Rethink the heart and soul of your community: 5 insights from Ember’s Bri Leever

Meaningful, well-designed communities make our world a better place, period. They give us the chance to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and experience lasting camaraderie.

But the "value" of community often feels ambiguous. Online community is still new, full of advice and opinions. In fact, community today is a lot like social media was 10 years ago; brands and creators want to know the ROI before going all-in and starting a formal program. 

“Today, social media is a no-brainer. And I think that’s the direction that community is moving in. Brands that require community to prove its value are going to be behind,” says Bri Leever, Community Strategist and Founder of Ember. “Because in 10 years, every brand is going to have a community.”

As a community launch strategist, Bri helps brands and creators architect and launch communities in just six weeks. She believes communities will always inherently have value — they just need the right conditions to thrive. 

Bri’s proven methodologies propel communities on their path to success and differentiation. We sat down with her to glean some of her community expertise. Read on for five insights that will inspire you to rethink the “why,” “how,” and “what” behind your community.

Let’s go 🏄

1. Audience vs. community — there’s a big difference 👭

Community is a diverse group of people who come together around a shared purpose, goal, or interest. That shared piece is the glue that binds people together to start, and the ongoing value alignment with other members gets folks to stay. 

Audience is a siloed sound board for content distribution efforts. Brands provide 100% of the value.

“A lot of people don’t clarify between their audience and community,” says Bri. “The real problems happen when you fail to identify the differences between these segments and under what premise they belong in the space.”

Bri often works with clients who’ve created all of their community’s content themselves. But that behavior better fits a brand trying to build an audience, not trying to shape a community. The best community leaders focus less on pushing out their own content and more on amplifying the contributions of their members.

This tactic pays off in big ways; you’re not just sharing the creative power of one person in an echo chamber. You’re leveraging the collective power of community voices to uplift, educate, and inspire everyone.

2. Stay focused on your core members 🏆

Should you spend your time on your less engaged members, or your most engaged members? 

Bri has a strong point of view on this one: celebrate the people who are already engaging the most — your core members.

Community builders often think they need to serve all of their members constantly, rather than looking for the members who raise their hands. 

To focus on core members in community-building, Bri applies the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule: “80% of your energy should go toward the top 20% of community activity — the people who absolutely thrive in your space and love what you’re doing,” says Bri. “It doesn’t mean you don’t build excellent member journeys for everyone. But when you invest in the people who are leading and growing the most though, that will trickle down to the rest of your community.” 

It’s not enough to just recognize your core members; you need to nurture them within the community. Bri recommends creating a clear pathway for upward mobility to reward your top 20%. You’ll identify who the leaders are and empower them to keep growing.

“You have to define what a leader is in your community and how you would signal that someone is a potential leader,” says Bri. “Our role as community builders is to woo them further into the community experience. Give them the tools they need to develop and grow, then ultimately give them that leader role.”

But be mindful: Not all of your core members will want to lead. 

3. Live by your three pillars: events, conversation, and content 🕵️

All community builders want to supercharge their programming and provide value to their members. Bri recommends placing your focus on the three pillars of community design: events, conversation, and content. 

Each pillar affects the next, so you need to make sure you’re optimizing them just right for community success. Here’s how her formula works in practice.

Pillar #1: Events

In her video series Community Dissection, Bri chats with leaders from communities we love (think Ministry of Testing, HubFans, and Figma) to look at an online community’s presence and operations.

Their first point of analysis is events. Community builders find that event feedback is instant. Metrics like event attendance and repeat attendance show you what’s resonating with community members — because they’ll either show up for it, or they won’t. 

Attendees will even share in-the-moment feedback through dialogue and facial expressions. Event insights can help community builders iterate much faster than our next two pillars.

Pillar #2: Conversation

Your members are interested in the topics that are constantly coming up in conversation. Content that aligns with member needs almost always leads to our second pillar, conversation.

