Online communities are booming right now. According to Reddit, their platform has over 100,000 active communities from all over the world.
Unlike social media sites, which group people based on mutual friends, online communities unite people based on their shared passions and interests.
And businesses understand how to take advantage of this.
If you own a company, you know that constantly pressuring customers to buy something does not result in loyalty. So, when does a customer turn into an evangelist? It is only when they feel like they are a part of your community and your products directly address their problems that they will buy from you. Most of the time, the distinction becomes clear when your interaction becomes two-way rather than you dictating a list of product benefits to the customer.
That is why we dedicate a series of articles to online community building for startups.
In our previous article on this topic, our founder Ivan answered your questions about why you should create an online community for your startup. He discussed why people join communities, the pros and cons of creating a community for your startup, and how to decide on the purpose and type of community you want to build.
If you’ve already read it, it’s time to learn how to create an online community for your startup with Stefan Despotovski, our innovation consultant and community manager.
Let’s hear what he has to say in response to all of your questions!
What do you need to start building an online community?
It is a good idea to have the necessities ready before you begin.
Your options will vary depending on the platform you’re using, but here’s the general flow of steps you’ll need to take when building your online community:
Visual identity. Make sure to update your group description, profile photo, and cover photos, whether you’re building your community on social media or your own platform.
If you host your community on your platform, you can customize things like fonts, colors, and key imagery without all of the noise and distractions that social community platforms provide.
Description of the community. The community description is similar to your elevator pitch in that it should bring the essence of your community in a single quick read.
The description communicates who the community is for and what people can do there, as well as a friendly reminder that it is a positive, encouraging, and accepting community.
Welcome messages and onboarding materials. Stepping back into the shoes of your customer, consider the following: What do they notice first when they join the community? Do they understand how to use the community? What should I write? Where should I post?
A welcome message or readme at the top of your group will help your new community members succeed. Another great way to welcome new community members is to tag all of your new members for the week in a post, encouraging everyone to say hello.
Tags, sections, channels. Tags and sections help members find exactly what they’re looking for. Tag popular topics to help members find their needed information.
To ensure a smooth experience, put yourself in your customer’s shoes to ensure there are no speed bumps.
Membership questions. You might also want to include membership questions that people answer when they apply to join the group.
Ask for emails and permission to add you to our mailing list, for example – this has been a great way to build our marketing funnel. If you want to soften your ask for membership, you can offer something like an e-book in exchange for their email address in your membership questions.
Roles and responsibilities. If you own a startup, you probably don’t have an army at your disposal, but here are some things to discuss with your team for the community’s future development:
- Daily administration: It’s common for customer service or a social media manager to manage the community when it’s first established.
- Webinars: Who will host them if you plan to hold webinars for your community? Who is assisting with audio and video?
- Sales: Who will be in charge of responding to pricing and package-related inquiries?
- The product: Who will collect product feedback from the community and respond to feature requests?
How do you find your first members?
The first step is to interact with potential customers where they already gather.
Try to be helpful; don’t sell or promote anything; simply include information about your project in your bio or profile.
You can collect email addresses without attempting to sign them up for anything. Then, when you have 20-30 people, set up chats with 10-15 of them to find out what they’d find helpful in a community space.
Only then should you consider establishing a community.
Remember that these are only the starting points. Don’t stop once you’ve put these foundational pieces in place.
Instead, begin tracking community performance. In the early stages, don’t be afraid to pivot toward what works and away from what doesn’t.
Tips for starting an online community
Define your community’s objective: This point cannot be emphasized enough. Your community will only grow if it benefits your startup and its target audience. Product support, customer success, product feedback and ideation, learning, networking, and industry discussion are all common community goals.
Maintain moderation. Moderation creates a safe environment and ensures that all posts are valuable. Create community guidelines and post them prominently so new members can see them.
Make an engagement strategy: Determine what people in your community will do and how this will push people toward the goal. For example, consider starting conversations, hosting online events, and hosting AMAs.
Determine how you will attract members: As you gain initial traction, you may need to be hands-on. Consider contacting people directly to invite them. If you have a community goal that users care about, this stage will be much easier.
Create events. You can host various events, such as panel discussions, webinars, and weekly office hours. Promote these events in a sidebar and through other channels. This encourages people to return to the community.
Create a community space: You can create a community by organizing your content into collections. You can even incorporate it into your startup’s website or app to give customers easy access.
Improve onboarding. You want people to feel a sense of belonging as soon as they join. Onboarding consists of a “start-here” space with information for new members and an introductions space with sample questions people can answer to get involved.
Encourage interaction. You can’t expect newcomers to create a sense of community unassisted. As a result, encourage your team to respond to posts and share content.
Recognize contributors. Find new ways to thank members for their contributions. For example, provide them with benefits like early access to product updates and collect feedback from them. You can also highlight top contributors by using different badges and a leaderboard.
“Find the right target audience and have a strong common goal that you strive to accomplish with the community.” – Stefan Despotovski, Solveo
How to grow the membership?
If you’re wondering how to grow an online community, remember why you started in the first place. What drew you to the idea of community building? This is your most powerful tool to attract new members.
Here are some general tips on how to grow the online community that might fit you.
Create valuable content. Quality content will encourage greater engagement and interest among community members. Identify the popular content types in your community culture, and create specific topics that will entice community members to read, comment, and share more. To maintain integrity and ownership, highlight relevant and exciting posts and remove inappropriate posts.
Involve influencers. Influencers from your niche can help your community grow. Such people in favor inspire new members to join in and evoke the interest of those previously on the fence. It could be anyone with a strong connection, powerful words, or a solid social presence. So, do not hesitate to reach out to them.
Identify and support your biggest supporters. While every member of your online community shares a common interest or goal, this does not imply that everyone will invest the same amount. Some members will go above and beyond with your content. As your online community grows, you could ask for the assistance of your most active members in a more collaborative role, such as moderation.
Create unique community culture. You can cultivate a distinct culture by paying close attention to the community language and incorporating it into your communications, as well as employing symbols created organically by the community itself. Reinforce culture by speaking to your users as they talk to one another.
Reward members who recruit friends. You can keep score and reward the top performers each month. If each new member contributes to your profit, reward the person who brought them on board. Allow members to become extremely popular in their social circles.
Organize competitions. Competitions are practical, especially when the popular vote determines the winners. This means that participants encourage their friends and colleagues to come and participate. Make an effort to keep these newcomers involved.
Interview members. When you interview someone, it’s natural for them to ask their friends to read it. So keep these newcomers in the loop by asking them to participate in a poll on a topic that came up during the interview or discuss the interview in the forums at the end.
How to choose the right platform?
When you think of an online community platform, you might think of Facebook or LinkedIn, but many other platforms could be suitable for your brand.
To begin, you must understand your target audience and where they are now/will be in the near future.
Then consider what features are essential in your community, like direct messaging, discussions, media, invites, and profiles.
The bottom line is that an online community platform should be a safe and encouraging environment that allows you to create a group in which your members will feel connected and engaged.
That is why we have pre-selected ten of the best online community platforms where you can create the ideal environment for your target audience.
Community building is a journey that requires constant iteration. Continue to test and change things as you learn more about what members want.
By matching the needs of your members to the needs of the community, you will continue to strengthen connections, improve the sense of community, and ultimately grow it.