Interview and Q&A with Gina Bianchini
I wanted to start off by talking about, you mentioned Ning and your really long track record in this space, so my first curiosity is how do you see this opportunity for network effects for community building online, how has it changed since when you first started building Ning, to what you're doing with Mighty Networks now?
Yeah, it's a great question. I think the biggest shift is that the opportunity has stayed exactly the same, and yet because of small ways that we have been conditioned every single day, the opportunities and the fact that like, when you're scanning a feed where your entire life and all of the different things are in one place and it's just like, oh my gosh, it's like, something super sad that happens around the world, versus like a friends update, it's like exhausting.
And so, as more and more people are exhausted, it's harder to see the opportunity. And I think if anything, but the opportunity itself hasn't changed. I think what's changed is that there ...
are big companies that exist out there that have essentially tried to convince you that the most valuable thing you can be spending your time on or doing as an entrepreneur or small business owner, should be done in a way that benefits them to a greater extent than it benefits you. And that's not anybody's fault, doesn't mean anybody's evil.
It just means that, the savviest small business owners, and the ones who choose to embrace network effects, know that even on difficult days, what they are doing with every new person who joins, is creating something bigger than themselves and more valuable than anything they can create if all they do is the things that, you know, are sort of setup as expectations in social media. Which again, where did they come from? Well, in the best case, they're like 12 years old. (laughing)
It's not like, like the things that we're being asked to do, like oh my god, a share is really valuable, or a view is really valuable. There are just people behind all these things, making stuff up! (laughing) And then we do them, as opposed to going back to first principles and saying, what am I trying to build, what is important to me, what do I want to have at the end of this, and what is the best way for me to accomplish that goal? And, that is, I would say, the universal truth, of the work that we've done and what I've watched. And this is why I'm so passionate about this opportunity, is that nothing has changed. The only thing that has changed is it feels like we're smaller, and there are these big monolithic networks that, you know, control our lives. And it's just simply not true. It doesn't mean that somebody isn't gonna be like, well why can't we just do this on Facebook? But, that's okay.
That is okay. The benefits of creating your own world. Like what you've done with CoCommercial. Far out weigh what that person's gonna get by having another one point seven second view, of your fleeting by, you know, post, tat you worked really hard on. So, who are you building for? Are you building for this special group that you can bring together? Or are you building for that fleeting moment, that fleeting view? To me it's, you know, not even a decision.
Yeah, we're gonna talk way more about that too by the way. Alright, so you watch on a daily basis, small business owners building these networks, I'm, you know, I'm sure people are starting on Mighty Network every single day, and you're like, you shouldn't have done that. (laughing) So what are some of the mistakes that you see small business owners make as they start building communities, as they start building networks and bringing people together--
So the good news is, not everybody is like, making the mistakes, but I actually think the same mistakes about trying to build a community or building a network effects brand or business, are the same ones that like, you, like somebody building an online store. Which is, don't try to boil the ocean. A community is actually not that much fun if it's for everybody.
The most fun and most interesting communities, even is to start with something that's narrow. You know? Mark Zuckerberg started with Harvard. He didn't start with all of the people of earth. And so, that's kinda the number one thing. It's like, the more that you have sort of a unique take on the world, even if it's something that isn't sort of super creative or unique, if you bring a great personality to it and you bring a unique name so it's memorable, I always use this as an example with my team, which is one of the Ning networks that we had in the early, early days, was called, the Offbeat Bride Tribe. And it was started by a woman in Seattle, and literally, the brand was a Doc Marten foot, with a wedding dress.
And it was like--
I remember that.
