Building an online community sounds simple enough. However, creating one that’s engaging, thriving, and brings people back to it, again and again, is a challenging task for anyone.
As a business, putting your time and effort into building a community of your own can bring a lot of value. For example, it can help you get a loyal customer following, grow your ROI and organically generate brand awareness. If you know all of that already, then you’re probably looking for a way to build your community.
If you’re willing to listen to our advice, then remember that the first step is planning well. This is what this article will be all about. In it, we will talk about the steps you have to take in order to create an incredible online community that will bring loyal customers, employees, and members.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Eight Steps to Build a Thriving Online Community
Starting your online community requires patience and dedication, as with everything else related to building a business. You have to be prepared to put in some extra effort into creating and managing one, as otherwise, you won’t be able to get the results you desire from it. Having said that, we at Camberlion know that both business owners and marketing teams are busy and don’t have the time and patience to go through a 20- or 30-step process, which is why we’ve narrowed the steps to building an online community to just eight.
Let’s see what they are.
Determine the Needs of Your Business
The very first thing you need to do if you’re looking to build a successful online community is to determine what goals you want to reach with it. It’s vital that you know what your motivation behind creating such a community is and how it will help your company reach its targets.
Although you may see online communities that are extremely popular and get a ton of engagement, the reality is that most online communities struggle to create value and to keep users coming back. That happens mostly because they either didn’t have a great plan to begin with, or because they don’t have any particular goals they’re trying to accomplish.
Before starting anything, you have to keep in mind that the goals of your online community and the ones of your business should be perfectly aligned. After all, that community will become a part of your organization in some way, and it has to reflect its motivations and values.
If you’re wondering how to determine these needs or goals, here are a few things you can do:
- Write down your company’s big picture goals: what are your priorities for the future? What are your biggest goals for this year and for the next few? How can an online community help reach them?
- Discuss each department’s goals and priorities: once you have information about the big picture, sit down with the heads of each department and ask what their goals for the future are. An online community can help with the goals of multiple departments when done correctly, and so by knowing in advance, you can create the community in a way that serves not only the “big picture” goals but even smaller ones within the company’s departments.
- Ask your existing customers: it’s a good practice to ask your current customers what they would want from an online community – after all, they’re the people you would want to have in it, and so their opinion is of vital importance as well.
Determine the Needs of Your Customers/Users
Once you know how an online community will help your business reach its targets, it’s time to check out how your online community can be valuable to the people you want to become a part of it. A lot of organizations make the mistake of not considering the needs of their customers/users before starting their online communities, and you want to avoid that.
To do that, you have first to ask yourself what will motivate users to keep coming back to this community again and again. When someone joins a community, why is he doing it? What does he hope to earn from it? Maybe it’s to communicate with like-minded people, or to get knowledge, or to get an answer to a particular question.
We’ve concluded that in most cases, people join online communities because they want to feel a sense of belonging to a group or to continue learning.
It’s vital to remember that even though the online community will benefit you, it should feel like it belongs to its users and to your brand. Their needs and interests need to come first for it to succeed. Before starting the process of creating an online community, you need to consider several things:
- How will they access it?
- What content will be interesting to them?
- How will they communicate with each other?
For this part, it’s good to ask your current customers for input on what they find interesting, how they would like to communicate, how you can make the platform engaging for them, etc. This kind of open communication with the customer base will further encourage them to explore your online community and is likely to entice them to join it.
Set Goals and KPIs To Measure Results
Anything you launch that’s business-related should have its goals and key performance indicators (KPIs); otherwise, you can never truly determine whether it’s worth the effort you’re putting into it. Defining these at the start of the project is a must-do, as it will also help you choose which platform to use, depending on the kind of analytics you need.
Typically, there are two types of metrics you can measure: business and engagement. Engagement metrics are ones you will find on a community platform, while business metrics are broader ones like retention rate. Along with that, engagement measures how active your community is, while business metrics measure your online community’s impact on the company’s goals. You can come up with a combination of both types of metrics to track, and you have to make sure that they match the goals you have for your organization and the ones your users have.
