How to Build an Online Community
Online communities are so popular right now, whether you’re an online course creator, a niche expert, a fitness coach or anything in between. The benefits of building an online community are endless.
Benefits of an online community include turning your users into engaged followers, driving more traffic to your website, retaining customers and, of course, increasing revenue.
If you decide on launching an online community, it’s essential to prepare and plan out everything so that you get off on the right foot. You should first ensure that you determine why you are building an online community in the first place. Reasons could vary from marketing efforts to counteract negative reviews. There are a vast amount of reasons to build an online community.
In this post, we will help you build a loyal community of your members with a strong foundation. We will give you advice on planning and best practices going forward.
What is an Online Community?
Before we dive deep into this blog, we should probably explain what an online community is, right? Well, an online community is defined as a group of individuals who are unified through shared interests, opinions, and goals.
The online community can vary from a fitness group to a community where you share photography tips. Online communities can be a great resource to learn more and talk with like-minded individuals.
An online community is a great way of creating conversations between your followers. They empower your audience to collaborate with others, share thoughts, learn together, engage with a brand and much more.
Why Build an Online Community?
An online community is a meaningful way to bring together individuals with shared values, opinions, and interests. It could be a way to bring your students together in a place where they can discuss projects, ask questions and learn with their peers.
Benefits of Online Communities
There are many benefits of building an online community.
Feedback from your audience: Having conversations with your community helps you get an idea of your product/services to improve them. If you have an online community for your podcast, it can give you tips on what to discuss and new segments to bring in.
Increase revenue: If you get a large community, it will increase the number of engaged followers, increase customer retention and, in turn, increase sales.
Be a leader in your industry: It can help expand your influence in the industry to grow your network and audience. It will also give you more authority in your space.
Types of Online Communities
There are different types of online communities. They are outlined by the purpose that brings them all together.
Interest: This group is brought together by those with a common interest. There are multiple F1 online communities for those who have a passion for F1.
Action: These communities are usually brought together to bring change in the world. Think about the Black Lives Matter movement, whose activists formed groups to plan rallies and protests.
Location: These are communities within a particular place. Most towns in Ireland have local community groups on Facebook to share news or issues in the town.
Practice: Where members in a particular industry come together to share tips and their thoughts on the job. It could be a group of digital marketers who want to learn more and share news in the industry. It also helps them build connections in the industry.
Steps to Build an Online Community
We gave you some information on what online communities are and the benefits, but now it’s time to get down to business and build your online community.
Step 1: Define Your Goals
Your online community can have many goals. You should focus on a small number of goals when planning. They should represent values both for you and your community. You will also want to plan out some metrics, such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), to measure how successful you are at reaching your goals.
Step 2: Select a Platform
The platform depends on how many people you plan on having in your online community. If it’s only a handful of people, then you could use something like a Whatsapp group or Messenger Groupchat. If you plan on having an online community of thousands, you’ll need to look bigger such as Reddit or a Facebook Group. Reddit Threads are a great way of building an online community. On Reddit, you will find thousands of different online communities. These are all free platforms which means all you have to do is create a free account on the platform.
There are also paid platforms such as Patreon, where you can be part of an exclusive community for a monthly fee. You may get added benefits such as a podcast, live music or something else.
Lastly, there are owned community platforms. This is where you essentially set up a website where users will have a login and a password. You would also have to monitor what’s being said on your website.
Step 3: Build Member Profiles
Member profiles are similar to customer personas but with a twist. Your main goal is to fill your online community with members of your target audience. Your member profile should be a replica of your customer’s profile and answer the main question, “Who is this community serving?
- Is your community for car enthusiasts?
- Is it helping a local community to communicate
After you’ve selected who your ideal member is, you may want to ask:
- What does this community give them that they don’t have currently?
- How do they feel before joining?
- How do they feel after joining?
All those questions help build up a member profile. It will help with the copy and any marketing efforts to attract members to your community.
Outline Any Rules
Before members sign up for your online community, you should show them the entry rules and have them agree to abide by the set rules. If they don’t, then you will have to remove them. You want the community to be a safe place for everyone without racism, sexism, or discrimination.
The set rules will be down to your type of community, be it branded or not. For example, you may not want users to use vulgar language or talk negatively to others. Your online community should be a positive space.
Step 4: Set up Your Online Community
It’s time to set up your online community on the platform of your choice.
Create community categories
Your online community can be one large forum, or it can be split into categories. If it’s an Irish travel forum, you may want to break it down by locations, e.g. counties in Ireland.
Categories can be a great solution to members’ problems. You can also use which category your users are interacting with the most and often which product is best suited for their needs.
Set roles for staff/members
If your business runs your community, you’ll need to have staff working on it to keep it running smoothly. Each staff member should know their role and how it fits into the team. If it is not a business and you decide to run it yourself, you may get the help of other members to help moderate and run the community.
You need to think about what members/staff will be handling. Suppose someone violates your rules which member will take responsibility for removing them from the group. All these aspects need to be considered.
Align your community with your brand
Your community will act as an extension of your brand. If you are an owned community platform, you should be branding that website with your logo and brand colours. If you are located on a free platform like Facebook, you can change your header, profile photos and more to fit in with your brand guidelines.
You will also want to stick with your brand tone in all posts, videos and podcasts you publish online in your community.
Step 5: Promote Your Community
Your community is now live, and it’s time to get members. Promoting your online community is similar to promoting a product or service. You will be outlining why people should join this community and highlighting the positives and what problems you solve.
There are multiple ways to promote your online community:
You could partner up with some influencers to promote your community to their followers. The influencer you partner with should be someone like your ideal member profile. It is quite a fast way of targeting your audience rather than running paid ads.
Affiliate programs give members rewards for referring users to join your community. This is helpful if it is a paid platform. It could even be as simple as giving this user a discount code. You’ll need to motivate them to spread your community for you.
Invite Your Contacts
Invite any family members, friends and colleagues to your online community. They may not be your target market, but they will help get your community started.
I have a passion for Digital Marketing and conducting online Market Research. I have a big interest in videography and spend a lot of time creating videos using drone footage I shot.