This is the first of the many editions of an interview series Community Deep Dive.
As the name suggests, in this series, we‚Äôll talk to the best community minds, the veterans, and the OGs. The people who have been leading the community-led growth revolution even before people knew about it.
In each episode, we‚Äôll be taking a deep dive and learning from their experiences to gain actionable insights. We'll try to get to know them up close and personal, and find out what makes them tick!
We are starting with Kyle Hagge, Director of Community at Morning Brew, the famous newsletter with over 4 million subscribers. He is a creator himself, besides being an activator and community strategist. Read on to gain some interesting insights into community building and community-led growth or watch the full interview episode here:
Communities are evolving from being perceived as yet another fad to a key in enabling larger business goals. Active and new members, along with event attendees, are at the forefront of tracking the impact of the community. However, many businesses are still grappling with how to effectively evaluate this impact.
As a political science and philosophy student turned community marketer, Kyle relates to David Perell's concept of personal monopoly. "You're unlikely to be the best at a single thing. There's only one Michael Jordan, and if you're not him, you're not gonna be the best at basketball".
If you are good at three things, find a way to stack them in a Venn diagram. This way you can be one of the few who are good at that. A fostering environment where you can use those intersecting skills may help you be exceptional.
It may be helpful to reframe the concept of becoming the best as 'becoming one of the only.' "Can you do something so unique and true to you that you're the only one that can really do it?" Kyle asks, and then we'd have gotten rid of the competition. Constructing a personal monopoly accomplishes being 'the only.'
That's what they have tried to do at Morning Brew. It started as a newsletter and has now moved into the tech space with courses aimed at helping executives acquire in-demand skills. Kyle claims no credit for the growth of Morning Brew's community but underlines how the newsletter's content quality, referral strategy, and partnerships were well thought-out.
He now focuses on creating a service valuable to some of the subscriber base so that there would be a funnel-based revenue generation system. It helps diversify revenue streams away from ads while connecting to followers more meaningfully and enabling community-led growth.
Someone who starts by reading the newsletter and then consumes a course gets exposed to more Morning Brew content, creating a system lock-in. They interact with fellow learners and readers and get to know Kyle and the writers. This engagement can generate greater affinity and lower the churn rate in the longer term.
We naturally asked Kyle for a 3- step framework for aspiring newsletter-to-community builders. He starts by highlighting the necessity of a value proposition and diving deep to determine what the audience wants. Morning Brew learners don't sign up to connect with people but to acquire skills. The community would not be the primary value for them.
Second, create experiences people can share and discuss in a common language because people form communities around them. Shared experiences make people feel connected and inclined to go deeper into topics. Starting just a slack channel results in definite churn.
Third, engage with them and seek their participation on various topics. It'll help them feel like they matter to your newsletter. Your subscribers need to see you invest in your newsletter.
Community engagement is not the ideal channel for every business. There, he said it! Community marketing is a new buzzword. Many companies attempt to build communities when it's not suitable for them. "Frankly, people are getting sick of it," Kyle puts it.
Kyle's hottest take is that "community should have to prove its worth, and it should help the business's bottom line." A company and its community marketers should be able to articulate why it will help their business goals and should not take a free pass. They should pinpoint some metrics for success and show how their work is essential to the company mission.
"If you can't answer what success would look like, you probably shouldn't be doing it." Companies that do community-led growth and marketing well have a vision of success and a clear roadmap to attain it, with a 'go or no go' philosophy, where the efforts that don't pan out die. There should be a consensus on what community means.
We asked Kyle his thoughts on companies forming community verticals under their apps and whether he saw a future for this practice. He found it a curious idea because many community users experience friction.
If an app has a lot of traffic, placing a community link within it minimizes friction. This is why many communities are hosted on Slack. The community becomes another tab within the messaging platform you use daily. In an app like Circle, community is the sole reason for use unless you are part of many cohort-based courses, so there's more friction.
For instance, a slow-growing community is not a bad thing. Kyle thinks that people intentionally make the community an obtuse concept because they don't want to show how it's affecting the business.
He also believes that the best community marketers have experience in diverse arenas and haven't always been in this niche. They are business-savvy and can genuinely articulate how they will grow the business. Being calculated, organized, and operational is more important than being merely warm and bubbly.
Community marketers must learn how to welcome people, create great environments, and have difficult conversations if they truly want to take advantage of community-led growth. He believes these skills are easier to gain than knowledge about specific domains to engage the community.
Kyle prefers hiring people who have spent time creating a knowledge scaffolding about their domain over those who are great at working on communities but need domain experience. He thinks he can transmit community-building skills but would value someone who understands the user and can have many conversations about the questions of interest to users.
Kyle believes the fundamental quality is curiosity; it drives a desire to understand, connect, and nurture. Kyle is deeply curious, a byproduct of an upbringing as an only child. He reads a lot, listens to 'too many' podcasts, and jokes about Spotify being concerned about it.
Although research shows that being an only child does not affect most personality traits, we couldn't help but wonder if Kyle was an introverted child. Introversion is about what energizes you, and for Kyle (an introvert), that's taking time off, going on a long walk, and reading something.
His "hot take is that introverts make better community managers" because they are more aware that interactions can be socially draining. Therefore, they prepare more to make social events more welcoming for others like them.
Kyle also loves to travel and explore New York, where he lives, along with other cities. Learning opportunities excite him, so he loves to talk to new people. Their stories, backgrounds, experiences, and ideas energize him. When he's got many blocks in his mind, he can connect seemingly disparate ideas in new ways to make cohesive wholes. When he works on building courses, he uses these principles.
With that, our conversation with Kyle drew to a close. His journey and insights show the delicate balance between skill acquisition, domain knowledge, and the profound impact of genuine connections within a thriving community. We hope you enjoyed this conversation and learned something new. Stay tuned for more such exciting conversations with leading marketers!
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