At the start, it’s good to set goals for a particular period of time (the best would be for six months), and these first goals should be easily measurable and, most importantly, attainable and not too aggressive.
Decide on an Organizational Structure for Your Online Community
Before choosing which platform to use for your online community, you must first consider how you want to structure it. Depending on the needs and size of your user base, you may want to either keep everyone in one big community, or you might want to separate it by topics, location, interests, or something else.
Once you have the structure of your community and its sub-communities, start to consider what kind of layout you want to have – just remember it has to be user-friendly and fairly intuitive so that your users adapt to it quickly.
Choose the Right Community Platform
One of the most important factors in building an online community is choosing the right platform for it, one that allows you to motivate members and one that makes it easy for them to engage with one another, share stories and insights, and keep them coming back. Before you start making a list of solutions, you should first write down what you need your platform to be able to do. This is where the work we already did on the goals and motivation will also come in handy.
Have a Community Management Team
It’s likely that you will need at least one person dedicated to managing the community from the start. If you don’t appoint someone, it may become the reason your online community fails. As with any project or campaign, an online community requires someone to moderate and manage it actively. That person should be responsible for creating engagement and keeping the community thriving. You have to remember that what you put into your community is what you will get out of it; that’s why you want to have a management plan from the start.
For that, you will first want to decide on the size of your team. At the start, it’s good to begin with one person only, and then depending on how things are progressing, you can decide to expand over time. As more and more people start to come in and work in the online community, you will have to determine the roles and responsibilities of each employee, depending on each person’s skill set. Additionally, it’s good to have one final decision-maker who gets the say in what gets posted or changed in the online community. Establishing an organization from the start will make it easier for you to grow in the future while also ensuring that your community gets the needed attention so that it can start to grow and thrive.
Build the Community
As we already said, people tend to join online communities because they want to feel a sense of kinship, find new friends, expand their knowledge or just talk with others who share similar interests. In some cases, people can get distracted and forget why they joined a particular community, especially if there’s nothing to re-interest them once they return to it. While there are many factors that go into whether someone will be interested in your community or not, the most important one remains your content.
We all know that content is king; however, when you’re deciding on your community-building approach, you should keep these three things in mind: find, connect and collaborate. That means once a user finds your community, he should be able to get involved and start collaborating efficiently. Essentially, you need to provide users with multiple touchpoints for contributing and interacting with others – that’s the most efficient way to ensure engagement.
As you start building your community, consider these questions:
- How can you make it more human-focused so that it’s all about the needs of the users?
- How can you ensure everyone feels like they have a voice?
- What are the topics that will get people excited about interacting with one another?
- How can you convey value to your CTAs (call-to-actions)?
Get Ready to Start Moderating
It is key to ensure your online community is a safe space for its members. Having a community moderator is essential. The Internet is not a nice place; even one or two trolls can ruin a space for over 10,000 people. Along with that, troublesome contributors may cause your online community to become popular for the wrong reasons, thus damaging the reputation of your brand as well.
In order to prevent such damage from happening, you need a good community moderator who can find the right balance between maintaining order and controlling conversations. It’s his/her job to give freedom to members to express themselves while also ensuring that no one is crossing the line and actively harming others. This kind of moderation usually has two distinct elements:
- Curating the content shared with the community to ensure alignment with your code of conduct and rules of engagement
- Maintaining a community that’s open to discussion but with the right tone of voice and attitude
Having a code of conduct is vital for guaranteeing online etiquette, as you can set the record straight on what you consider appropriate behavior for the community.
Now that you’ve read through all that, you’re finally ready to start building an online community for your company. The last piece of advice we want to leave you with is not to skip any of the steps listed in this article. You will find that each of them will help make your community successful or will be a pillar for your move towards steady growth over time.
If you want to learn more about creating great content and keeping customers engaged, be sure to check out some of our other blogs.