A colleague recently shared the following article with me. It is a long read but definitely worth the time.
If you want the cliff notes version, here are several excerpts form the article that caught my attention:
I’ve been blown away by the quality and depth of interactions I’ve seen in private paid communities vs. what I’ve experienced on the free and public side. In fact, the difference is so profound that I actually regret spending so much time dealing with free communities. If I’d known ten years ago what I know now, I would have bought into paid communities a lot sooner.
So on average the members of our private community are about 50x more active in terms of posting frequently. They contribute and connect a lot more.
It’s a virtual certainty that the paid community will be smaller, tighter, more committed, and more professional.
One of the key differences I’ve noticed is that free communities tend to be centered on discussing a topic for insight and understanding whereas private community members tend to focus on taking action and creating results.
Private community discussions were normally much more focused on specific how-tos, action steps, and goal-oriented progress. The members wanted results, and they leveraged these communities to help them solve real world problems and to make progress.
If the focus is on taking action, making progress, and achieving results rather than on merely sharing and discussing ideas, there’s a far greater likelihood that members will indeed achieve their goals. That’s certainly been true for me with respect to my participation in paid communities.
When you participate in a solid private community, you’re likely to get swept up in the results-oriented mindset. You’ll probably find yourself taking a lot more action just through osmosis. You won’t want to see your peers racing ahead while you appear to be standing still.
I especially love to engage with smart, heart-centered, ambitious people, and such people are relatively easy to find in private communities.
Best practices tend to propagate quickly through a private community because you can easily connect methods and processes with results. This type of insight is much harder to discover in a public community because people frequently hide or disguise their true results for a variety of reasons.
When you ask for help, you’re likely to get some quality feedback and advice.
Paid members tend to feel more loyal to each other and to the group, and so they make stronger investments in helping each other.
You know that if you help someone, there’s a good chance they’ll remember and appreciate what you did for them, and they’ll be eager to reciprocate when the opportunity presents itself.
Since little or no moderation is needed, the community managers can invest more time and energy in improving the community for the benefit of the members instead of wasting so much time dealing with maintenance issues. Over time this can really add up.
We use Discourse for our private forums (free and open source), and its features are excellent. Facebook is fine for sharing status updates and chatting briefly with friends, but it’s a poor choice for having extended intellectual discussions on deep topics that could go on for days or weeks.
Facebook’s search feature is also surprisingly weak. Nevertheless, some impressive paid communities still use Facebook groups, but I think this preference is largely rooted in convenience and perhaps a lack of comfort in applying other technical solutions.
We have video coaching calls most weeks, with a typical call lasting 90 minutes to 2 hours. We begin each call by highlighting member achievements of the previous week and congratulating each other for our recent successes.
Then I do about 15 minutes of sharing on a specific topic, such as how to achieve 10x goals or what types of 30-day challenges are best. And then for the bulk of the call, we do one-on-one coaching for those members who wish to discuss a particular problem or challenge, going about 15 minutes per person.
Each call is recorded and added to our membership portal, so any member can stream or download any previous call in audio or video format. We also have an open text chat going during each call, so members can comment and share extra advice and feedback along the way, and these chat logs are archived as well.
Some communities pack in so much value that you may feel a little overwhelmed by all the possibilities when you first join. I think that’s a good thing though. It can help you get used to abundance, whereby the main challenge is prioritizing.
You’ll find yourself leveling up to match the standards of your peer group.
In private communities, trust is easier to establish. Sometimes it’s easily granted because people will treat you as a worthy comrade simply because you’ve joined the same exclusive group. With high trust there’s less friction for connecting, so relationships can go deeper faster. Don’t be too surprised if you have some new best friends within a month or two of joining such a community.
In a paid community, however, semi-radical honesty tends to be more welcomed and appreciated because it’s an efficient way to communicate. People are typically less skittish, and they appreciate it when you make your point without beating around the bush.
I find it especially rewarding to see people making positive gains in the group, especially when they do so by drawing on the strength of the community to help them.
Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say, for one, that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow-men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. – Abraham Lincoln
Another benefit of such communities is that they’re often very encouraging of people who are willing to make an effort. They tend to respect hard work and risk taking, regardless of your results. When you fall short, they’ll help you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game.
I liked the accountability aspect of sharing each day’s video with the group. I certainly didn’t want to be the guy who failed the challenge, so I successfully completed it and grew a lot more comfortable with recording and publishing videos as a result.
They’re tracking their progress via a shared Google spreadsheet
If the culture is really strong, it will go a long way towards helping the members get results.
I often see my role as helping to remove barriers to connection and to add more structure where doing so can empower our members. The whole experience feels very aligned. It’s clearly a good use of my time.
In most cases the free community alternatives will yield a dismal return on your investment.
With a free community, you may invest no money, but you can easily invest a lot of time and energy with little to show for it. Your time is a scarce resource, so you don’t want to squander it.
With a paid community, you may have to invest some money to join, but the benefits can quickly reach a level beyond what you could ever hope to achieve with 10x or even 100x the time investment in related free communities.
In a free community, the quality of advice and feedback will usually be lower, sometimes a lot lower. You’ll be more likely to get bad, impractical, or hollow advice, and trying to apply such advice will often lead to mistakes and dead ends. People will typically be less professional, less experienced, and less helpful. The community standards will likely be lower, so you’ll adopt a less empowering mindset by osmosis. You’ll probably think a lot smaller because small thinking is typical among free communities. Free communities are more likely to encourage addictive behavior because there’s little social pressure against endless, low-value commentary, whereas members who post too much fluff in a private community are likely to reduce their standing by being perceived as talkers rather than doers. And even if you do become semi-addicted to a private community, that addiction is likely to be a positive one that helps you improve your results, similar to becoming addicted to exercise.
Public communities frequently seek to grow their membership just for growth’s sake. This is often the case if they monetize through advertising or other promotions since more members usually means more revenue. Unfortunately too much growth can often lead to watering down a community with lower quality members.
Private communities are more likely to be careful about their growth, making sure to maintain high standards as they expand. And some communities are so exclusive that they don’t seek to grow their numbers at all; maintaining and/or improving the quality of the group is their priority.
If you want to grow faster, it’s wise to join communities where you actually perceive yourself as a below average member. This situation will encourage you to raise your standards faster and stretch yourself more.
In terms of hosting a private community, I love investing in our members because they do a great job of testing advice through action. It’s not unusual for me to help a member on a live coaching call, and the very next week (sometimes the next day), they’re sharing the results they’ve gotten from applying what we discussed. These people are good investments of my time and energy. I can readily see that my efforts to help them are making a positive difference in their lives. And in turn they’re doing a tremendous job of helping, encouraging, and supporting each other. It’s all-around beautiful to witness.
Contrast this with random people who read a few articles from my blog and then email me asking for tips or advice. Most of the time, these are people I’ve never talked to before. I don’t know them. I have no idea what their strengths are. I can’t give some random person quality advice without learning a lot about them. And if I do take the time to understand their situation better and give them some advice that I genuinely believe could be helpful, the likelihood that they’ll apply these ideas and share their results in a timely manner is pretty low. Much of the time, the wording such people use suggests a lack of commitment and a desire for shortcuts – and especially an unwillingness to face one’s fears and take some meaningful risks. I also get a lot of oddball and obsessive questions via email, such as how to help someone manifest their lost keys or how to re-attract an ex-lover. Clearly my time will be better invested in helping people who are stepping up to make serious gains and to pay it forward by creating more positive ripples in the world. That’s the fire that fuels me these days, not helping someone stalk their ex.