An online community is more than a flash-in-the-pan marketing or CPC campaign. It’s not something you just ‘set and forget.’ Merriam Webster defines a community as, “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.” It’s more important than Facebook Fans, Twitter followers or just about anything you can do on LinkedIn. It can take care of itself, help its members, share experiences and create new ones.
But how the hell do you start building an online community?
It’s a question I see online nearly every single day. In fact a quick search in Google brings back 503,000,000 results!
An online community is made up of red-blooded human beings, not Google crawlers. Do your homework and talk to others on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Reddit, or wherever else your potential community hangs out. If you’re looking to build an online community from the ground up there’s no better way to connect with someone than on existing social media channels.
Without connections there is no online community. It’s that simple.
But where do you start?
What if you don’t have time for focus groups, email surveys or spending countless hours conducting your own research?
Don’t worry, because the best way to find out what’s most important to your future community is to:
Talk to people that share the interest that your community embodies
It doesn’t matter how small your sample size might be. Don’t worry about that for one second. What’s important here is to ask:
a) “Would you want to be a part of something that connects you to others that share your interests?”
b) “What are you looking to get out of this experience?”
I’m positive that you’ll get some sort of reaction that will help you. Maybe you’ll even get some negative responses! (Remember, a negative response can often be even more valuable than a positive response.) Either way, you’ll have some data to move forward with from your intended audience as to what’s most important to them.
Engaging is Caring
Some people respond to everything while others never respond. Ultimately how you respond is up to you but if you see a question that you know the answer to and it won’t take any skin off your nose, why not answer it and help someone out?
Naturally once your community is thriving it will be difficult to respond to every little thing and that’s ok! But if someone took the time out of their day to read what you posted and then either shared, liked, commented or performed any other sort of action, it would only help you and your community to follow up with them in some way.
I remember hearing somewhere that it’s best to give every comment a hug. Even if you don’t have time now at this moment to do so, just say thanks. It really goes a long way.
Know how to recognize your community members
Let’s say we want to take ‘giving thanks’ just one step further and formally call out specific members who have been nothing short of exceptional. We’re talking about the select group of people who have been promoting your upcoming community on their own channels and telling all of their friends about it. Maybe these are the same guys who have helped you test a certain Beta program
- PinkPanther (41 comments)
- Monti (35 comments)
- s.ziyad (33 comments)
- Frank (24 comments)
- Simon (24 comments)
- Prizes, vouchers, coupons, giveaways…anything to reward whomever you think deserves it
- Ask for their opinion and then actually implement it
- Find a way to do something ‘offline’
There are hundreds of ways to say, ‘Thanks!’ that might even be a better fit for your particular niche. Say you’re in the music business, you could give certain members tickets to a concert or a free guitar lesson. If you’re creating an online community centered around kombucha? (niche, I know) but maybe you could send a member a case of GT’s Kombucha.
Whatever you decide, if you make sure it’s meaningful they’ll love you for it!
Make it easy on them
Copy & Paste is so 1999
Try to avoid any and all complications for your members. Make it frictionless for people to:
- sign up
- share to various social networks with a click of a button
- message other members privately
- search for people who share similar interests relevant information
- find out what’s going in their area
Be ready to answer questions, explain yourself and respond quickly.
Get out of the way
Like small children, sometimes community members just want to be set free
If you want to build an online community around your brand, service, product, etc., the best thing you can do is get out the way. To put it another way, create a space for people to gather and give them the tools they need to communicate effectively with each other.
This is why some online communities flourish while others die. Successful online communities create an easy way for members to find like-minded individuals and then connect with them without having technology steal the show. In fact the less that people are aware of what’s going on behind the scenes, the better.
Great online communities stick out by seamlessly blending technology and relationship building.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
…and neither will your community be
A real online community won’t happen overnight, these things take time. It’s important to focus on consistent growth and building your community one person at a time, attracting the RIGHT person and eventually, the conversation will flow naturally.
This may look like a lot to consider but at the end of the day, there is nothing like a well built community. Period.