You know, and it was like, you kinda could expect that, like every, you know, thread was about like, Irish friendship rings as like your wedding ring as opposed to like, you know, conflict diamonds and thins like that. (laughing) And so it was great! But you knew exactly what you were gonna get. And so I really, I'm a passionate believer that all of these same business fundamentals for a small business apply to build something that even becomes very, very big. 'Cause there's no reason why you can't expand your brand over time. You know, again, Facebook was named for the Facebook, the Freshmen Facebook at a Ivy League college. It was not meant to be something that would, over time, end up being all people of earth. The second thing is, well, and this isn't a mistake as much as it is an opportunity which is, think about yourself as a host of a party. Like, do you want, or like a retreat, you know? Like do you want a really boring ice breaker question that everybody's gonna go around the room being like, tell us a little bit about yourself, versus like, what was, like, the first computer you used? Like one connects people--
That's a good one.
Yeah, it is a good one. (laughing) One connects people in a really unique and interesting way, and the other is like someone inevitably is gonna think that what we wanted to hear was five minutes about them,
We don't. We never wanna hear five minutes about somebody. Like, for the most part. So, so that's actually another thing. And then I would say, that as long as you have, kind of again, this unique, you know, something memorable upfront, you're a specific as you can be in terms of what we're gonna do here, you know, what someone's gonna get out of it. And then when they show up, it's as interesting as you can possibly make it. Then, the only other thing that I would say is a really important success factor, best practice is, don't just think that if you post it a bunch of times to social media that it's gonna work. Today, we were just doing this analysis, in the office, which just sounded so fancy.
It did sound fancy.
Right? (laughing) Which is that organic reach on Facebook. Especially the more fans or the more likes you have, is at one to two percent. So even in your friends when you're posting something, less than 10 percent are even seeing them. Which means, that like, you gotta get a little bit more creative. Make an email list, you know? Download your CSV file from LinkedIn, and think about a really cool invitation into something, that is gonna be meaningful and memorable to like, the people that you're now actually emailing. So, when you do these things, then you can actually spend more and more time thinking about, like, you don't have to post and just like shout out into, you know, a fleeting by feed, you can actually start to think about, okay, so how do I want to bring everybody together today? What's that kinda interesting conversation that we can have where you're gonna be able to learn from you, you're gonna be able to get something out of it, you're gonna be able to make better, more well-informed decisions, and it's super fun! (laughing)
Yeah, okay, so let's piggy back on that growth piece.
Can you tell us about, maybe some specific networks and some interesting things that they're doing that are actually working to grow their networks?
Yeah! Number one thing, have the right value proposition. Another, again, it just goes through the greatest hits. The people that struggle, are those that think that they have to be more general or more generic. And then, it is literally, like, can you do something with a launch event? Can be online using Crowdcast or Facebook Live, or whatever it might be, but the more that you remember that, like, this is about like, how do we make things fun, and cool, and interesting for people? And really sort of bring in the right folks, the better it works. One very practical thing that we've done, and we totally made it up, but now we actually pretend like we didn't just make this up, and we're like, oh, well what you wanna do as a best practice. (laughing) Which is, that we were launching a brand new network and this was probably about three years ago, we were launching a brand new network, and we were like, well we, like, we don't have anybody in here yet. How do we actually create, kinda the starting seeds of who we want in here? So what we did, is we went out, and we found a bunch of peop-- it was a small business network, or a freelance network, so we went, and we found on TaskRabbit, the most interesting taskers that we could find, we went into LinkedIn, and on Facebook, we went on Twitter, and found folks, we reached out to them, and we interviewed them. And then we posted these stories with like, you know, and again, it goes back to the same thing of like, what are the most interesting questions that you can ask? How'd you get started? Who was the most important person to you early on? And tell us that story. When did you know it was working? The other, like greatest hits question of all time is, tell me about a day in your life. The thing about it, we all actually are really curious, how someone else spends their day. It's really easy, like it's a natural conversation, really easy to write down, like, what time do you wake up? What do you have for breakfast? How do you organize your day? Especially for freelancers or teachers, or you know, really, anybody. Then the last question we always ask is, and what do you want to get from a community of peers? First of all, everybody has like, a really cool answer to that question. Like, it's kinda one of the best questions. And then, what's so cool, is that we started putting these things together, we shared them out into social media, and we also then had that person share it out into their social media followings, so it brought people in and we would see on these stories, anywhere from five to 12 minutes, in terms of time spent. People sat down and they read them. And instead of it being a blog where there was like nothing else to do, we used it as the seed to first of all say, who are you gonna meet here, and then you would come in, and then you're like, oh! And like we're all, like, we've got contacts, because we learn through stories. So that is just sort of, you know, we call them profile stories, they're the gift that keeps on giving. Because, they make fantastic content in a network, they tell people who else is gonna be here, and what are we gonna get from it, because actually, as you know, as you find out how someone spends their day, you're like, oh, I should totally like, eat a handful of almonds first thing in the morning. (laughing) And then you also have this sharing dynamic and this growth opportunity that again, you will invest, it takes a little bit of time to do these interviews, but you know you're building network effects. So you know, that as you get more and more people in, you will be doing less and less work, because the power of the network is what you are building towards.
