Name: Dhru Purohit
Ning Community: my.cleanprogram.com
Creator since: 2008
Tagline: The most endorsed, supported and effective cleanse in the world
Milestone: Community as a Product Selling Point
Dhru’s passion for health started with computers. He learned through his tech projects that one factor was consistent: “It didn’t matter how much clients spend on projects, if there isn’t an element of community or focused on building community, it won’t take off.”
Dhru took his own words to heart when he and Dr. Alejandro Junger founded “The Clean Program,” a 21 day body cleanse based on the New York Times bestseller “Clean” by Dr. Junger.
Their online community is a vital key to what they do. “We decided from the beginning that community and support are as important as the product,” Purohit explains, “So you can’t think of Clean without thinking of community and support, they go hand in hand.”
“We’ve grown extremely well over the past few years, in part due to making our online community an integral part of Clean. We think of it this way: “Clean=Community.”
“If someone is going on a 21 day cleanse, it’s different from their normal daily experience, so it’s important they stay supported.”
“We have over 42,000 online community members there for you every step of the way. You can meet other people on the 21 day cleanse for support, recipes, insights, and support from our wellness coaches, nurses, chefs and Dr. Junger, himself.”
“Ning allowed us to create our online community and make it an integral part of our business–to support our customers.”
Purohit says “The future of growth on the web is not only to talk to customer more efficiently–but to have your customers be part of a community where they can talk to each other without having to go through you.”
“We realized this was going to be huge when the community started supporting each other and not just looking for answers from us.”
Clean had always planned to make their community free to join–but what they didn’t expect, was that their community would become a powerful sales tool. People sharing their candid honest thoughts and making connections leads to new customers because they think, “if they can do it, I can do it.”
“You can expand and grow in a way you never could before. We found it surprising, but great!”
The Clean community is good for business–and for its members:
“You can see the strength of a community and measure it when someone has a need–how strong does the community show up? We’re there for each other. There were so many people affected by Hurricane Sandy, and our community had an outpouring of services, advice, even money. That’s a great indication that community cares about each other.”
Purohit’s advice starts with, “Decide what you are–and are not. Communities are best when they’re very focused so people know what it is and what they’ll get from it. If you try to be everything to everybody then you’re nothing to nobody.”
“We decided our community was primarily the place where people on our program could get support from us–and each other. It’s not just about our product– our community supports each other in their lives.”
Purohit recommends that the community leader “Focus on the conversation. There has to be a reason for people to come–People can talk about anything on Facebook, but on your community, they focus on your specific topic and what they have in common growing out of that.”
“Focused conversations help people get started and involved, then they expand from there. For example, if you run a blog, a good approach is to take the most popular aspects of your blog and make those the focus of your conversation.”
“I recommend the book “Tribes” by Seth Godin–he also used a Ning community to promote that book.”
Purohit praises the power of introducing people to one another.
“Even though technology connects people, we can still feel alone. We’re losing the sense of physical community we had in the past.”
“In our community, we spend a lot of time introducing community members to each other. We find things they have in common, then say something like: hey Jenny from San Francisco, you should meet Rebecca who lives in New York but used to live in San Francisco…”
“Sometimes we use email or direct messages, sometimes we post it right on their wall. I like posting on the wall because it shows the rest of community that we’re making introductions so they know they can reach out to you and say: I’m struggling with… or I’m looking for someone who’s into…”
“Even though our community lives on Ning, we still encourage people to be friends in person–and on other social media platforms, because it helps them bond in the outside world as well.”
“Introductions create connections that give people a real sense of purpose–and in the end people stick around because of relationships they build.”
Introductions can go a long way, “One of our team members met his current fiancée through our online community. We’ve had tons of online relationships that have become real friendships and love!”
People can be afraid to speak up, like when you see an audience sitting there quietly, afraid to raise their hands. So you need to show them your community is a safe place to share thoughts and ideas.
“A great way to do this is to ask questions. For example, you ask a question you know a lot of people can benefit from, like, ‘Are there any mothers who’ve done the clean program and know clean friendly food for kids?’ and then invite people to chime in.”
“Another way to do this is to post a blog on a topic you know your members are interested in. Then specifically ask, ‘what do you think about this?’ knowing they might have something to add to that conversation.”
“Not only does this inspire people to get involved, it also brings new points of view and answers you might not have expected–both of which are essential to helping your community grow.”
Ning has helped the Clean Program grow to over 45,000 members.
“When I only had a raw food blog, I had around 100,000 pageviews a month. With my next venture, the Clean Program, that quickly jumped to almost a million pageviews when we launched our community.”
Purohit’s final words of advice are based on his own experience of seeing his previous, once popular blog fade when he stopped giving it enough attention.
“You’ve got to tend your community like a garden–otherwise it gets overgrown with weeds instead of the crop you wanted.”
“People can sense your energy and dedication–that’s what attracts them and keeps them coming back.”