Owned Community Matrix

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The go-to owned community platform for creators will play a major role in the creator economy. To understand why let's explore the owned community matrix:

  1. Rent audience

  2. Own audience

  3. Rent community

  4. Own community

1. Rent audience

Most creators rent their audience from a platform like YouTube, Instagram, Twitch, TikTok, and Twitter.

As a creator, renting your audience is risky. At any moment, the platform can change its algorithms in a way that hurts your earnings. Even worse, you can get demonetized (e.g., David Dobrik on YouTube), banned (e.g., DrDisrespect from Twitch), or shut down with the platform (e.g., India removing TikTok). 

Despite these risks, creators still choose to build their audience on these platforms due to their scale (e.g., YouTube), virality (e.g., TikTok, Clubhouse), and monetization potential (e.g., OnlyFans). But creators are also starting to realize that they should move their audience from these platforms to a channel that they own.

2. Own audience

Owned audience platforms help creators reach fans directly on open channels like email and text messages.

Substack is the go-to owned audience platform for email. "Own your email list" is part of Substack's appeal for writers, but it’s also what makes the company vulnerable:

  1. Platforms like ConvertKit provide better email targeting at a fraction of the cost (flat fee vs. 10% share of earnings). 

  2. Many top writers rent their audience on Twitter, which is adding paid newsletters with owned email lists through Revue. 

While email competition is heating up, text messaging remains a nascent channel for creators (e.g., Community.com). Text messages have 90%+ open rates and more urgency compared to email. But text messages are also more expensive to send and come with higher fan expectations. 

The drawback of owned audience platforms like Substack and Community.com is that they feel more like one-to-many broadcasts than many-to-many interactions. Without a two-way dialogue with the creator, fans can read only so many email newsletters and text messages before fatigue sets in.

3. Rent community

While audience platforms let creators broadcast messages to fans (one to many), community platforms let creators and fans talk to each other (many to many).

The go-to community platform for creators is Discord. A typical Discord community has three types of users:

  1. Fans talk to each other and form bonds around shared interests.

  2. Moderators help the creator enforce community rules for fans.

  3. Creator shares new content and occasionally interacts with fans directly.

Although Discord communities are creator-branded, 99% of the interactions are fans talking to each other (with oversight from moderators). Therefore, creators can engage and retain fans through Discord without having to do a lot of the work themselves.

Despite Discord’s popularity, creators are still renting a community on the platform because they can’t access fan emails or phone numbers. Discord can also shut down a creator’s community, like what happened temporarily to WallStreetBets.

Other rented community platforms include Slack, Facebook Groups, and Reddit. You can technically access fan emails from Slack and Facebook Groups, but the process is very cumbersome.

4. Own community

An owned community platform has all the benefits of a rented community platform and gives the creator access to fan emails and phone numbers.

The closest I've seen is Circle, which gives:

  1. Creators and fans a place to interact with each other in topic channels.

  2. Creators the ability to export fan emails.

  3. Creators the ability to add their branding and embed their community on their own website.

Circle is like an owned community version of Reddit. Other startups (e.g., Geneva) are trying to build an owned community version of Discord, but they have yet to see traction.

Caveats to owning a community

Owning a community helps creators retain their fans and minimizes platform risk. But it also needs to be evaluated in the context of a creator's overall hierarchy of needs.

In particular:

  1. Creators need moderators to manage their owned community. Without moderators, community discussions can quickly devolve into spam or abuse.

  2. Creators need tools to grow their community and make money. An ideal owned community platform gives creators ways to attract more fans (e.g., referrals) and make more money (e.g., paid member-only channels).

  3. Existing owned community platforms aren't risk-free. Any platform that’s managed by a company or central entity can still block creators before they get a chance to export their fan emails and phone contacts.

A new wave of decentralized community platforms will address #3. We’ll discuss how crypto and decentralization will help creators truly own their community in a future post.

For more about the creator economy, check out my posts below: