March 26, 2021

How to Build an Online Community: a PeerBoard Guide to Community Building

What is an Online Community?

Online communities drive much of the conversations dominating the internet. Reddit, for instance, is home to over 2.2 million subreddits, some of which have provided fuel for some of the most viral discussions dominating the digital space in the last 15 years. But this is just one example of how people interact within online communities. There are many other ways people use them in their daily lives.
Online community PeerBoard

Importance of online communities

What does it mean to be part of an online community, and why are they important? To understand the relevance of people coming together in web-based groupings, one only has to observe human nature. People are naturally social beings and generally like to interact with others who share similar beliefs, ideas, and interests. In the past, communities were only thought of as those found in the physical world, such as the town someone lives in, the religious organization they belonged to, or educational institutions attended. However, internet penetration and the creation of various tools and websites have resulted in people forming communities online as well.
Today, these communities allow not just friends, family members, and colleagues to communicate with each other; total strangers from all parts of the globe are able to connect with like-minded individuals as well. Many internet users are part of several communities, from LinkedIn groups geared at bringing professionals together, to online forums where people can share their opinions on topics that pique their interest.
Importantly, many brands have figured out the power of online communities in terms of building customer relationships, providing varying degrees of help and support, and driving engagement with their target audiences. In fact, one report found that over 60% of brands reported increased revenues as a result of direct engagement within online communities. Moreover, a whopping 77% of companies reported that online communities were important for their ability to increase brand exposure, credibility, and awareness.
Online communities are important for their ability to increase brand exposure, credibility, and awareness

Definition of an online community

An online community, also referred to as virtual or internet-based communities, are clusters of people who interact with each other in designated online spaces, sharing opinions, perspectives, thoughts, and information around a common topic or to achieve a shared goal. They are sometimes confused with social networks (someone saying the “Facebook community,” for instance) but there are important differences. People can generally interact in whatever way they want on a social channel, but communities are often centered on one main topic or idea. In addition, people often set up communities within social platforms. Without the community aspect, many social sites would have died or simply stagnated. Facebook and Reddit are two examples of platforms that have flourished as a result of the emphasis placed on growing online communities among their users. However, the rise in popularity of these public platforms has similarly led to users seeking private groups as they explore Facebook group alternatives

Online community

clusters of people who interact with each other in designated online spaces, sharing opinions, perspectives, thoughts, and information around a common topic or to achieve a shared goal.

Types of online communities

Online communities take much of their cues from physical communities. They typically come with their own set of rules, guidelines, and objectives, and can be public or private/secret, open or closed. In addition, they have people who manage the running of the community, including moderators who ensure all content shared remains in the purview of the group. Many also have influencers who drive conversations and decide what strategies the community should pursue. For brands looking to reap the benefits of an online community, it is a good idea to first figure out what type of online community they want to build. With that said, there are three main types of online communities:

The Support community

A support community is one that provides help for people in search of information relating to a product or service. Someone looking to troubleshoot an iPad, for instance, will turn to Apple support or one of numerous forums and technical groups for the information they seek.

The Discussion community

Discussion communities bring people together to express their opinions and share experiences around a topic that members find interesting. There is a “Friends” community on Facebook, for instance, which consists of over 19 million members who talk about the once-popular sitcom and its main actors.

The Action community

Participants in an action community are usually driven by a need to create some type of change in their physical communities, such as in a country or even to impact living conditions globally. Environmental advocates coming together in online groups to tackle climate change around the world is one prominent example of such a community.

What's the value of an online community to businesses?

As mentioned earlier, online communities present some amount of benefits for brands. Setting up online communities can help brands with the task of boosting brand loyalty and customer growth. With competition high in most industries, there is little incentive for a consumer to stick with one brand. An online community makes it possible for a business to offer customized service and steer the conversation around its products and/or services. Firms in pursuit of improved revenues have much to gain from building their own online communities.
But it goes way beyond company ROI. It is about fostering long term relationships that are necessary to keep a business afloat. In an extremely competitive, market-driven environment, brands have to find unique ways to keep their target audience engaged and satisfied. They can achieve this through online communities which can allow them to better manage and monitor customer experience and support.
In subsequent articles, we will delve deeper into the world of online communities, including the benefits they present for brands and exploring their different attributes.
An online community makes it possible for a business to offer customized service and steer the conversation around its products and/or services.

