Community Building Lessons from Drake’s “Started From The Bottom”

Anneliese Herbosa
6 min readJan 25, 2015

We all know rappers are powerful storytellers. As it turns out, they make pretty good teachers, too! One of my favourite emcees in the game right now is Drake. Topics of money, cars, and clothes aside, I’ve come to realize that I can learn a thing or two from him when it comes to effectively fostering online communities.

Started From The Bottom

Right off the bat, the song’s title in and of itself is very telling about what, to me, is the most important thing to grasp when trying to better understand effective community building: you need to build it from the ground up. It’s not going to be easy. There aren’t any shortcuts to get your community’s level of engagement up there — It’s 0–100 not-so-quick, in this case.

(I suggest you press play while reading this. It’s instrumental — I gotchu.)

From specific hard-hitting lines to personal anecdotes featured in this song, allow me to channel my inner Rap Genius as I take a closer look at some of the emcee’s lyrics and extract some of my key takeaways as it relates to community building.

He nails it in his opening line:

I done kept it real from the jump

As Drake asserts, we’ve got to keep our interactions genuine — right from the start. The moment you start engaging with members of your community, let it come from a place of raw genuineness, with no strings attached. Some little examples of this which go a long way (for me, at least) would be when brand managers on social take the time to add your name at the start of a tweet, or when a customer service agent adds a personal touch to a ticket (things which could be automated). Nobody likes being talked to like they’re a robot or treated like they’re just another number, respectively. Community comprises humans; community managers are humans — it is no longer B2C, it’s H2H: Human to Human.

The folks at Trello could have stopped at “Thank you”, but they kept the conversation going.

Living at my mama’s house we’d argue every morning

[Homie], I was trying to get it on my own

Working all night, traffic on the way home

And my uncle calling me like, “Where ya at?

I gave you the keys, told ya bring it right back”

[Homie], I just think it’s funny how it goes

Now I’m on the road, half a million for a show

In his first verse, Drake recalls his humble beginnings and sheds light on his personal relationships with his dearest relatives. The relationship with his mother is a precious one, and there’s evidence that he shares the same love and affection for his fan base. The lesson here? Community building begins at home. As community managers, it is our job to support in converting leads to fans, fans to friends, and friends to ‘family’ (customer loyalty, in my eyes). Just like how it takes much time and effort to build a family and work to improve the relationship dynamics under your own roof, so too does community building at a larger scale.

[Forget] a fake friend, where your real friends at?

We don’t like to do too much explaining

As I’ve touched on, a healthy community’s pulse stems from authenticity. Gaining the trust of your community is, and should be, a long process. After all, long-lasting relationships do not develop over night. Community building takes time. Consumers are getting smarter and they can see right through you when you interact with them initially for the sole purpose of selling them a product or service. You can’t rush relationships, so why rush the process of converting your biggest fans to your biggest clients? Rest assured, when done right, they will come in time.

Story stays the same I never changed it

Story stayed the same through the money and the fame

People in your community don’t involve themselves and invest their time in your product, service, or business, just to passively learn about your company’s story; they naturally become a crucial part of it.

There are many ways to bolster storytelling among online communities. What I enjoy most when perusing company blogs or newsletters, for instance, is when they incorporate success stories, creative use cases, or testimonials (while remaining genuine) to showcase people from their community. Some notable examples that have recently surfaced on my feeds and in my inbox include Instagram’s User Spotlights and VSCO’s Community selects.

I left a comment plus a fist bump Emoji. They reciprocated. It was a special bonding moment.

Referring to the latter, I was blown away a few months ago when I noticed VSCO had responded to every single comment (+500 total) on an Instagram post — a feat very few brands take the time to do on there (as far as I’ve seen).

Whether your figurative ‘story’ of a community is a locally written book or an international bestseller, make sure you give them the intimate, one-to-one attention that an author does at a book signing event. In the narrative arc of a company I like to call community, recognize and harness both your protagonists and supporting characters alike.

[Homie] just as a reminder to myself

I wear every single chain, even when I’m in the house

Fans like to be rewarded, tangibly or intangibly.

The insides of a #HootKit I received circa 2011 after a tour of their office. Who doesn’t like free swag with a cute thank-you note?

The cool thing, from a community manager’s perspective, is to see those same fans openly and unapologetically flaunt their pride in being a part of your community whenever, wherever. It’s especially intrinsically rewarding for me to see fans go out of their way to show their adoration and appreciation during the most unexpected times. As community managers, we need to reciprocate by outwardly acknowledging these superfans; embrace and cultivate them.

Using Hootsuite and their #HootKits to further this example, fast forward a couple years and this is what one of their early adopters got in the mail:

When your online community is in its early stages of development, it’s small enough to be easily managed. This allows you and your team to acknowledge every little inbound interaction. But at some point, your community will grow and expand. The tricky part that comes with trying to develop a fast-growing community is having to do more than merely keeping up appearances. As online communities continue to grow rapidly, we as community managers need to remember to not forget the ‘little guys’; our early adopters, our biggest fans who were with us from the start. Don’t let them slip through the cracks. In some form or another, in their own little ways, they helped get you to where you are now.

As Drake reminds us time and time again in his infectious chorus:

Started from the bottom, now my whole team [is really] here

Whenever I would hear this Drake song come on the radio, I would classify it as just another highly motivating ‘pump up’ tune. After breaking things down in a meaningful way as it relates to me and my role, it has become all the more valuable to me. My hope is for you (my fellow community managers) to go out and find your own ‘anthem’; significant lyrics to work, and live, by.

Anneliese Herbosa is the User Support and Community Manager over at Quietly, a company that builds tools for digital publishers. She is also arguably Drake’s biggest fan.

Anneliese Herbosa

Hyperconscious Millennial. Tech & pop culture enthusiast. Passionate about personal growth. ✨