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Reinventing Community-Led Growth
What web3 & "private traffic" teach us about the future of communities
gm! 🦁 It’s Justin, co-founder of Safary.
We’ve published 26 articles, and this is the first time I’m writing on our own blog!
It’s a true testament to the immensely talented web3 growth leaders in our community who’ve dedicated their time to sharing growth playbooks with the wider ecosystem.
For those who may be new here, you may be wondering, what’s Safary?
Without further ado, let’s dive in ⬇️
The past few years have been a testament to the rise of community-led growth (CLG), both in web3 and the broader growth space.
From the heady days of the 2021 bull market to the more nuanced approaches of “private traffic” in China, community has proven nothing short of revolutionary.
CLG is reshaping how brands interact with their audiences, ensuring that loyalty transcends the transactional and forges a new path for growth.
Community would be nothing without utility. But what does utility look like?
Here are 5 big ideas answering the most important question of any bull or bear market: how can you make your community love you?
1: Make your community rich
In the 2021 bull market, communities felt so powerful. It was the gold rush: everyone was early, money was free, giveaways, airdrops, and whitelists were abundant.
The dominant discourse around driving customer loyalty was to make your community rich. And indeed, many community members did get rich, but these spoils only ever last so long.
As time went on, it became clear that people needed to be loyal for reasons beyond money. Maybe your brand represents something they identify with (e.g. Safary Club is a community for web3 growth leaders); or because the community helps in other ways. Communities need to signal identify, status, or utility to retain their members.
2: Make your community famous
In 2022, I saw firsthand how communities drove distribution while helping their members grow their followings.
ScribeDAO, a community of writers curating and simplifying crypto content, managed to design a powerful, positive sum growth loop:
A contributor writes a thread on a web3 article and tags Scribe (example)
Scribe RTs the thread, giving the contributor and author new reach
Scribe is then seen as a content curator, gaining new followers
As Scribe grows, so does the impact of writing for them
Scribe helped me get my start in web3 as a founder & content creator. Back then, I was known only by my pseudonymn “Jkey.”
Over a few months, I grew my Twitter from 0 to 1500 followers, and Scribe doubled in the same period. In hindsight, this loop made so much sense:
The contributor gets value because summarizing articles for Scribe offers you community support and new reach for your content
The community gets value because the more writers creating content for Scribe, the more Scribe’s following grows
The article author gets value because if a Scribe member writes a thread on their article, they also get new reach
Scribe is no longer active, but serves as a great model for how a community and its members can provide each other value, even without money changing hands.
3: Engage your community in new ways
While community-led growth is still in its infancy in web3, group-centric community marketing experiments have been popular in China since 2019.
The more we studied them in Safary Club, the more we saw distinct similarities between how web3 evolved and how those strategies did too.
In 2019, China’s digital penetration hit a natural ceiling with 1 billion people online. Meanwhile, Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu had each captured 90% of existing internet users.
As room for user growth began shrinking, Chinese tech companies began getting nervous, knowing that CAC would only increase.
Although these trends are playing out globally today, China is limited by international expansion, so they likely had to undergo changes sooner.
With CAC on the rise, Chinese brands were forced to find new customer engagement strategies, presenting a unique opportunity to study what growth / CLG may look like globally in the years to come.
These strategies are known as “private traffic.”
The idea of private traffic is that you can reach your customers without a gatekeeper.
An equivalent is what we call “owned media,” like an email newsletter where you don’t pay for reach. The difference with private traffic, however, is that it always plays out in a group-centric domain.
Private traffic is a significantly more decentralized form of marketing.
Instead of a brand communicating in a one-to-many model, brand agents / influencers distribute content & promos via unique community-centric group chats.
4: How do you get your community into private traffic groups?
Perfect Diary, which launched in 2016, was the first Chinese cosmetics brand to go global, achieving success via private traffic, influencer marketing, and co-branded marketing.
It’s one of the most famous examples of private traffic, surging ahead of mega brands like L’Oreal by engaging over 5 million customers in private traffic channels.
The central pillar of their strategy was to convert public traffic to private traffic at a low cost:
They attached fliers to products sold, both IRL & URL, and used “lucky money” (incentives) to encourage customers to enter their private traffic channels.
Customers would add a personal WeChat account of “Xiaowanzi,” a virtual influencer for the brand. She would send personal invitations to enter Perfect Diary’s WeChat groups and award them with lucky money.
Unlike Discord or Telegram, there’s a limit to how many users you can have in a WeChat group, so you’re incentivized to only keep customers who are engaged. You can have 500 per group and 5K contacts total per account, e.g. 10 groups of 500 each.
If you can only have groups of up to 500, you become more selective and strategic. They’ll create groups by customer segment e.g. customers who just made their first purchase, or bought a specific product.
This makes the focus of private traffic on customers and understanding them rather than on acquisition alone.
Because they have a maximum number of customers per group, they operate on an engage-to-stay model.
Every now and then, they'll say: “If you want to stay in the group, do X”, otherwise we’ll remove you. Or they'll drop "lucky money" (think: mini airdrop) into the group and remove anyone who doesn't claim it within a certain period of time.
It’s a great way to keep people opting in and engaging with your content because the primary motivation for private traffic is to drive repeat purchases.
5: Introduce your community to new friends
Another example of private traffic is Ctrip, the biggest travel company in China that used private traffic to improve customer stickiness.
They started giving those who booked international flights the option of joining a private group chat with other travelers who booked flights to the same destination around the same time.
There would be a CTrip sales rep in the channel to act like a concierge & answer any questions about what converter to buy or what the weather was supposed to be like in their destination.
But the best part is, once the vacation started, you’d often see group chat members talking to each other. They might ask who has sightseeing recommendations or even see if others in the group wanted to meet up IRL for dinner.
The group chat of strangers became a community, facilitated by a brand.
Brands facilitating experiences between groups of people clearly makes them more memorable.
We may not have the vocabulary to describe it yet, but we're in for a new era of growth.
One where private traffic & CLG are not just strategies, but the building blocks of a loyal & thriving movement.
For those who may be new here, you may be wondering, what’s Safary?
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