Benefits of Building an Online Community

Benefits of building an online community
There are several good reasons why Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, decided to place emphasis on Facebook Groups back in 2017. One of those reasons was to foster the growth of meaningful communities on the platform. Today, there are well over 10 million Facebook groups with more than half of Facebook’s estimated 2.7 billion users are active in at least one of these groups.
While this article is not about Facebook, the focus on the group aspect of the website has highlighted the importance of building online communities and the benefits for brands. In recent times, more attention has been placed on creating and fostering online communities as various businesses look for ways to connect with their target audience.
In fact, one piece of research from a study by CMX Hub found that 85% of marketers and creators believed that branded online communities were important for building trust and improving the customer journey. Need more evidence about the brand-related benefits related of building an online community? Below are five such benefits to consider.

Reduces ad spend

Advertising, including, print, TV, and digital spots, is a critical part of marketing strategies for most companies. But the results don’t always justify the amount spent. Placing ads via Google AdWords, for instance, can see cost per acquisition (CPA) reach almost $60, on average, across all industries. For some industries, the average CPA is well over $100. For a young startup with little capital to work with, such a high CPA can prove to be quite prohibitive. Moreover, with an ad, a user will feel they are being coerced into clicking a link and will be less likely to keep engaging with the brand, even after making a purchase.
Growing an online community, on the other hand, costs very little (or no money at all). It also allows you to gain leads without having to place ads or spend less on them. That’s because being in an online community makes it easier for people to learn what they need to know about a brand and more comfortable with checking out its offerings. The emotional connection that is created in an online community will have more long term ROI than plain advertising. In addition, ads can be more worthwhile when coupled with a vibrant online community.

Allows you to better understand your target audience

One of the necessities in growing a company is improving the customer experience. But doing so requires a deep understanding of your target audience, including their individual needs, values, and expectations as it relates to their social backgrounds and perceptions of your offerings.
Building an online community allows you to interact directly with members of your audience to find out what it is they are interested in. You can use surveys, for example, to get feedback on your products and services. You can also get their opinions on various aspects of your business, as well as what they are looking forward to in the future. Some communities even allow you to have access to analytical data on group members, giving you more arsenal to help you create content, products, and services that are more in tune with your target customers’ needs.

Builds customer trust and loyalty

The engaging nature of active online communities increases the ability of brands to deliver a positive experience to customers. They can help community members get answers to questions and assistance with common issues, as well as giving them a sense of belonging and a place to interact with other like-minded individuals. Giving customers a space where they can engage with your brand on such a level will only result in a more trusting bond and increased loyalty.
Customer trust and loyalty are important goals for any business because they determine its longevity. People who are loyal to a brand can account for up to 80% of its revenue and are more likely to tell their friends and families about their experience. Considering that many internet shoppers tend to also learn about products and services from other people’s experiences (reviews, recommendations, etc.), having an online community should be a no-brainer for any brand looking to be around for a long time.

Improves customer service delivery

Delivering great customer service is becoming more and more important. A customer will tell far more people about a bad experience rather than they would a good experience. However, providing good customer service can be difficult to pull off at a consistently satisfactory level using traditional methods, for several reasons. Customers may not be sure how best to get in touch or where to find useful information about your products or services.
Having an online community can be a great repository for answers to frequently asked questions. This is not just based on literature you might provide, but also the fact that they can ask for help from other community members. People are often more receptive to advice and tips from others who have used your product/service than from a business owner who may be giving advice from a sales perspective. In addition, your online community can help people get in touch with your business easily, instead of having to search around for contact information.
Moreover, an online community can strengthen other methods of customer service delivery you may already be using, and may even reduce the cost of training customer service staff or setting up CRM software.

Boosts website traffic

Whether it is a Facebook group, user forum, or even a support website, online communities often involve sharing content from a brand’s website. Since members tend to develop a relationship with the associated brand, they will often be more receptive to content shared in the community than if they discovered it elsewhere on the web. In addition, your content may not always be found easily via Google search, regardless of how good your SEO strategies are.
If a community member enjoys your blog post or other content, they will also be more inclined to share it to their friends and families outside the group. This can further boost your web traffic and may even grow your online community, as well as help you attract new customers. What’s more, the more organic traffic you receive to your website, the better SEO works for you as time goes by.
85% of marketers and creators believed that branded online communities were important for building trust and improving the customer journey.

Types of Online Communities

Online communities
The world is made up of a network of communities. From social bodies and residential groupings to professional clubs and entertainment societies, most people are members of one type of community or another in their living and working environments. And with millions of people forced to stay at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, engagement in virtual communities has reached an all-time high.
Many businesses had already recognized the importance of building online communities and were able to adapt their operations accordingly. Others have had to adjust their branding efforts and budgets to become more digital-friendly in order to tap into the benefits of internet-based communities. Of course, setting up an online community does not guarantee results. After all, many community platforms shun any form of commercial activity and, instead, emphasize wholesome engagement and sharing of ideas between members.
Brands must, therefore, first develop an understanding of how online communities work and why their target customers would feel the need to be a part of one. Additionally, a company should know the different types of online communities in order to build or be involved in the right one that will suit its specific goals.
So, what are the different types of online communities, and how can they be used by brands to derive mutual benefits for themselves and customers? There are three main online communities: support, discussion, and action. Read on to find out the differences.
Virtual communities during COVID-19 pandemic

Support online communities

A support online community is one that helps people get helpful tips and advice related to a product or service they are using or interested in. It is one of the most popular communities utilized by both brands and consumers and can involve either dedicated support websites or social media groups (Facebook groups, for instance) dedicated to helping people get assistance with various issues relating to a company’s products.
According to a recent report, more than 80% of companies have set up a support community of some kind. That number is expected to have increased, especially in light of the current pandemic. Support communities are that common because consumers need help to use most products, whether physical or digital. In addition, a product may not work as expected and customers need help to get it fixed, returned or exchanged.
Microsoft’s online portal is one good example of a vibrant support community online. It is mainly made up of users and contributors (some of whom happen to be techies) who offer solutions to common issues faced by Microsoft customers. People with questions about Microsoft Office, Windows, Xbox, and other related products can get answers and troubleshooting tips for a vast number of queries or problems they might be experiencing simply by asking a question or browsing through answers that have already been posted.
One of the great things about support online communities is that they allow customers to hear from their peers. This is a win-win because it saves the company on the amount they need to spend on customer service. Furthermore, many customers prefer to hear the perspective of other customers on a product/service rather than a customer support officer. In addition, the company is able to keep tabs on what people might be saying about its offerings, and can make adjustments accordingly.
Should you set up a support online community? If you offer any product or service that requires people to follow steps in achieving an outcome, you should at least consider having a support page or suitable hashtag that allows users to ask questions and get responses.
80% of companies have set up a support community

Discussion online communities

With a discussion community, members engage each other in discourse about a central topic they all find interesting. The world of comics has numerous communities online, for instance, which allow people to talk about their favorite characters and their accompanying characteristics, as well as trade comics amongst each other and give their opinions on associated movies TV shows, animations, movies, etc.
Discussion online communities are great for brands who want to get closer to their target audience, because they often encourage a high level of engagement among users and information can quickly be spread as a result. That’s why many schools and education-related brands also set up discussion rooms, forums, and other avenues for online discussions.
A tech entrepreneur who wants to teach Machine Learning or JavaScript to beginners, for example, can start a community on Twitter via a related hashtag. This would allow participants to discuss the main topics of the course among themselves and with the class tutor. People taking part may also find it easier to understand what is being taught and feel encouraged to share the course with others who they think might be interested.
Being active in a relevant discussion community can also help brands to boost customer trust and loyalty.

Action online communities

Action communities are mostly linked to activism. These online groups consist of people who want to draw attention to some worthy cause, whether it is raising funds for a charity or to shed light on an injustice. Hot button topics such as racism, discrimination, climate change, and police brutality have all given rise to vocal communities across social media in recent times. Popular examples include the #MeToo, #Times Up, and Black Lives Matter movements.
But action communities are not only for activists. Startups and corporate brands can also utilize these virtual communities for mutually-beneficial results. This can be done by figuring out what your audience members care about and advocating on their behalf. For a startup that builds electric vehicles, for instance, they can tap into environmental-focused communities to spread awareness about the benefits of green energy and operating EVs compared to gasoline-powered cars. This will boost the image of the brand as an ally and can also result in brand loyalty.
Ben & Jerry’s support of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 (and prior to that) is one good example. The ice cream company’s tweets on the topic resulted in millions of impressions, as wells as thousands of likes, retweets and comments. Several members belonging to that community responded by pledging their support of the ice cream brand going forward.
Brands don’t have to stick with one online community, but can participate in two or more to suit their overall business goals.