Yeah, I'm so glad you shared that as an example of like, this is what works to grow, because it's so counter to everything that we've been told in terms of content marketing, and you know, you gotta do this how to, and you gotta do this tutorial, and you know, share these things. And you're taking this sort of meta-example of building communities and networks about people, and bringing that down to the content--
Marketing side too.
Yes, that's exactly right.
That's exactly right.
How tos, don't, like the things that you would do for content marketing don't tend to work really well when you're trying to build network effects. Because people are like, they're built to get a small action, they're not built to build relationships. Peoples stories is how we connect to other people. That's why, you know, stories are so powerful. So it's kind of something to un-- Content marketing, while I do it, and really strangely, on the content marketing, we have one, we have like one, blog post that we wrote, that out performs every other thing that we have written by like 10 X.
And we totally like, like made it up. Again, we just made it up. Which is, don't start a blog. (laughing) And we've actually even, and I share this, 'cause it's a really, like a surprisingly effective technique. Sometimes when you have a blog post that works really well for content marketing, and then it stops, it will always stop working, just delete it, and like repost it with like a couple of changes, and it will start working again. Who knew?
Who knew? (laughing) Alright, awesome, I'm gonna give you guys a chance to ask questions in just a second, but I have one more question for you before we get to studio audience question, which is, I know you're really big on free communities, and you see a lot of financial possibilities for free communities--
And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that, and sort of how some of the networks that are on Mighty Networks are actually, I hate to use the word monetized, 'cause I think there's a lot of, there's a lot wrong with it, but--
Yeah, generating revenue, creating value, that they're getting paid for from free communities.
Yeah. So, you know, as you know, we have both subscription communities and free communities. In terms of free communities, you know, you widen the top of the funnel. You'll probably get more and more people in. What we're building out as we speak, is the ability to have paid groups within a network or paid courses within a network. And so, you know, or sponsorship. So there are lots of ways to generate revenue from a free network, event tickets, and like in person meet ups, and what you do, and this is where it's like, we think the natural and normal evolution is, have a free network effects so you get more and more people in, and they're getting value from it, and then just have places, whether it's again, a structured course, or whether it is a, you know, a premium VIP area, I mean, it's not like people aren't used to like the velvet rope. To charge for, or to create additional value for, so that you essentially have more opportunity up front. The other thing that we do see are sponsorships. You know, I was talking to somebody yesterday, when you, who has a really really good idea for something that is just natural for sponsorship, which is, for example, anything that is sort of technically minded, or like technical home products for example, create a community of how to and connection and people sharing their stories and things you can't Google. And then, be able to go talk to the producers and manufacturers of those products, to say, hey, I can bring you an entirely new, you know, market segment basically, and type of customer. So there's all sorts of things to do along those lines, and I think they're only gonna get more so. So if you have a network effect, the ways you can monetize that network effect only grows over time, especially as you're able to layer more and more different ways of making money into it.
Yeah, awesome, alright. Questions for Gina? A few of us got a question. Melissa!
