Every online community needs at least one sticky feature — an offering or an activity that keeps people interested over a long period, provides genuine value, and is self-perpetuating. It keeps engagement high and gives members a reason to keep returning to your community. The best sticky feature is one that has a network effect, becoming more useful to the community as more people engage with it.
I run a 14,000+ member community for content marketers, and over the last few years, we’ve developed one really sticky feature: resources for freelancers.
Superpath is built for in-house B2B content marketers, so I didn’t expect that freelancers would want to participate at all, let alone drive 40% of our growth. All our content and programming are geared toward this very specific persona. We know these people well and work very hard to serve them. Interestingly, it’s this focus that ended up attracting quite a few freelance writers too.
How did this happen? I’ll explain, but first, I’ll provide some context.
I launched Superpath in 2019 as a side project and left my job to work on it full-time in June 2020. It was a weird time — most of the world was in lockdown, and online communities were providing a vital source of connection. People were trading ideas on how to handle content marketing in a pandemic (obviously, none of us really knew). Folks were eager to find camaraderie now that everyone was working from home. And just about everyone was testing out virtual forms of work, recreation, networking, and more. Our Slack community was a fertile ground for connection.
At the time, I actually assumed that camaraderie would be our sticky feature. I believed that people desperately wanted a place to swap ideas, support one another, get advice, and so on.
And people do still want this — but the world has changed so much since then. The acute needs of a newly remote (in 2020) content marketer have evolved significantly. Today, camaraderie is an attractive part of a community like ours but, as I mentioned above, it’s not the feature that keeps people coming back.
We don’t cater to freelancers directly, but we do cater to their target audience, and in the very early days of Superpath, in-house content folks would ask each other for freelancer recommendations. “Does anyone know a freelance writer who knows HR well?” and “Is it possible to hire a contractor to write content briefs?” were common questions.
Freelancers’ ears must have been burning. They started to join the group and respond to these questions directly. The #freelance channel slowly evolved from a recommendation forum to a rudimentary job board.
The word started to spread. Superpath was mentioned in Facebook groups, blogs, newsletters, and podcasts as a great place for freelancers to find work. What started as a barely noticeable trend snowballed. Today, 40% of our members are freelancers, and the #freelance channel is our busiest channel — it gets between 100 and 200 messages weekly.
This has been great for our target members, the in-house content marketers, who now have an easy and free way to find freelancers. It’s something content teams do frequently, which makes it a perfect sticky feature for us: it’s high-frequency and high-demand.
As freelancers have poured into the community, we’ve started to serve them in other ways.
The #freelance channel is the one part of our community that mostly runs itself. We’ve implemented guidelines and processes, but we don’t need to do much to catalyze engagement. It just happens. It keeps freelancers in the group on a daily or weekly basis and keeps in-house people engaged a few times each year as they need freelancers.
And that’s just one feature. We still do many other things: create content and a podcast for in-house folks, run webinars and AMAs, host a job board for full-time employee roles and a few other things. All these things drive engagement, but none as self-perpetuating or transactional as the #freelance channel.
This unexpected source of growth spurred changes in the business. We created a talent marketplace to connect in-house teams with freelancers, which is an important revenue source these days. We bought Help a B2B Writer and are in the process of rolling out a paid plan. We even sell ad spots to companies that offer products and services to freelancers. We’ve fully embraced this sticky feature to the point that it generates meaningful revenue, even though it's counter to the rest of what we do, which is heavily focused on creating evergreen information and long-term relationships.
For a feature to be sticky, it should serve a high-frequency, high-demand need. Your community’s sticky feature may involve brokering connections, or it may be something else entirely.
My best advice is to look for the parts of the community that run themselves and attract people with little effort. Study those areas, because they likely hold valuable information about your members’ most pressing needs.
If you don’t have something sticky yet, think about high-frequency, high-demand things you can facilitate. And if money changes hands, that’s probably good too.
What’s sticky for each community will be different, but here are a few ideas to get you thinking:
All in-house teams hire contractors, and all contractors need access to in-house teams. It works for any industry.
Think of how often folks check the S&P500. Can you collect data to measure important trends for your members? One of my favorite examples of this is Mozcast, which tracks the Google algorithm for SEO people. Your version could be pricing data (like Zillow’s Zestimate or Capiche’s SaaS pricing data), salary data (like Product Marketing Alliance), or reviews (like Glassdoor).
Among our less-sticky-but-still-sticky features is our #career-advice channel. We allow people to post anonymously there, which means we get real (and sometimes tough) questions. Members are incredibly helpful and supportive. It’s wonderful to see how uplifting people can be, and it drives a lot of engagement since the posts are so raw and honest.
We used to run a private channel for VPs and directors. We carefully vetted the members we let in, and people had exceptionally interesting conversations. They felt safe among their peers and had frank conversations about budget, hiring, strategy, etc. There was demand from members to get in. We ultimately decided not to have private channels. I was worried that all the best conversations were happening on this channel, and I wanted them to be available to everyone. In retrospect, this was a mistake, and as soon as we opened it up, the channel died. Tight-knit, carefully curated groups can be very sticky if managed well.
Here are a few things that people absolutely love in our Slack group:
People love free stuff. Give them good free stuff (Yeti tumblers ain’t cheap!) and they’ll really appreciate it.
Your sticky may need to be something you intentionally manufacture, or you may accidentally discover it as we did. Either way, you need something that keeps people coming back with little effort. Once you have that, you can build around it, and even use it to subsidize more robust features.