Community vs. Audience

Online community
Building a brand that will last is more than pandering to an audience, it also means building communities. But isn’t your audience your community? At first glance, this might seem to be the case. A closer look, however, shows that the two are quite different. In distinguishing between an audience and a community, it is worth knowing that you can’t build a community without first knowing who your target audience is. You form communities within the audiences you generate.
Before jumping into the main differences of the two, consider the following scenario:
Imagine setting up a lemonade stand on a busy street corner in the heights of summer. You sit and wait for thirsty passersby to stop and get a glass in a bid to cool down. Maybe you will end up getting some sales, especially if the time is really hot and you don’t have any competitors nearby. Let’s say, later on, several other lemonade stands spring up and start going after your clientele. Since your buyers now have more than one option for lemonade, many will be drawn to checking out the competitors’ offerings. Unless your product turns out to be vastly superior, business could dry up significantly for you. After all, customers are free to choose any seller they want in a free market.
But what if when you started out with your lemonade stand, you engaged a few of your buyers to give their opinion on your lemonade? Maybe you invited buyers to snap a picture of themselves drinking your lemonade and post it to Instagram using a hashtag you created. Not only that, you ask them for suggestions as to what other lemonade flavors they would like you to sell. You even proceed to start a lemonade group on WhatsApp dedicated to letting people know when you have specials and new flavors, and inviting those who have had your lemonade to talk about it among themselves.
Okay, it might only be lemonade, but in the latter scenario, you would have created a community of sorts. By generating discussion around your product and creating a space for your customers to share among themselves, this could probably help your business survive, and even thrive, when other players enter your market. By now, it should start to become clearer as to what sets communities and audiences apart. Read on to find out the main differences.
By generating discussion around your product and creating a space for your customers to share among themselves, this could probably help your business survive, and even thrive, when other players enter your market.

Audience is about individual experience, community is about shared experiences

When you try to grow an audience, all your efforts are aimed at attracting the people who you think are your target customers. Just like catching fish, you put out your hook and hope they bite, whether by subscribing to your mailing list, following you on social media, or making a purchase. After reeling in your target, you then hope that they will keep on engaging with your brand. That decision to stick with you relies heavily on the experience of each individual making up your audience.
In a community, people are more likely to base their decisions regarding your brand on the experiences they share with other group members. When someone in the community shares his or her experience with using your product or consuming your content, other members may be drawn to give their own opinion, allowing them to take part in each other’s experiences.

Community promotes inclusiveness, audience may alienate

Your ideal target customer is likely based on a single demographic that has a specific need. All your strategies will be geared at speaking to everyone who comes in contact with your brand in a general tone that reflects your image. It is about promoting a single brand message and image.
But people are complex and have varying needs based on their own individual life experiences. As a result, your one-size-fits-all approach to attracting people to your audience may end up missing the mark for some. That is why many people in an audience tend to stay silent for the majority of the time; they may only respond to a tiny segment of your overall message that speaks to their individual needs.
On the other hand, a community setting is one that promotes inclusiveness, so members are more inclined to feel like they are a part of the conversation. Interaction among members and with the brand, allows individuals in the community to express their likes, dislikes, and preferences, what they look forward to the most from your brand, and even get help with relevant issues they might be facing with your products. The end result is that members in a community feel they are part of something bigger, and not just numbers making up an audience.

Maintaining an audience requires a budget. Building a community mostly requires engagement

For a business to survive, it has to keep growing its audience. This means constantly inviting people to become subscribers, asking them to join your mailing list, or to follow you on social media. All of this takes money in one form or another. You may need to run ads, for instance, to get people to a landing page that collects their email addresses in order to grow your list of newsletter subscribers. Or you may set up a campaign to increase followers online. You might even sponsor an event to get in front of an audience that would otherwise be out of your reach. Either way, you will always need a budget to attract an audience and keep them interested.
With a community, the more you put in, in terms of promoting interaction amongst members, the higher your chances of growth. Even though there might be a budget involved (such as to hire a community manager), the progress will be mostly based on engagement. The more you interact with people in your community, whether by creating discussion around a mutual topic or helping them solve problems, the more others will want to join.
In addition, you don’t have to keep spending to keep community members engaged with your content. Vibrant communities tend to bring about user-generated content that keeps members active. A positive experience can also cause members to invite their friends to join, which grows your community organically. Once your community becomes a place people willingly visit on a regular basis, you probably won’t need to do much else on your part, as members will keep it alive all on their own. They now view it as a part of their lives and something they value.
These days, growing a community can prove to be far more valuable than just going after a target audience. Knowing the difference between the two can enhance your chances of success.

