Human beings are naturally social beings, and they tend to seek out people who have the same interests and hobbies. This is how communities are born. Presently, there are tens of millions of groups on Facebook alone, each catering to a specific interest, belief or clique. The number of forums built and maintained by online communities are in the billions, with new ones being created each day.
This may lead you to think that building an online community is easy because people will find and gravitate towards your community naturally without you having to do anything about it. However, a lot of online communities are deserted, maybe because of poor management, or maybe it wasn’t filled with interesting content to keep users interested.
Today, let’s talk about how to build a community, and how to keep it alive. We’ll go through each step of the process and give you some best practices to help you grow a thriving community on the Internet.
First off, you have to decide where to create your community. You can choose to create one using a third-party platform, or embed one into your own website.
Free Third-Party Community Platforms
If you are on a tight budget and simply need to set something up quickly, you can choose a free community from sites like Facebook, Reddit, Discord and Quora among others. There are a lot of benefits to building your community through other platforms:
- Because the platform is already established, you do not need to spend a lot of time increasing your reputation and exposure.
- These platforms are free
- Setting up your community takes only a few minutes
- The platform itself will promote your community for you. For example, if your community is focused on motherhood, the platform will recommend your community to users who are interested in motherhood-related discussions.
Of course, there are a few disadvantages as well:
- Your community is subject to the rules and regulations of the platform. If your community violates the platform’s rules, your community may be removed or deleted.
- You are limited by the features offered by the platform
You may also choose to embed a community right into your company’s website. Currently, a lot of websites have their own forum or message boards. Here are some of the advantages you get if you choose to do this:
- Members of your community are more likely to become loyal consumers of your products or services
- You make the rules of your community
- The community feels more official and legit
- Because your community board is a part of your website, your website is considered active as long as your community is active.
Some of its disadvantages include:
- Hosted community platform software can get expensive.
- It’s harder to find brand-owned communities.
- You need to develop your own community system and framework.
There are arguments both for and against each option. Choosing a platform for your community will depend on what industry, interest or field your community is all about. Some communities may thrive better on a social media community such as Facebook, while others are better off housed inside the company website.
A community is made up of people, but no community has ever existed without rank and roles. After deciding which platform to use for your community, now it’s time to decide how to organize your people.
Managers and Admins
No community can exist peacefully without admins. Even the most innocuous communities will have a few bad apples, so you need to have admins and managers who will keep people in line and ensure that there’s peace and order in your community.
Head managers or administrations will come from inside the company itself. However, you may also choose to delegate moderators from long-time community members. The potential to rise in rank will also encourage members to be more active and to be loyal to the community.
Company Departments Affected by the Community
Some of your company’s other departments may also require communication and involvement with your community. For example, if your company has a customer service department, some may be assigned to the community to answer member queries. People in the sales and marketing department may also find inspiration for your next marketing campaign from community member suggestions.
Once you’ve decided on the “where” and the “who”, now it’s time to lay down the rules. This step is even more important if you’re using a free community platform because you are subject to the platform’s rules. For example, if your community is lax when it comes to sexual content, that content may still get flagged by Facebook because of its own rules on sexual content.
Creating rules will not only prevent your community from getting shut down, it will also create a safe environment for all. Communities have died because of poor management. Usually, the community becomes toxic and drama-ridden because nobody is regulating what content is posted on the community. Members argue frequently without limits and this causes other members to leave the community.
Here are just some rules that communities all over the world have placed on their members:
- No discrimination or hate speech
- Respect each other always
- No spamming
- No sexual content
- No illegal content
Personalize your rules to make them your own. The important part is that your community doesn’t break any laws and that all members feel safe and respected no matter what.
Most community owners falter when it comes to this step. Once they’ve built their community, they leave their community members alone and leave the content up to them. However, this means the growth of your community is out of your hands. It all depends on whether or not your members are interested in posting new topics and replying to threads.
Even if your community is made up of the nicest individuals, they will go elsewhere if there’s nothing new or interesting in your community. Many community members stay because they’ve found friends inside the community, but they can always take that friendship elsewhere if the community becomes stagnant.
The best way to keep your community interesting is to regularly create content to add to content contributed by members. Here are just some of the ways you can keep things interesting:
Most of the time, conversations are started when a member asks a question. However, there are times when nobody is going to answer them, maybe because nobody knows the answer, or maybe they’ve heard the question asked too many times before already.
Have customer services representatives assigned to your community to answer questions from members. This will prevent people, especially new members, from feeling ignored and unwanted.
Most members share their personal experiences related to the community, and this type of content gets the most interest from members. For example, a motherhood community will have stories from moms who shared stories about loss, childbirth, in-law problems, spousal problems and others. Storytelling content inspires people to share their opinions and their own stories.
But what if your community doesn’t get enough of this? A great way to encourage more personal stories is to create contests, where you give prizes to members who send in their personal stories. This is a great way of not only encouraging more interaction within the community, but you can reward members for their efforts as well.
Guides and Tips
Some members of your community will be newcomers or beginners, while others will be seasoned veterans. The more knowledgeable members of your community may publish guides or tips in an effort to help newer members. Fortunately, a lot of members do this freely, without any convincing from the owners of the community. However, if your community is lacking in content like this, it’s okay for you to step in and publish guides for your members.
Communities may falter when members leave, but they only truly die if they are neglected by their owners. Community activity will always dip – older members may lose interest and become inactive, but newer member may also appear and bring life back to the community. To build a successful community, you must remember to keep promoting it to keep your numbers stable. Then, you must keep conversations flowing by filling any gaps in your community content.
Maintaining communities may be hard work. However, these communities are a great lead generation source, and a great avenue for developing loyalty from your consumers.