Conversations give you nuanced feedback into the health of your community: How often do members answer each other’s questions? Are folks asking interesting questions that pique curiosity?

Bri’s community accelerator clients bring up notable conversations on a weekly call. She advises them to boost these conversations in their communities to draw members into the experience — and as a more stealth benefit, members get more familiar with the community’s all-in-one platform.

“Include little prompts that connect member experiences and create a stronger ecosystem,” says Bri. “This could look like, ‘Here’s the link to XYZ conversation. This was a great question so-and-so asked, so make sure you go in and share your insights if you have anything else to contribute.”

Pillar #3: Content

You generally need less content than you think at launch. Community should be your primary environment for testing content. You’ll see what members really resonate with and where the best conversations start from.

“My favorite types of communities start heavier with events and conversation that then dictate content,” says Bri. This iterative approach helps you clue into the types of content your members are going to want in the long run.

If you already have a huge bank of content, start with the resources that have been a big hit with your audience, and see if they resonate with your community, too. This could look like bringing in blog posts, videos, and podcasts for the community to discuss.

Remember this: Content shouldn’t remain static over time. Your members' needs are going to shift. Map out what member transformation should look like, then create content that helps them move through their journey as a community member.

4. Anchor your community to an ecosystem map 🗺️

Bri often compares a creator’s initial community hopes to spontaneous combustion. Most people just want organic growth and expect results to simply appear out of nowhere. 

That’s not how it works.

Think of community as an organic farm instead: the conditions, time, and intentional energy all lead to growth. If any of those elements aren’t right, the community will wither.

“Good organic growth means that you prepared the land, segmented crops, cared for them, watered them, and always made sure they had enough sun, but not too much,” says Bri. “It’s how I approach community design — it’s not something we just see happen. We design for the outcomes we want.”

To understand the nutrients and conditions that make a space flourish, you need to brainstorm your community ecosystem map, otherwise known as a community flywheel. This methodology empowers builders to iterate community activities and offerings that inspire the member actions you’re looking for.

A community ecosystem map looks at:

  • The current model: What offerings are already a part of the community?
  • The future model: What could this community look like in the future?
  • Member discourse: What do community members talk about?
  • Requests: What community features are members asking for?
  • Community heroes: What are best-in-class communities doing well?

After a big brainstorm, Bri helps her clients create a web of connections between events, conversation, and content. The ecosystem map ultimately helps creators get curious and ask some big questions to inform community offerings:

  • How can the community support the experiences provided in conversation channels? 
  • How can we draw connections between programs? 
  • How can we build each experience into other community activities like a flywheel?

5. Choose your community home base 🏡

Community experiences happen all over the place offline. Yet for many communities in 2023 and beyond, all-in-one platforms are the way to go. 

Bri is often asked, “Shouldn’t I build my community where people already are, like a Facebook group or Slack channel?” While it’s not a bad place to start, good community goes beyond convenience to intentionally build a space for vulnerability, which is best facilitated in gated platforms.

Your community needs guardrails to become a safe, trusted space where members can be authentic — and all-in-one platforms can help you seamlessly integrate the three pillars of events, conversation, and content into a centralized hub.

So…is community right for you, right now? 💭

You’ve got an idea for a community that could genuinely make people’s lives better.

The vision is strong. But is it the right time to launch?

Limited resources, focus on another business area, or finite energy are all reasons that it’s probably a “not yet,” according to Bri.

But you also need to determine if you’re waiting to start for another reason — excuses. 

“There are really bad excuses we make to avoid starting a community: fear, insecurity, our need for perfection, or a poor understanding of business discovery,” says Bri in her recent blog post for Ember.

Your game-changing community must launch when the time is right, or you risk crashing and burning. Do the deep work to determine if grounded logic or excuses are holding you back. If you think it’s time to say “yes” to starting or formalizing your community, unlock more strategies to launch with impact and staying power.