling in itself is really important. It reminds me of my favorite sports team. It’s hard to explain why you feel so strongly about your team. So, if we can make people feel that way, then I think we’re onto something in terms of building a really popular and successful value-adding community.”

Greg Ashton Recommends:

  • Check out the GROW community and connect with emerging retail and DTC brands

This interview is part of the How We Solve podcast. To hear more from industry experts who are solving everyday business problems, check us out on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and on our website.

About the guest

Greg Ashton Headshot

Greg Ashton

CEO of GROW, the most popular direct-to-consumer community in the US. Through this community, he serves the new era of retail founders and marketers, through in-person events, online hangouts, masterclasses, and a 17k member newsletter.

How people can people reach the guest:

GROW Website

Twitter: @greg_ashton

LinkedIn: Greg Ashton