All You Need to Know About How to Start an Online Community6 minute read
Online communities are quickly growing in popularity as a way to connect with your audience and grow an online business by bringing people together.
Aside from the learning aspects for those who join, online communities are a fantastic marketing tool as well. Studies show that businesses that added a community aspect saw an increase in leads and website traffic.
There are several benefits of starting your own branded community for your customers and stakeholders, including being recognized as an expert in your niche, receiving valuable feedback from your audience and increasing customer trust, website traffic, leads and sales.
If you want to learn all about creating your online community, check out these articles from our blog:
- Why You Should Build an Online Community of Engaged Customers and How to Do it
- How to Choose the Right Online Community Platform For Your Knowledge Business
- 7 Steps to Revive Your Online Community and Increase Engagement
So online communities are great, but building a successful community is not child's play.
Creating and growing a thriving online community takes time and effort, and you have to be willing to consistently work on acquiring new members, keeping them engaged and delivering valuable content.
So before you go ahead and start your brand-new community, make sure to read our suggestions below in order to be prepared for putting in the work, drafting community guidelines, choosing the right online community software, and setting community goals. In today's article, we will share everything you need to know before creating an online community for your business.
Be Prepared to Put In The Work
As you probably already understood, communities need a lot of work and daily effort. Your new online community won't magically grow overnight, so you need to understand what kind of actions you need to take in order to build a thriving environment.
First of all, a great online community feeds off members' engagement and interactions. So you need to prepare the ground for these interactions to happen. How do you do this?
Sharing informative content is a great way to set the tone for your community and deliver value to your members. So make it a habit to prepare a post tailored to your online community and share it with your audience. You can also create a content calendar to organize and schedule the content for your online community: this will help you keep yourself accountable and consistently deliver valuable content to your members.
However, a community is not a one-way street. You want to incentivize your members to engage with your discussion, comment on your posts and share their ideas. So together with sharing valuable content, always try to spark a conversation between the members. Asking open-ended questions in your posts can be an idea, together with including members in your conversation by tagging them.
All of these activities to keep your community engaged will take lots of time and daily effort, so before you create your online community, think about how this will impact your work schedule and the time you put in to focus on your business.
When you are getting started and you have zero members in your online community, this might not seem like your number one priority. However, as your community grows, you will see that more and more time gets devoted to admin work and support in your community space.
Some creators consider hiring a community manager to help them deal with all community-related tasks once their community grows.
Draft Community Rules and Guidelines
A great community is a place where members feel safe to share their ideas without experiencing harsh criticism or being targeted by sleazy sales tactics.
As the community host, it is your job to ensure that members behave in the way you intended for your online space. How do you do this?
Setting up community rules and guidelines for the members to follow is a good way to start, but you also need to make sure that these guidelines are clear, understood and respected.
The first thing you can do to achieve a safe online community space is to draft your guidelines. These depend on the kind of community you have in mind. However, most online groups try to avoid behaviors such as self-promotion, sales messages of any kind, non-constructive criticism from other members or negative comments and so on...
You can also set the rules for who gets admitted into your online community. You might want to restrict access to your customers only, or people who share the same ideal, own a similar business, work in the same industry etc...
Remember that this is your own community, so it is your job to set the tone and type of conversation that best fits your ideals and business standards.
The next step is to make sure that these rules that you drafted are actually clear to all the members and are followed. Make sure that new members who join are aware of your guidelines by posting a message on your main community channel, sending them a welcome email and generally always reminding members about the rules when you witness an unwelcome behavior.
Your Online Community is Not Just a Marketing Tool
Let's face it: growing an online community around your business can be a fantastic marketing strategy to grow the hype around your new products, get new leads in, and increase sales in an organic way.
There is nothing wrong with creating a community and expecting results in terms of sales and marketing, however, it is important to keep in mind that a community is not just a marketing machine.
You won't see any results if you treat your members as numbers in your marketing ploy: there are times when you need to simply offer helpful insights, reward your members and give out free value for the sake of growing your online community and your members' engagement.
Ironically, if you actually "give" without expecting anything in return, your community members will recognize this and chances are that you will get more sales and increase your marketing ROI anyways. So it's a win-win for everyone, but you need to be prepared to put in the work and make your members feel special and recognized in your community before you see any monetary results.
Your Community's Size Doesn't Matter
Many creators make the mistake of fixating on irrelevant metrics, such as follower numbers or community size.
Of course, you need to have people joining your community in order to grow it, but the number of your members doesn't necessarily matter as long as most people actually engage with each other and work to create a thriving environment.
So instead of focusing on the number of people in your online community, it is better to pay attention to the engagement rate: how many people respond to your post, share their own comments or questions and interact with the community and with your products?
It doesn't matter if you have one-thousand members in your community if none of them engages with you or they never post anything in the chat.
Set Goals For Your Online Community
Another thing you should know before starting your own community is that it is a good idea to identify a few goals for you and your business on what you want to achieve with the community.
As your community grows and evolves, you might lose track of what's important and slowly steer away from your initial goals. So it is important to have a clear sense of direction of where you want to go with this online community.
This doesn't have to be anything crazy or complicated. Depending on your business and your ideas, your community goals can be as simple as:
- "Creating a safe environment for my customers"
- "Offer extra insights to online course students and help them learn from each other"
- "Increase sales for my business and promote future products"
- "Gain market research insights on your ideal customers"
- "Create a paid community to offer exclusive content to elite members"
These are just a few examples of goals you can set for yourself with the online community, but whatever your goals are, it is a good idea to understand them from the beginning so you can follow a clear path with everything you do in the community.
You Need a Dedicated Online Community Platform
Last but not least, before you start your online community, do some research about what platform to use to host it.
It might seem like the most convenient choice is to host your community on social media platforms, such as Facebook groups. While this may work in some situations as social media platforms are easily accessible and can help you be seen by more people, they are not the ideal solution for fostering engagement and keeping your members within your own branded space.
A dedicated online community platform, on the other hand, can offer a tailored solution for creators who want to build a customizable, private and safe place for their members to interact with each other and build a feeling of community.
The problem with most online community platforms is that they are detached from your main business, and many times you have to set up a separate account, pay an extra monthly fee and redirect your members to a different online space every time they wish to join the community.
The solution for this is to find a community platform that encompasses everything you need for your online business: the ability to sell digital products, create online courses, coaching programs and more.
Heights Platform is the all-in-one course creation software that incorporates online community software right inside your program, so members can easily switch between your courses, challenges, community space, and coaching and browse all your product offerings from one place.Create Your Online Community