Essential steps to building a successful and sustainable online community

Building an engaged, online community does not take an expert in customer engagement, it takes self-awareness, empathy, and a commitment to understand human behaviours. 

But first, what is an online community? An online community can be defined as a group of individuals with a unified vision with common interests and opinions who meet in a virtual space.

Depending on the goals of your aspirations to build an online community, you may establish a closed private group of individuals to share impact stories, research, or learnings from personal or professional experiences. Or, it may look like an open forum where hundreds gather to share their unique experiences through images or content about what matters most to them and how they envisage creating positive social change. Whatever platform or format you choose, online communities if created with the right intentions can create meaningful connections that will empower others through human connectedness. You can achieve high engagement by:

  • Discussing topics that interest your community
  • Invite a brand, influential advocate or expert in the topic of interest
  • Creating a safe and supportive space to all learn together
  • Encourage collaboration wherever possible on community projects
  • Always share thought leadership viewpoints and related news

Regardless of your community size in the infancy of your vision, there are many common benefits to creating an online community:

  • Establish yourself as a leader in your industry and expand your sphere of influence by growing and learning from your network and audience
  • Create brand ambassadors to increase your organic reach and referral
  • Feedback from your community by encouraging regular dialogue helps improve your product and services to help you deliver on their expectations
  • Increase revenue when you foster more engaged and meaningful conversations you increase retention which ultimately increases sales and revenue
  • Market awareness through increased digital touchpoints with your community when you are not able to be in the same physical space as them
Does this all seem very time consuming when you have limited capacity right now to even do your job? The simple answer is – Make the time!
Now let’s walk through my 7 essential steps to building a successful and sustainable online community:
  1. Define your purpose and goals membership, influence, integration and fulfilment of needs, shared emotional connection, KPI’s for success
  2. Create community guidelines member behaviour, moderator behaviour, topical focus, complaint and resolution process, zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment
  3. Select a community hosting platform free social community, branded or owned community, a case for using both platforms
  4. Identify community stakeholders marketing, sales, support and product etc.
  5. Set up your community customise your community, cover photo, membership questions, linking your group to your business page, define roles and responsibilities, create tags and sections, review and test member account creation, set up welcome messages and onboarding content
  6. Building engagement in your community create a theme for each day of the week, ask questions, create an adjective for your community members, participate in discussions and respond to all comments and questions, share content that lives exclusively in your community and delegate accountability partners.
  7. Growing your online community marketing your community and tracking your results and impact.

When you start building your community it can seem quite overwhelming but it’s not an impossible feat. If you’re passionate about what you know and have a natural ability to create a social ecosystem with your most engaged network, there is no time better than now to start an online community.

There are many free options to start your community like LinkedIn and Facebook, so what is stopping you? It’s only YOU!
Our thanks to Rebecca Hogan for sharing her thoughts on this blog.

Looking for tools to help with leadership?

We have lots of resources and tools to make you a better manager. Click below to see more.