On Friday I attended Internet Prophets Live 2013, a supposed internet marketing workshop in downtown Chicago. While the first six hours were absolutely gruesome, full of expensive sales pitches, terrible jokes and a ‘free’ lunch that came paired with a life seminar, I finally got the chance to see the person I really came down to hear speak, Jake Nickell
Jake is the founder and CEO of Threadless. For those who have never heard of it, to put it simply, Threadless is just another t-shirt company. But in reality its much, much more.
Threadless is one of the most successful online communities. And even though Jake was a little under the weather, his message to the audience was received loud and clear. And because of that, I thought I would summarize what he thought was important in an online community and give you some other examples
Threadless is a platform, not a webstore
From the beginning, Jake’s idea wasn’t to get rich off someone else’s creativity, rather to give all of them a platform to showcase their talents. That’s why Threadless doesn’t stamp their name anywhere on the outside of the shirt. They have no branded gear, instead every design is submitted by artists, voted on by users of the community and for those who get printed, share in the profits.
Word of Mouth is the best form of Marketing
There was no SEO secret or genius viral marketing campaign that sparked this uprising against the department store. Actually, Threadless hasn’t done much marketing at all in their 13 year existence. Instead they count on their product do the talking for them.
By product, it doesn’t necessarily mean their t-shirts, but the whole online experience. If users come to the site and are happy when they leave, they are more likely to return and recommend the site to their friends and family. That’s why they are active on the forums and involve their community in company decisions.
Put Members of the Community on a Pedestal
Threadless isn’t the only site on the Internet that artists can submit art to. Yet, artists feel a certain loyalty the Threadless community. Why? Because its the place they interact and learn from others on the forum, get praise and social shares for each design they submit, and Threadless does a terrific job spotlighting their artists.
Artists can hit milestones of success like PRINTED, the first time one of their designs are chosen for a shirt and MADE, when they have enough designs to fill an entire shop. They also have blog posts dedicated to their artists and now videos, like this on of Eric Fan.
Think About Others
This is what I think is so crucial to long term success in a community. Not every person in the Threadless community is an artist, and not everyone is searching for shirts, but they may be looking for advice, help on a project or just to be entertained. Their PLAY section has the answer to all of those things and more.
They are also active outside the online realm, participating in parades and other events. Most importantly, Threadless Causes helps raise money for charity and those in need. And because of that, people who may have never heard of the company before, may buy a sweet shirt for a good cause and become repeat customers afterwards.
More Great Examples…
The Chive is the definition of a community. There is absolutely no SEO involved. You never see keyword stuffing (unless your searching for terms like “FLBP” or “Burns Day”) or article spinning, in fact, there are typically no words at all.
They have built their whole community on humor, user submitted photos and good faith. Girls use it as a platform to showcase “what they got”, which may elevate them to a modeling career, Playboy, or just more Twitter followers. College students submit photos of their wild parties, drunk antics and WTF moments and others submit awesome moments.
On top of that their store, The Chivery, is brilliant. Instead of having an unlimited stock of merchandise, they carry a limited supply, so for those who have a piece of Chive gear, feel like they are part of something special.
A piece of merch gets you recognized in a crowd, free drinks and all in all a sense of confidence (as corny as that sounds). The KCCO phenomenon has spawn meet ups around the country and a whole new way of thinking at the world…light heartedly.
Inbound.org is a different type of community than Threadless or the Chive. Its a niche community for Inbound Marketers to share the great work of their peers. While we all are competing for space on Google’s first page, I think that the Inbound community is one of the best of recognizing the hard work of others.
Similar to reddit (probably the best and biggest online community on the net) users can submit others work, start discussions and upvote things they like. Everything on Inbound.org comes down to how active the community, without them the site would die (or be ridden with spam). That’s why the most active users are spotlighted right on the homepage.
Ed Fry (who manages the site’s development) does a great job involving the community in all new developments for the site and keeping things fresh, such as scheduling AMA sessions with some of the best in the business. The site is a great way to showcase your work, but also an amazing way to build relationships with others you may never have the chance to interact otherwise.
Interested in what Jake is like as a speaker? Check out his Ted Talk here