Yes, I have a question, my name is Melissa. I have a paid community, called the Creative Sandbox, for women, and I also have a free community for my book, the Creative Sandbox Way, they're both on Facebook. I have been wanting to get off of Facebook forever, for many reasons, one is-- (laughing) Part of the reason that I have this community is to, well, the main reason I have this community, is to get people creating. I work with people who want to get back to their creative--
You mean, as opposed to--
Like, hey I need to go check out this one number, or like that post--
And then you're like 45 minutes later, you're like, what have I just done? Like, I've now caught up with every family member I have, I've like read three articles, and I'm like, wait, what just happened? So--
So Facebook is, not the ideal place. However, my member, almost all of my members are already there, and many, many years ago, I had a different community that was not on Facebook and it was such a struggle to get people to engage on a forum, because they didn't like forums.
And, I love Mighty Networks personally, I'm a member of CoCommercial and I love it. My members are, most of them are very, very visual, and they're on Facebook already. And so moving them over to something else where they have to login elsewhere, I'm really anxious about that, and also, well I haven't dug around in particularly in--
To see how, how it will work with you know, posting multiple images and videos and stuff like that, that's a separate issue, but, how do you deal with, I know Terra went through this, a while ago, switching from a different platform over to Mighty Networks, but, how do you deal with moving an existing community to, you know, from one platform that they're used to, they know, onto another platform that they don't know, where they might, there might be some resistance.
Yeah, so, I've never heard this question before. It's really, you know, totally surprising to me. (laughing) No. So number one, it's about deciding what you are going to be investing your time in building. When you are investing your time in building this for them on a Facebook page or a Facebook group, you are working in some cases, twice as hard, for half the results. So that's kind of just number one. Number two is you will inevitably have a loud minority who is going to be, like, you moved their cheese. Which I don't think anybody remembers that book from like the 80's, but like,
I remember it.
Yeah, like I've used it in my office, of which am, tend to be on the older side. (laughing) and they don't know what I'm talking about. But like, you are changing something for people, there will be a small minority who are going to be unhappy with that, and basically say, I'm already here, like don't make me learn something new. It's valid. There's also, the less vocal majority, who are like, wow this is really cool, like oh, wow, like, I didn't know I could actually meet members who are near me. Oh, I didn't realize that like, I could actually have categories who I could see which type of creatives, and all the writers can organize over here, and all of the graphic designers can organize over here, and we can actually talk about topics which I actually don't, I forgot, like we don't actually have that in the Facebook group. So so much of what they're saying, is because they don't actually know what's somewhere else. The other thing is once you're signed in, you're kinda signed in. Like, it's not like, it's not like moving to Instagram, was like, it required it to be owned by Facebook, if you provide somebody with an amazing experience, where it's valuable to them, they will move. Not everybody, but the question is, the ones who do come over and then they get a 10 X better experience, isn't that better for your business and isn't that better for them? So, it's a little bit of, because people don't know what they can have, and when they do hear, oh I'm building my own community, they're thinking of like, a forum from like 1998. We are not talking about a forum from 1998. And just as a commercial for Mighty Networks, we do actually support multiple posting of photos, embedded videos, and that's all gonna get even better as we go forward. So, but I think this question's a really important one. People tend to freak out, and it's super easy, we do it all the time, which is, you freak out by the person who's mad at you, and you forget about the person that you can take their experience from a six to a 10. That's more valuable for your business, then trying to get the person who's already, like, if they're already so focused on Facebook, it's not because they're coming to your group page and like really spending a lot of time with it, it's because they're used to, being able to skim things really fast and give you half their attention, or a quarter of they're attention. Is that you want? Can you really build a valuable business and network effect with that? My answer would be no. And so, you know, maybe you take that one to a three, but it's still like, they're still a three. And so if you have a bunch of threes on a Facebook group, versus being able to take sixes and get them to 10's, The data kinda proves out, that's the better business than this.
