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How To Build An Online Community? Five Important Tips!

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Online communities are a collection of people who interact and connect with one another digitally to achieve a specified purpose. Many businesses use online communities to drive sales and boost engagement amongst customers. Individuals also take part in online communities for various personal purposes, from discussing topics to getting support. Since online communities provide many benefits, it’s useful to know how to build an online community.

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What is an Online Community?

An online community is a group of individuals who communicate virtually about shared interests, questions, opinions, and/or goals. Although people can do this across social media platforms, a social media page or account does not always constitute an online community. The reason for the differentiation is that online communities are laser-focused on a single topic or idea.

That being said, online communities can be built using social media platforms, video platforms, or forums, for example. They allow for an audience to interact in order to:

  • Share opinions
  • Learn
  • Collaborate on projects
  • Pass along advice
  • Spread news

Types of Online Communities

Like communities in real life, there are a variety of types of online communities.

Online communities are led by a set of guidelines and objectives. They can be private or open to the public. Typically, online communities have moderators who ensure that guidelines are being upheld.

The main types of online communities include:

  • Discussion: These are online communities where members come together to express and discuss their opinions.
  • Support: These are online communities where individuals ask questions and provide help to one another. For example, tech support online communities are a common type of online support community.
  • Action: This is an online community geared towards driving action in real-world communities, such as in countries or localities. It could be for nonprofits to grow donations or people who come together to achieve policy reform, to name a few.

There are also branded online communities that businesses use to build engagement and interest in goods and services. A good example of this is when it comes to online bloggers who build their own personal brand and then create their own communities of followers where the blogger gets to communicate directly with fans.

How to Build an Online Community

The value of online communities is clear. It’s a digital, borderless place where people from anywhere with internet connection and access can connect with like-minded individuals. Online communities can be a place for brands to get closer to their customers, people to gain support from peers, or ignite action in the real world.

So, when it comes to knowing how to build an online community, there are some steps to follow and considerations to keep in mind. These include:

1. Identify audience and needs (organizational, personal, users)

Begin by identifying the stakeholders in the community. This will include defining the online community’s intended audience, moderators to run the community, and a community manager that will execute the online community’s strategy to grow its users.

2. Define your goal

As with any endeavor, it’s necessary to define your goal. What is the purpose of your online community? Without a clearly defined purpose, individuals will lack the incentive to join and engage with the online community. For example, you can create a community geared towards providing iPhone users with technical support, a community for travel tips for those taking a gap year, or an advice column for online college students. 

3. Choose a platform

With your goal and key people in tow, you’ll want to choose where the online community will live. For small communities, you can leverage messaging apps like WhatsApp. For communities that you’ll want to scale and moderate, it may make more sense to grow a community on Facebook or use a platform like Reddit. These are a few examples of free platforms. If you’d rather own a private community, then you’ll need to pay for a hosted website and can even consider charging a membership fee to people to join.

4. Set up the management team and develop rules

Develop your set of community guidelines and rules. Ensure that everyone on the management team is aware of what they are and that people who join the online community know the rules from the get-go. You can even add a selection box where they have to read and agree to the terms of the online community before being able to join. Some ideas for what rules look like in online communities include no profanity, no name-calling, no sharing private information elsewhere, etc.

5. Set up and promote your community

Once the loose ends are tied up, you’ll need to promote your community. To grow online communities, some ideas include:

  • Partnering with influencers
  • Inviting contacts personally
  • Developing a referral program for members
  • Adding the community in your marketing strategy (if you are a brand or business)

Source: Unsplash

Best Practices for Successful Online Communities

When your online community is up and running, it will require ongoing attention and maintenance to keep it thriving. Here are some recommendations to keep your community engaged on a regular basis:

  • Celebrate members: highlight members, wish them a happy birthday, offer a free supply of products, thank them personally for being a part of the community, etc.
  • Measure and monitor metrics: Keep an eye on metrics like how long people are spending on community pages, sign-up rates, click-through rates, etc.
  • Join other communities: Based on your own interests, sign up for online communities yourself to see how they are run and what is working well for them so you can mimic these best practices in your own community.

The Bottom Line

Whether you are an individual or business that wants to know how to build an online community, then hopefully after reading this article, you have a solid foundation for how to get started. As with any kind of online effort, you will need to remain consistent and focus on your goals.

Maintaining engaged online communities comes down to attracting the intended audience, providing them with the resources they seek, and ensuring that you deliver the value you promised from the get-go.