Strategies for Building a Community from Scratch

Strategies for building a community from scratch
What’s more, the prevalence of social networks and other online platforms makes it easy to start a community. You can get started using a Facebook group, launching a subreddit, or even by building a simple, interactive support website. And once you get the engagement going, the community can pretty much take off.
But do you know where to begin with building a community for your brand? Below are some tips to help you out.

Figure out your reason for starting a community

Online communities might be trending, but that’s not a good enough reason to dive in head first. Before proceeding, you need to figure out your end game, so you can create a community that will truly be of use to your brand. If you don’t have a solid reason for building an online community, people won’t see the need to join it either.
Are you looking to improve customer relations through a highly interactive platform? Will your community provide support, tips, and hard-to-get information to members? Is it a place that will help members support a cause? Whatever the case, it is a good idea to start with a suitable reason as motivation for building a community. To help you sort out your ‘why,’ try to envision your goals from the consumer’s perspective, which brings us to the next strategy…

Identify the type of people who would be most interested in your community

Your target audience is the source for the people who will make up your community. But not everyone in your target audience will necessarily be interested in joining your community. People become a part of a community for very specific and personal reasons, including to get help for a problem or to meet people who share a particular interest. Just because someone makes up your audience does not mean they will have an interest in your offerings beyond knowing about your brand.
As such, you should pencil out the exact persona of the people who will join your community. If you sell tea, for instance, your target audience will, obviously, be people who drink the brew. However, the ones who will likely join your community are those people who are tea enthusiasts and connoisseurs, or those interested in learning about different types of tea, benefits offered by the kind you sell, or even people who want to get into the business of selling tea as well.

Outline what members will want from you

Having identified your ideal community member, it will be easier to determine what they want from you. For example, if your brand will be catering to people interested in selling tea and tea products, they may want information on the various kinds of tea, their revenue potential, valuable by-products that they can create from tea, or even how to market it.

Determine the community platform you want to use

Starting a Facebook group is one of the main ways people start online communities nowadays, but it is not always the best option. Your community platform should depend on the amount of people you want to engage, the type of discussions you want to incorporate, how easy it will be for people to join, and whether it will be a free community or require a fee to join.
If you are expecting only a few dozen people to make up your community, a group chat on Telegram, WhatsApp, or other messaging app will probably me more appropriate. For a much larger community with hundreds or thousands of people, starting a subreddit or Facebook group will likely be a better fit.
If you want to have more control over the running of the community, setting up your own forum or website might be more suitable. Yet another option — if you aren’t ready to build a website or start a group as yet, but want people to notice and partake in your community — would be to start a hashtag related to your brand and/or product.

Develop relevant rules

Every community has its rules and guidelines to ensure members use it in the right way. Some communities, for example, have certain criteria an individual has to meet before they are allowed to join. In addition, some restrict the use of profanity, self-promotion, or sharing content unrelated to the purpose of the community. Focus on the reason you are creating the community, and the kinds of people who will be in it, in order to create rules that will be relevant.

Assign community roles

Who will have the task of moderating content (user-generated or otherwise) that gets shared in the community? Who will decide on whether an applicant is allowed to join or gets rejected? Who will respond to queries posted by members? Depending on how your community will be set up and the amount of people who will be in it, you will likely need to have people, including managers, moderators, and influencers who will assist in its running. As with any organization, having dedicated roles in a community helps to eliminate confusion and ensures rules are being followed, all the while maintaining your brand’s values and identity.

Start building your community

You have identified your ideal community member, developed rules, chosen a suitable platform, and assigned roles for people who will run it. It is now time to get your community off the ground. This can take a number of routes, depending on the type of community you have decided to create. It can be buying a domain for your community website, creating and naming the group on Facebook, setting up your space on an existing forum, or even launching a group on Telegram. It may also involve having a signup box, captcha, a spam control mechanism, pre-authorization questionnaire, etc. Be sure to also include a logo or other branding marks that make it easy for people to identify your community and what it is about.