My thing has always been, or not always been, because I was not always on Mighty Networks, but you know, when people have asked me that question, my answer has been, don't you want to create something that's valuable enough and engaging enough, that people don't have to be on Facebook to use it. We use Facebook as a crutch. And I'm not saying that there aren't certain use cases, where that makes a lot of sense.
But if we're talking about building something that's bigger than us, if we're talking about building a brand that's community driven, if we're talking about building a business that's community--
Don't you wanna build something good enough to not have to rely on that? And I think that that's a bar that we would naturally set for ourselves anyhow.
And you can't do that if you don't even know, what's working in that group.
You can't do that if you don't actually, you know, one of the things that is just shocking to me, 'cause again, we, I think most people assume that there's more features in a Facebook group than there actually are. They like, actually say, but of course I can see members who are near me in a Facebook group, except you can't. What's really interesting is to meet anybody who is not already someone you're connected to, like they have to post, and again, small number of people are posting, and then the algorithm has to show you their post, which is another small member. Otherwise you would go to a list, and it's literally alphabetical order. So, alphabetical order of like, 100 people is a pain. (laughing) Now try like 1,000 or 10,000 or a million? Like, that's, it's not about helping you create network effects, it's not about introducing your members to the most relevant people to them, it's about, essentially, the five people who post all the time, and trigger the conversation that then happens. And then you kinda can't find it again. But again, we're so afraid of like, freedom, and creating this better experience that like, I get it. But is that the best use of your time? Is that the connection and the impact you wanna make? I think the answer's no. But, I also recognize the fact that I'm in, I might be in the minority. (laughing)
You might be biased, no.
I'm sorry, I'm super bias.
That's like when I read that, like, do you guys have this where you write an article, and somebody's like, well, nice commercial for your business. I'm like--
Like why else? (laughing) Like unapologetically so, peeps.
Totally, totally, alright. Let's take one more question from here and what, oh gosh, one more question, or, let's take two more questions here, and maybe we're gonna skip the online questions. Online people, I'm so sorry. I could talk to Gina all day, but unfortunately she has to get back to Palo Alto. So, Mia!
Hi Gina, it's so nice to meet you. I used to belong to a few Ning Networks so.
Oh, well thank you for that! Appreciate it.
So it's a full circle movement. I'd love for you to share a couple more examples of how, of the discovery phase, and how we can, facilitate discovery on a shoestring. Because you mentioned seeding with advertising and social, and especially the advertising thing, may not be an option when we're starting out.
Totally. So the number one thing I recommend, and I think it's just a good practice as an entrepreneur, make a list. Make a list! Make a list of the people you know. Make a list of the people who care about you. My hunch is that you will get, and that's why I'm like, download your LinkedIn CSV file. You will likely have 100 people, or 1,000 people, depending on how social you are, and not how active in social media you are, but literally how social you are. Start with them. Most people think that they should start with like, oh what am I gonna post, what's my posting schedule? No, no, no, you have no control, over what someone's gonna see in social. You have absolute control over what someone you already have an established connection to does in email. So, I'm a huge believer in starting, like, the other thing is it just feels good. It really feels good when you make a list of the people that you know and you're like, oh, oh my god, like, I could do this! And then, you can send them a note, that literally is like, hey, and if each one of us brings one person into that, I ask for one person, or two people, or whatever, but not share this out into social media, or like, all these things that we do without closing the loop, and without using the kind of motivations that we talked about. So the motivations are gonna increase your conversion rate, the personal connection is going to increase your conversion rate. And right there, you can start with, even 100 people can get you 10. Then you got 10 people, 10 more than you had yesterday. And you got 'em for free. Thinking about how you create an amazing experience for 10 people, I'd start with an online event. And so it's basically like, again, the more that you can create a personal connection between those 10 people, and find a way to get each one of them to invite one more, now you got 20 people. This is how we built social media in the first place. There is no, the reason it feels hard is because you are doing work that a very small number of people that you don't even know, who sees and who doesn't see, and you're calling that, like gosh, like nothing happened. What happened? So I think it's about reframing it, especially on a shoestring, and then making sure that like, that you're balancing almost in a 60 outreach, 40 engagement split. So that everything you're doing, especially in the early days is finding ways of rewarding your founding members, and then getting them to invite one more person. And if they have a personal connection with you, and you're emailing them personally, not, hey friends, but like, Gina! (laughing) Hey! Really excited about our launch event that we're having, or our preview event that we're having. Can you bring one person? Can you reply to my email with the name of one more person who you think would be great for this event or would get a lot out of this event? Here's my reasons for doing this again. So we all make better, more well-informed decisions, we have inspiration every day, we're able to tap each other for for the things that we can't Google. See if it works. And then you can start to build out from there.
