We connected with Sam Houston, Founder of CannaBuzz, a social network for Cannabis Enthusiasts. CannaBuzz recently hit 100,000 users on the Honeycommb platform, so we wanted to chat with Sam about his experience and what he learned after reaching an awesome milestone for his community.
What about 100k members on CannaBuzz is so special?
Reaching 100,000 members on CannaBuzz validates our original concept and bet: that we could build a community on a stand-alone app/site for the global cannabis community. We’ve been working on this for two years now, with our two year launch anniversary a few months away. It’s important to keep in mind that a big part of why we’ve grown so much recently is that we’ve been around for awhile now and we have name recognition in our space. When opportunities come up, as in when a community is upset with the status quo on other big social network apps, we were able to benefit from their dismay because we’ve been in our space for some time and we’ve been building our credibility that entire time.
When we were 30k-40k users, most of our community fit into a few use-cases or niches within the cannabis community. But with our recent growth, and the diversity of the niches that these people came from, it made CannaBuzz’s content more diverse and our users have more diverse interests. This is very exciting to me because it shows that we have potential to reach an even broader audience. We’ve only dipped our toes in these groups and we saw a lot of potential for growth, which I think we can tap into over time in an opportunistic and strategic way.
At 100k members, what’s the biggest learning from managing CannaBuzz so far?
New Users bring Varying Expectations
When thousands of new people join a social network, they’re often coming from other social apps that have specific features and design elements. It’s important to take time to explain to people how to use your app/community. People are interested in learning how to get as much value as they can, whether that means learning from content and connecting with others.
Maybe a user is coming from a site where it’s all about having the most followers, and they want to know how to grow their account as fast as possible – You will need to figure out how you want to encourage or discourage that sort of behavior. New Users = New People that need to learn the ins-and-outs of your community, from both technical and social norms perspectives.Sam Houston, founder, CannaBuzz
When we were seeing large spikes in users, I posted several text posts and videos explaining how to use CannaBuzz and our plans for the community’s future. It’s important to me that people understand and buy-in to our vision and value offering, since we are competing with some of the largest, most polished and advanced social apps out there.
Users may bring Drama from Other Communities
The new community members may bring with them some baggage from other communities. We’ve seen Instagram beefs come over to CannaBuzz, which we’ve had to do some work to squash. We’ve also had to do much to disrupt the negative or argumentative culture that you see on Instagram or other social networks. We believe in being a welcoming, non-exclusive community, and it takes time to teach everyone both new and old in your community.
New Users means more Diverse Content
When CannaBuzz grew, we noticed an expansion in the types of content people were posting and what folks were interested in. This was great, since it showed that we had so much potential to create more value for more people. At the same time, some users that had been around for a long time did not like some of the content that new users were posting, or the new types of content that received attention. We’ve had to do work to teach our community members how to connect with fellow members through groups, as well as teach members to be accepting of others and not gate-keep. We’ve liberally use the “Featured Post” in Honeycommb and feature posts throughout the day, as a way to spotlight great content and in hopes that we can help inspire folks to create content of a similar quality.
Expect Increased Overhead
Whether it’s taking down posts that violate your guidelines, or it’s just increased service costs. Expect to spend more time and money when you reach a larger scale and that’s across the board. I’ve seen a big increase in support tickets, content flags that need to be actioned, and I’ve needed to spend more time teaching people community norms, rules, and best behavior. I’ve also seen a large increase in service costs – ex. Email List services can start out cheap, but quickly become a large monthly expense at the scale of 100k users. Keep this in mind when budgeting and planning out revenue generating activities.
Influencers can Drive Big Impact
Due to a confluence of events that happened on both Instagram and TikTok in late December 2020, we saw CannaBuzz’s community grow by over 150% in the span of a couple of weeks. When I tried to deconstruct how this happened, it often started through word-of-mouth from people with small follower counts that were telling their friends + commenting on posts from Influencers. Eventually that chatter would get to a point where an influencer would check us out, then tell their Followers about us. This created a feedback loop, especially if an influencer had a large following and they had heavy influence over other smaller influencers. The result was several influencers posting about us in a small time, with a peak of 16k new users in a day at one point just 36-48hrs into the movement. This experience has made me evaluate strategies to reach out to influencers for sponsorship opportunities to reach their audience. We’ve also seen some influencers show an interest in helping spread the word about us in return for helping grow their account and spreading their content on our network, which has been beneficial. I want to explore both of these things more this year as a growth and engagement strategy.
What’s the largest challenge in running CannaBuzz at this scale?
Driving Long-Term Engagement
Engagement on social apps drops off quickly after just a handful of days, so the challenge is to create and show value to your new users as fast as possible and to keep them engaged over a long period of time. I see this as the boulder that we’re always pushing up a hill, through encouraging user-content creation and putting the spotlight on great users or content. I’ve got more work to do to better onboard new users, to connect them with content based on their interests, and I hope to see us expand our own self-created original content offering over time.
Scalable Revenue Generation
As I mentioned previously, a larger community means you’re going to have some larger bills to pay. This increases the new to generate money to become more sustainable, while doing this in a way that doesn’t take up too much time or without going off on a path that doesn’t also create value for your users. Our increased scale brings us more opportunities to create content and more opportunities to bring various groups of people together. The challenge is to do this in a way that maximizes for impact, both on building engagement/value for your users and building additional income streams. It’s important to me that we’re sustainable as a community, while also making sure we’re not overly optimizing for monetization and end up underserving our community as a result.
On the flip side, What’s the most inspiring part of running a community this big?
We’ve had people on CannaBuzz get married, we’ve seen people become business partners and start new ventures. We’ve seen people share touching stories about their life and get support from others.
It’s been really inspiring and filled my heart when I read messages from people saying they are thankful for CannaBuzz, that they’ve not had this sort of experience before or that our community has helped them. That makes this worth it and it shows me that there’s so much more we can do.
Communities at scale have the ability to connect people over shared interests, no matter the niche. It’s been so fun to bring people together and see what they share with one another and the experiences they create together.
With 100,000 users, there are surely a few folks that’ve stepped up as leaders. What have you done to recognize or reward them?
We leverage Featured posts as a way to spotlight great content. This includes spotlighting content creators & influencers that may have each elsewhere, as well as spotlighting regular users in our community. I have a lot of fun featuring posts from people that may have joined just recently. It’s a lot of fun to see people get excited when their content blows up.
We host monthly livestreams for the community and we often bring on community members as guests or panelists. We’ve also started experimenting with livestreams of group Zoom sessions, which has been a great way to spotlight people and give them a chance to connect with others.
Lastly, people always love giveaways!
Reach out to Honeycommb today to get started and chat with our team about how to onboard your community members and make sure you’re set up for success from Day 1: Book a Demo to see what we can build together for your people!