Share your community

If one of your goals is to continuously grow your community, you will want as many people to learn about it as possible. This can only happen if the word is being spread about the existence of your community and reasons why it is worth joining. This can be done in a number of ways, such as:
  • Inviting people who fit the community member profile to join
  • Asking current members to refer people in their circle
  • Letting your audience know about it and the perks of joining
  • Forming partnerships with relevant influencers
  • Advertising
Following the above steps can help you to start building a successful community from scratch, even if your business is new.
Many companies, both large and small, are concerned with the topic of community building these days. That’s because the benefits of starting a community have proven to be quite far-reaching. From reducing a company’s advertising budget to being avenues for valuable consumer insight and research, creating a community seems to be a no-brainer for any business.

How to Grow an Existing Community

How to grow/expand an existing community
Starting up a community is one thing. It involves choosing a suitable platform, inviting some people to join, and assigning someone to manage how the group is run. After that, you can just sit back and watch the community grow organically while reaping the benefits, right?
Not quite. Building a community that consistently grows or expands requires much effort and a strategic approach. This is especially true if you plan to reap any benefits for your brand. For one, a well-run online community that keeps growing can significantly increase brand loyalty among customers, according to 58% of respondents in a recent survey.
Other reasons why you may want to keep expanding your community include improving the customer experience, getting customer feedback for future product development, and boosting traffic to your website. These and other benefits can determine how prosperous your business becomes and whether it survives in your industry. But how do you go about ensuring your existing community continues to grow? Below are seven growth strategies to put into practice.

Assign skilled managers

The growth of an online community is often linked to how well it is being managed. A community manager’s role encompasses everything related to how members use the community and interact with each other. They should have strong abilities in the department of interacting with different kinds of people while ensuring the core values of the brand are being communicated. Building and maintaining relationships, as well as ensuring guidelines are being followed also fall under the community manager’s umbrella. Excelling in this role requires someone who is not only knowledgeable about what it entails, but also passionate and proactive.

Pay attention to your branding

Whether you are using a community feature on a social platform or built your own community website from scratch, the look and feel should adequately represent your brand. When moving between your website, social pages, and your community platform, you want the experience to be seamless for users, so they don’t feel as if they have entered a space that is foreign to your brand. After all, brand identity is important if you want to keep top of mind with your audience and is essential in reinforcing brand value.

Actively encourage discussions

Compared to audience members, people who join your community do so for a more personalized experience. They want the opportunity to air their views and get feedback on topics of interest they share with other people and your brand. This can only happen if discussions are being actively encouraged on a regular basis. You can do this in several ways, starting with the launch of a newsletter that covers topics important to members. In terms of daily interaction, try raising questions about subjects that are of great concern to members, share valuable content, ask people to give their opinion on related current events, news, and new features/products you might be working on.
Vibrant discussions provide an outlet for people in your community that can help them to feel more comfortable and willing to support your business, and possibly even go on to invite people in their circle to join your community. On the flip side, encouraging dialog among members allows you to better understand what your target customers are really looking for from your brand and how you can provide it.

Identify influencers and brand advocates

In any group, there are those who become super users; people who are quick to take part and influence how others interact. Once you notice who these people are in your community, you can engage them to help drive conversation and even become brand advocates. For example, you can have influential community members do reviews, share videos of themselves using your products, or even make product recommendations. You may need to provide incentives to users who are interested in helping to promote your community. This should be carefully considered in terms of your current budget and expected gains.

Set clear guidelines and enforce the rules

While you want community members to have free rein in airing their views and taking part in discussions, you want to make sure the community is being used for its intended purpose. You also want to make sure there is no space for toxicity to thrive. Any form of misuse or abuse can lead to the community losing its main purpose and can even drive away some members. This is why you need to establish clear rules and guidelines from the get go.
For example, you should let people know what type of content they can share and what is not tolerated, whether self-promotion is allowed or not, and what is expected when interacting with other members. In addition to laying out the guidelines, indicate what the penalties are for violating them. Finally, your community manager and/or moderator should be empowered with the necessary tools and features in order to properly enforce the rules in a timely manner.

