7 Lessons for Building Powerful Networking Communities

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Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh, the duo behind some of America’s most successful communities for business professionals, are on a mission to take community management to the next level -- and are proving that their concierge-level approach could mean the end for old-school professional organizations.

Since Gerber and Paugh founded it in 2011, tens of thousands of entrepreneurs have applied to Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invitation-only organization comprised of the world's elite founders and business owners, from almost every industry. With consistently low attrition rates and a member roster that reads like a who’s who in the young professional world, YEC has quickly become one of the elite organizations of its kind. I personally have been a member of this organization for the past couple years and have found it valuable.

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Their second invitation-only community, FounderSociety -- whose members have at least $250,000 in financing or revenue and receive benefits like a complimentary FoundersCard, a business services concierge, peer-to-peer mentorship, media exposure and members-only events -- privately launched with thousands of applications submitted in just the first few days, all from word of mouth. FounderSociety already has a lower acceptance rate than any Ivy League college.

To understand how Gerber and Paugh continue to build and manage organizations of this caliber, I asked them to share their secret sauce for developing a world-class community. Below are their tried-and-true strategies.

1. Make your community a vetted democracy.

In both FounderSociety and YEC, existing members vote in new members to the community. This approach ensures a sense of comfort, stability and fairness within the organization while also protecting the community’s exclusivity. New or prospective members should have no doubt about the caliber of your network. Welcome everyone by putting everyone on a trusted, level playing field from day one.

2. Further curate the already curated.

Just because you have thousands of qualified members in your organization doesn’t mean that you should connect every person to one another. Every businessperson only needs to meet a handful of the right people at any given point to see real value. Take the time to figure out what tailored connections will serve your members best, and only introduce them to people you think will best answer their questions or fill a void.

Related: 6 Surprisingly Effective Networking Tactics They Won't Teach You in Business School

3. Focus on a common ground.

More people will want to be part of your network if they can genuinely identify with your vision. Find people who care about what you're working toward. YEC offers its members ways to give back to the next generation of entrepreneurs through mentorship. Conversations often start with this mission in mind.

4. Maximize access.

The more connections you have access to, the more you will be able to help others. It goes both ways. Share as much information, services and tools as you can with your network and community. You never know what seemingly insignificant connection can change someone’s professional trajectory. Make sure they come to you to accelerate their objectives and business needs.

5. Don’t rely on vanity numbers and metrics.

Regardless of what “it” might be, if you’re doing something just to drive traffic, it won’t work. Sure, it will take more time and effort to publish meaningful content or sustain genuine relationships on a more one-on-one basis, but it will also get you meaningful results.

6. Devote real time to helping others.

Your goal should always be to guarantee ROI in any engagement. If you ask for your community's time, be sure to deliver results to make that time well spent. This means devoting real time to figuring out what resources would be most helpful to each specific person.

7. Be proactive and personalized.

The difference between proactive community management and passive account management is the difference between success and failure. You and your team need to care about members beyond sending invoices and promotions -- they need to have a concierge-level approach in everything they do. As an example, FounderSociety’s concierge team acts as an extension of its members' internal teams to get results. They even make individual phone calls to members to see how best they can serve or improve their business on a regular basis throughout the year.

It’s the little things that matter. If you can make someone’s life a little bit easier, your community has done its job. With these strategies in your back pocket, you can build and grow a strong community in any industry.

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