A Doctor With No Patients
Alok Kanojia, 37, adored as “Dr. K” to his fans, sits down to begin his lecture for the day. He’s a Harvard Medical School grad, but he’s not in a classroom or even leading an online college course over video chat. He’s wearing a hoodie, slunk comfortably in his computer chair, and live streaming on Twitch.
Dr. K’s channel, Healthy Gamer GG, features live therapy and coaching sessions with internet celebrities in front of 600k+ followers (just shy of 1 million on YouTube). Using the power of live streaming, he provides online coaching, discussing issues like online harassment, depression, video game addiction, anxiety, and self-criticism. In his own words, “I realized I could help maybe a 1-2 dozen different people a week as a therapist. Or use the internet to help 1-2 thousand people a day.”
Dr. K is an excellent example of someone who has barreled through sunk costs to provide a unique product no one was conceptualizing, let alone asking for, in his industry. “Mental health needs to be disrupted,” said Kruti Kanojia, CEO and co-founder of Healthy Gamer GG with her husband. Dr. K works with the internet, not against it, to bring his product to where his audience is. In his words, regarding his audience, “We communicate via Reddit and Discord, we don’t really watch CNN or read the newspaper. In order to overcome stigma, we have to bridge this gap.”
If Dr. K’s business model sounds wild to you, you’re not alone. Healthy Gamer GG’s goal is “Taking on mental wellness for the internet generation.” Dr. K leads a team of licensed coaches to provide both group and individual coaching for anyone struggling with mental health or simply seeking motivation and personal growth. He sells a guide on his site, a 100+ video course on “a journey into Anxiety, Depression, Meditation, and ADHD,” and also obtains funds through Twitch donations, selling merch, and sign up fees for his coaching program.
Dr. K is a content creator working with the current Metagame of the internet to build an engaged community online.
The Metagame Theory of the Internet
The concept known as Metagame theory was first developed by Nigel Howard, an English scholar, in the 1960s. He created his theory based on strategic games and war, and touched on how players will try to reach their objectives and goals through the best options available to them. The metagame (or meta, for short) of the internet has shifted, and many professionals are scrambling to catch up.
When a meta shifts, new tactics, routes, and strategy are needed to keep up.
What was once a powerful tactic, say, posting images to Instagram, becomes less advantageous — Adam Mosseri (head of Instagram) has said himself that Instagram is “… no longer a photo sharing app.” The new meta favors video, especially short form vertical video, over still images. What’s particularly interesting is, according to Adam himself, even when not prioritizing video in Instagram’s algorithm, video is outperforming still images.
So, a metagame extends beyond algorithms — it’s a shift in human behavior.
Metagame theory is a powerful way to think about building community on the internet in 2022, and why it’s so hard to keep up. As digital advertisers and marketers, brand owners, and government agencies, we often feel like we’re shuffling at the back of the pack, attempting to understand what works right now. We watch younger content creators, often without any professional experience, seemingly intuitively build audiences every day. We’re not sure if we should copy their tactics verbatim, and even if we did, how do you balance shifting your strategy while remaining your authentic self?
Audience Vs. Following Vs. Community: What’s the difference?
Though sometimes used interchangeably, there’s a solid difference between building a community, an audience, and a following online. This article and series is focused on community, but it’s worth defining what we’re not focusing on.
Audiences are profiles of human beings. Most create a product or service knowing full well what type of audience they want to market it to. An audience can be purchased, quite literally, with an email list or social ad targeting a specific subset of people. But audiences are one-way relationships based on the average behavior of a group of people. They may follow a page or brand for a certain value they want to extract from them, but this is often where their relationship ends. The brands create, the audiences consume.
Someone’s following is a metric, related to a specific funnel. You could have a following on TikTok in the millions and still only have a couple hundred Instagram followers. Influencers tout this number to attract higher ad revenue, and brands compete with one another to increase this number. But, at the end of the day, it’s a metric. The US could decide to ban TikTok (they’ve tried it before) and thousands would lose their TikTok following overnight.
Communities are not bought or sold, they’re developed. Communities take time, nurturing, and develop best when an audience sees a brand, product, or service as a part of their everyday life. It’s a support network that follows you from platform to platform, from one venture to the next. The strongest communities online use platforms like Discord, YouTube, and Reddit to connect with one another over their shared interests. Think of them as a digital fanbase. They are empowered to create and moderate on their own, using a brand or piece of media as their jumping-off point. They’re co-creators, not just followers.
Chances are, if you’re reading this far, you’re interested in developing a community for yourself or your brand. But where do you start?
Building Your Community 101
The good news is that we can learn from real examples in the wild. Going from tossing stuff at a wall and hoping it sticks to producing work you’re confident in will garner a community and build a fanbase. If you’re a creator, brand owner, marketer, developer, or anyone that’s ever wanted to build a community around a specific idea from your head space, this is the series for you.
Our “Building Your Community” series will focus on four main areas:
- Consistency: How to find your realm of effortlessness so you can consistently create and build your community.
- Diversification: How to not become too reliant on one social network or output so that we can carry our community with us.
- Nurture: How to keep your community fed and happy through the long haul.
- Monetization: How to monetize platforms and your community without turning off your fans. We all have to keep the lights on one way or another.
The beauty of these areas is that they focus on the unique value you give to others, learning from internet titans, like Dr. K, without copying them. It’s possible to build a community made solely for you, but it will require some introspection into what you want to say and what value you have to give.
To keep you sharp, each section will end with a small homework assignment. Don’t worry, these will only be slight adjustments in your life. No essays or quizzes required. Ready to go?
For every output you give this week, whether it’s an email, social media post, chat on Slack, or text message, think to yourself, “What value am I offering with this?” There’s no need to dwell too long; think about the phrase, and move on.