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IDEAS. STRATEGY. TACTICS. INNOVATION. INSPIRATION.

How Mighty Networks' Gina Bianchini Builds Community And Facilitates Connection



Gina Bianchini is the Founder & CEO of Mighty Networks. The company's mission is to usher in a new era of digital businesses built on network effects. It serves small and medium businesses that offer digital memberships, online courses, community, and subscriptions – all offered in one place under their brand, instantly available on every platform. Before Mighty Networks, Gina and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen launched Ning, a pioneering global platform for creating niche social networks. Under her leadership, Ning grew to ~100 million people in 300,000 active social networks across subcultures, professional networks, entertainment, politics, and education. It was sold for $150M in 2010. Gina and Mighty Networks have been featured in Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Wired, Vanity Fair, Bloomberg, and The New York Times. In the following interview, Gina shares how to build an online community that works towards your mission.


What did you learn from Ning that evolved into building Mighty Networks?

The first thing that popped into my mind was that people are awesome. Our creativity, energy, and passion, as well as our ability to be vulnerable, authentic, and weird, are what make us so. Mighty Networks is a platform our clients can leverage to create communities around those awesome passions that bond us.

The second is that people can achieve results and transformation in a community in a way that they can't do by themselves. People have a yearning to connect, and community is the best way to navigate uncertainty. Our platform has evolved from things I've done in the past because it can handle online courses and memberships and the subsequential transactions that allow our clients to create real, sustainable communities in one place.


What would you say are some of the common mistakes people make when they start to build a digital community?

I'm going to make a provocative statement. There are no Instagram communities. Community happens when people connect around a shared interest, passion, goal, location or identity. The magic of a community is that it is not an audience. Community is built around the connections between people who would benefit from knowing each other.


If someone were to say to me, Gina, I do have a community I have 30,000 followers on Instagram. My response would be, How many times have those people met each other or helped each other by sharing their stories and experiences and ideas on the way to mastering something important? Generally, the answer is almost always never. That is a very common mistake. Social media is an arena where the goal is to keep people's attention on you. It takes a mindset shift to switch from building an audience to facilitating connections through communities.

Social media is an arena where the goal is to keep people's attention on you. It takes a mindset shift to switch from building an audience to facilitating connections through communities.

Why do people utilize Facebook groups if it's challenging to monetize a community there?

The number one reason is when you create a community that is your own, with your own, in your own space, similar to what you would do with a website or Shopify store, you have the opportunity to build the communities' cultural norms and values. The issue is that when you have a group interaction so tightly integrated to their overall Facebook experience, you can't create your own culture because you're trying to fight Facebook's.


The second reason people choose Mighty Networks over a Facebook group is people want to keep their professional and personal lives separate. Facebook might be great for keeping up with family and friends. But, it's tough for the Facebook algorithm to figure out where and how you want to interact with a professional network or a group discussing more sensitive topics.


The last reason is if you're running a Facebook group, your Facebook group is not yours. Facebook sits between you and your group, meaning that you can't post a message and be guaranteed that all of your members will see that post. Typically only between 1 and 5% of people in a group see posts from the group admin. You're guaranteed to have 100% access to your members on a Mighty Network.

What are some of the go-to approaches that a community manager should employ to facilitate interconnectivity?

Most of our experiences with in-person conferences involve a lot of anxiety. Anxiety around who I'm going to meet, how do I spark conversation, will I get my money's worth from this event? Contrast that to meeting online, where there's an underlying foundation of ease and order. Our networks have icebreaker questions, features that allow members to give introductions, and personal profiles to read about each other.


Here's what I think is going to happen to conferences. I think that every successful conference will be an online membership, which allows for these kinds of connections and relationships. I think it's easier to talk to people online because it's asynchronous. They can engage with you if they want to, and if they don't, that's okay. When an in-person event does happen, it is 95% less awkward because it is more like a reunion since people have connected online and are already familiar with each other. A reunion and a networking opportunity are two very different things. And I would argue a reunion is so much more powerful.


Might Networks has various prompts designed to get a community started. How much does a community moderator have to be in the mix?

In terms of the moderator, when you're getting something started, there are ways to do a lot of work, and there are ways not to do a lot of work. We have a playbook, a formula, a framework, whatever you want to call it, for not doing a lot of work - or for doing the right kind of work.

Typically, when you have what we call a big purpose and have clear results and transformation that you're going to bring, it's very clear why members should be interacting. Once that is established, you can set up monthly themes, a weekly calendar and pose questions. When those three things work together, you can schedule them in advance, and you don't need a ton of moderation. That's one way the community can essentially self-organize and run itself.


What is a network effect?

A network effect is the dynamic by which your community gets more valuable to its members when new people join and contribute. The network effect is how communities deliver true remaining impact and happiness.


As opposed to a media business where you have to do a ton of work, produce a ton of content, and hope to keep your audience's attention. It's a prime example of why a community is more effective than an audience.


Many brands on various platforms create communities and demand our attention. How do we get people to stay connected to ours?

When we're talking about building a community away from the noise, clutter and distractions of social media, there must be a big enough purpose. There are three categories where it works to build your own community - career, health and wellness, and anything that is really important to you. Members create a habit of coming back if there's interesting stuff happening there that's relevant to them.


The motivation needs to be clear. Spend as much time as you need clarifying your big purposes because that's what keeps people coming back. Also, people pay attention to what they pay for. So if you charge for the community membership, with this prominent promise of results and transformation around something important to them, they will make the investment.


The motivation needs to be clear. Spend as much time as you need clarifying your big purposes because that's what keeps people coming back.

How do you attract people to your community?

It all depends on if you're starting with an email list, from an existing Facebook group or from scratch. I'm going to take the example of starting from scratch. Posting on social media is not the number one thing to do in order to grow because only 1-5% of anything you post on social media actually gets seen by anybody. A much better and repeatable approach is to ask others to nominate people who would be ideal for your unique community.


Say your building an email list from scratch, if you can bring 5 to 10 people together in a community that will master something interesting together, and you create a great experience for them - 5 people will turn into 10 people, 10 people into 50 people, 50 people into 100 people, 100 people into 500 people, and 500 people into 1000 people.


What should we charge from day one for others to join our communities?

In general, when my team and I discuss pricing, we ask three main questions. One, what are people buying to achieve the same results and transformation you're offering? Do they have a coach, go to conferences, or buy books around that topic? Are they willing to spend money on your offering?


The second thing is, What is the value? If somebody achieves the results that are the mission of your community, what would be their ROI? For example, if by coming together in your community, people are going to be able to navigate their careers more effectively and get promotions that would be a high ROI.


The third thing is, again, people pay attention to what they pay for. So pick a price people will pay attention to.

What is the best way to cultivate a strong community on social networks like Instagram before migrating them to a platform like yours?

First and foremost, you're not building a community on Instagram; you're building an audience. There's nothing wrong with that, just being super clear. People with 1,000s - 10,000s of followers don't make nearly as much money as people who have a much smaller community where they can guarantee everyone will see their messaging and purchase their programs. I literally don't post on my Instagram, yet we've been able to generate over $300,000 in course revenue in less than a year.