This is how businesses get made people. It's not by posting on Facebook. So important. One more question, yes, Denise.
Hi, thank you for your time and inspiration today.
Absolutely. What is your experience of having like a hybrid approach with free and fee? Can it be in one community? Because I have like, a free community on Facebook and then I have a paid Mastermind, and we meet on Facebook, but there are similar content, only the paid goes much deeper, more personal access--
But it's still the same content, essentially. So, what does that look like?
So here's the beautiful thing, one, people who want free and people who are willing to pay, tend to be different people. Two, you can utilize the paid piece, with it's exclusive, you apply to, it's not just who pays money, but we've, you know, we're like, we basically have made this an awesome set of people. So everybody is essentially paying for the people who were in your paid, as opposed to just being able to like, watch a video or read a blog post on free, and watch like all the random comments that eventually like lead to you know, some discussion of like, politics. So fundamentally, this is about what you are curating as the experience in paid, and you have different customers at different price points. So, the beautiful thing, again is, you know anything you can do that makes the paid feel special, and not having to send them off to like a place to pay you and then back and the thing with the thing and the other thing, gives you more opportunity to be able to provide a really valuable experience for people. People will pay for connections with other people. But the real power comes in the, hey, and we've held these pieces back, for our Mastermind, you apply to be a part of it, and we'll accept you, and then we're doing that so that it's as valuable as possible to every person who joins, and I would even think about a guarantee, you know? Some kind of like, creative idea guarantee, you'll like leave this thing with like five, like, awesome creative ideas, and if like the rest of the community doesn't give it to you, like, I'm on the hook to help you think about those five things. So, again, that didn't require any money on your part, so it's kinda fun.
It's high margin, as we like to say in the business school world. (laughing)
Fantastic, alright, before we say goodbye to you, I wanna give you an opportunity, if anyone, and I'm sure they are, are thinking about like, oh this Mighty Networks thing sounds cool, where do we go and how do we get started with Mighty Networks?
And you can create a network, you can start for free. Our premium plans are not super expensive, and you have access to more and more of the engaging features that, essentially, let you do less work, and get more value from the network. We also have, you know, again, I actually think sometimes the best thing that anybody can do to really understand a Mighty Network is join CoCommercial.
I mean, what can I say? (laughing)
So, you know, join CoCommercial, we also have a free network, a free community called Mighty Hosts, which has some great people in it that are all navigating this world of creating your own network effects brand and business together. So, I would encourage to, it's just www.host.mn.co, and I'm happy to follow up with anybody, and my team is, and we believe in this as a business, for each and every entrepreneur and online business, but we're also incredibly passionate about the mission of unlocking new and important creative innovative experiences that take advantage of network effects because the world's gonna be a better place if we're connecting people in new and interesting ways. And we have that opportunity to do that together.
Well, Gina, you and the whole Mighty Networks team inspire me, absolutely, every single day. I am so glad to have gotten to know you over the last year, and I am so thankful that you were able to stop by for--
this Creative Live class.
Thank you for having me!
Yeah, totally, can we give Gina one more big round of applause? (clapping)