How many group chats are you in?

I literally lose count when I try to add up all of the ones I’m in for work, with my fam, brunch squad, and then best friends.

I know you feel me though; we’re all apart of fifty-leven group chats whether it's for work or for fun.

But, as technology is rapidly advancing, and remote culture is becoming the new normal for us, online communities are rising faster than ever.

For entrepreneurs like yourself, this creates a unique opportunity that can help you grow your biz. By using online communities, it can give you a direct line to your target audience, and can give you an endless amount of opportunities to quickly share product or company news in a less formal way.

Once you decide you want to build an online community, whether that’s through Slack or maybe a Facebook group, there’s a lot you should figure out about your business and target audience first.

Netta Dobbins, CEO of Mimconnect, has experience using platforms like Slack and GroupMe to scale her business and acquire users/customers. Mimconnect, is a media startup that helps professionals navigate their careers through a digital community, online workshops, career coaches, and more.

Netta Dobbins, Mimconnect CEO

Netta launched Mimconnect after moving to New York after college to work in entertainment PR. During this time, she often found herself as the only person of color in the room, the only woman in some rooms, and was often the youngest person too. Being a transplant (she’s originally from Nashville, Tennessee), she realized that she needed a community of her own peers to connect with and talk to about their unique experiences at work. Along with a friend, she launched Mimconnect (then known as Minorities in Media Connect) using GroupMe. In their GroupMe group chat, Netta and her cofounder added some of their friends, and then their friends added some of theirs too. Within two weeks, they had over 300 people in their GroupMe, and the group chat was lit. At this moment, Netta realized that her situation wasn't an isolated experience.

Now today, Mimconnect reaches thousands of professionals nationwide. They went from growing their company in GroupMe, to Slack, to now on Mighty Networks, which is a software that helps you build custom online communities.

On Mogul Millennial, Netta talks about some of the issues new media founders face in building community and acquiring users, and what one should know before building a community through platforms like Slack or GroupMe.

Why is it difficult for media companies to acquire new users or build community?

I think there's a lot that plays into it. I know for us in the beginning, we didn't know what type of company we were building. Yes we were operating in a media space, but we weren't sure if that’s what we wanted to become. We knew there were so many different directions we could've gone.

I think that’s something a lot of people experience, especially when they are just in the idea phase and that idea catches fire. You have to spend time figuring out what exactly you want to become.

The other issue I would say is not looking at the data and what your audience is requesting of you. You have to understand that what you want and what your audience wants may be a bit different in the way that it's produced, but your "why" and your "mission" should stay important and at the forefront.

Lastly, thinking that your friends and family are your customers or your audience can affect you because a lot of times they are not your customers or audience. You have to really analyze who your product is for and attract that type of person. I think with Mimconnect, because the problem was so personal to me, and I had a group of friends that I knew were experiencing the same thing, it was easy to find that fit. But for some other companies it may be more difficult, so it’s important to do that research and really understand who you're trying to attract.

Before you start trying to acquire users, what should a founder figure out about their company?

Well first I think the issue is that people come up with an idea and they are so happy to go market it and tell the world before they finalize or flesh out what it is.

So the first thing you need to do before you try to get customers is figure out what is the one product that you want to put out into the world underneath this brand. A lot of times people are like, ‘okay, I have this idea and now I need to go get a logo, a color scheme, a website, and all of that.' I think all of that can wait until you really flesh out what the product is, who it is for, get some traction, and put out the MVP before you throw a lot of marketing dollars at it and find out nobody likes it.

With your MVP, remember that it’s always going to be ugly. I think that a lot of people are in love with perfection. Of course, I know you want to put yourself out there in the best light at all times, but I think it's important as an entrepreneur to fail fast. If you listen to any startup podcasts, or talk to any investors or entrepreneurs, they will tell you that's the best thing you can do. It’ll save you a lot of time. So fail and don't be afraid to fail. If you fail, just get back up and do something else. There's so many other ideas to do. And if you fail fast early, that's a lot of time and a lot of money that you'll save.

What are the key stages of acquiring new users?

One thing I always tell people is identify your competitors and see what they're doing well, and what they could improve on. That’s the first thing you need to do before you even start trying to attract people - you have to figure out your differentiating factor and what's going to make people stay.

When you create your company, yeah you may have a lot of people coming to your page, but if they don’t buy anything, read anything, and aren’t coming back, then what are you really doing?

You have to figure out your differentiating factor because that’ll get them to come back. Once you get that and you're comfortable enough with your product, the quickest and easiest way to grow your audience is through partnerships. For example, who are other media outlets or organizations that your audience is interested in and how can you build an organic partnership with them? It could be something as simple as cross promotion in a newsletter, doing an event together, etc.

You definitely want to make sure these partners are non competitive, because that's the easiest way to actually get a ‘yes’ from them. Keep in mind though whoever you partner with doesn’t necessarily have to be within your industry.

Ultimately, finding new and organic ways to build that audience is key, especially in the beginning because you don't have money to throw $10,000 at someone like Essence, for example, to promote your company. You have to be a hustler and find organizations that can help you grow and can help you increase brand awareness about what you're doing.

Why did you choose to use Mighty Networks for your community?

Well first before we were using Mighty Networks, we were probably one of the first groups on Slack. At the moment we got on it, we liked how you could segment channels by industry and conversations so that we could have more meaningful and fruitful conversations (and less of that one thread type of thing that we had on GroupMe). But because we were one of the first community adopters on Slack, people weren't used to using the platform just yet.

So just like with GroupMe, where we were going with the business kind of outpaced the qualities of Slack, or what Slack was back then. We were doing more things like offering weekly events so we transitioned to Mighty Networks so we could do it all in one platform. Ultimately, we wanted to make the Mimconnect experience more cohesive, and Mighty Networks helped with that.

What tips can you give on keeping communities engaged when you use platforms like Slack, GroupMe, etc.?

When we first started, we were sending alerts like every couple hours, but listening to our audience, we learned that we needed to calm that down. We learned that we needed to tiptoe the line, listen to what people were saying, and once again, look at the data and see how people are responding.

If you find your community is becoming disengaged, you can try retargeting ads on social media, or you can hit them back up via email in your newsletter.

Did you all monetize your Slack channel, and if so, in what ways?

With Slack, we didn't monetize it. I think at the moment, we were just focused on growth. When we decided we wanted to monetize with paid memberships, we moved to Mighty Networks, and right now we offer a freemium model.

When you think about asking people to pay for a product or whatever you’re offering, it has to be more of a premium service. You have to understand who your audience aspires to be like, who’s out of their reach, and how you can give them access to it, whether that’s with a paid membership or something similar.

What have you learned the most about building digital communities?

When it comes to building community, you have to listen to your audience and look at the data. When you become an entrepreneur, and especially if you're building an audience-based product, that product ain’t just for you anymore. You have to figure out how you can make sure that it pleases the community that you're attracting - especially your paying customers.

Related: The CEO of BAUCE Magazine on using data and analytics to grow your business

The other lesson I’ve learned is that partnerships are important. I know when you're an entrepreneur, especially when you’re just starting out, you think people are going to steal your idea. But to me, the more you tell people, allow them to help, and partner with similar organizations, the better off you’ll be. For one, you'll learn from their mistakes, and then two, you’re co-sharing the audience, so your audience will grow organically.

Looking back I think we waited a little too late to do this. We could’ve been partnering with people in the beginning and our audience would’ve been ten times larger.

Essentially, this experience has taught me that the right partnerships are super important for growth, especially when you're a new founder.