Show value

People don’t join communities just because it sounds like a cool thing to do. They get on board because they believe there is some perceived value to be obtained. Maybe they joined to learn more about your products and services. Or they relish the opportunity to be a part of meaningful discussions related to a mutual topic associated with your brand. Whatever the case, members will only stick around if they feel they are getting something in return. That means you need to be adding value to the community at all times. How do you do that? By being helpful.
  • Share useful information and tips community members can use.
  • Offer discounts and incentives whenever possible.
  • Be prompt in responding to questions and concerns.
  • Encourage members to share their views and ideas.
  • Remind users that you value their participation in your community and that you are available to guide them on their journey as members.
  • Show that your community is a safe space for people with like minds and establish a culture that promotes inclusiveness.
When members see the value in your community, they are more likely to keep coming back and sharing in discussions, and may even invite people around them to join as well.

Keep an eye on community analytics

Some online community platforms allow you to keep track of how people are using your community. If you are using your own website solution as a community base, a web analytics tool such as Google Analytics can prove helpful as well. Either way, keeping abreast of membership numbers, demographics, content reach, interactions, etc. can allow you to better understand how people are using your community. By looking at and interpreting the data, it will also be easier to identify what people really expect to gain from the community, which can inform your actions going forward.
Members will only stick around if they feel they are getting something in return. That means you need to be adding value to the community at all times.

How to Keep Your Online Community Members Engaged

Online community discussions
Starting an online community is a great move for any organization looking to get closer to their customer base and increase brand awareness. More than 75% of brands who have set up communities believe it improves their marketing efforts, according to at least one study. An online community can also boost customer loyalty while driving down the cost of advertisement, which is important for any business interested in long term growth.
But keeping members engaged is one of the main challenges for any brand that decides to build and grow an online community. As such, you are likely to have questions of your own about interacting with users if you are trying to build a vibrant community for your brand. For starters, it takes much dedication and care to ensure people feel justified about joining your group. To help you with this part of the equation, here are some tips.

Get to know the members

It is hard to interact well with people you do not know and who know nothing about you. You can invite new members to introduce themselves upon joining your community, sharing just the basics such as what they do for a living and their interests. In a community for musicians, for example, new members might receive an automated prompt to share basic information about themselves, such as their profession (singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, etc.), what styles of music they are into, and achievements they are proud of. This can serve as a possible ice breaker for newbies, as well as create an opportunity for current members to welcome them to the community.

Share useful content

Having invested their time in joining your community, members want something of value in return. One thing you can do to add value to their community experience is to share content they can use. This includes blog posts, articles, guides, and other informative content relating to your offerings. A weekly newsletter consisting of a roundup of important updates and engaging stories is also a good idea for any community. Sharing valuable content not only contributes to members becoming more knowledgeable and empowered, but also helps to enrich and encourage discussions that take place within the group.
To ensure there is a constant flow of useful content, you can create a content schedule. Observing theme days (such as Motivation Mondays, Self-help Saturdays, etc.) is something you can think about as it lets members know what to look forward to each day. If you do not have enough content to fill a weekly schedule, consider sharing from external sources. In fact, you should share external information whether you have enough content or not. This will let people know that your community is not just about promoting your business but really about helping them.

Check in regularly

Sharing valuable content is great and all, but members also want to hear directly from you. Whether you are an individual entrepreneur or managing a community for a large brand, it is important that you check in from time to time. Depending on your workload, it is probably not possible to interact with community members every day. But checking in a few times weekly to say hi, share an interesting thought, ask for feedback, and/or respond to questions can make a huge difference. Giving the impression that you are accessible and willing to engage will help to make members feel more comfortable about being in your community and they may even look forward to you coming online to chat with them.

Include video in your content mix

Due to demands on time, running online communities often involves a lot of automation, including automated welcome messages, canned responses, and scheduled posts. While checking in occasionally is a helpful change of pace, you want to ensure people know that there are real humans running the community. Including video in your content mix is a viable solution that can also help to skyrocket engagement within your community while helping to build trust. You can either use pre-recorded videos of yourself, host a Google hangout or video chat, or conduct live streams that community members can participate in. If you run a Facebook group, you also have the option of starting watch parties with members. Whatever option you choose for video content, it will allow people to see you being you on camera, and even help them feel special that you took time out of your busy schedule to share screen time with them.

Have member spotlights

Finding ways to highlight individual members can also help to farm engagement in your community. This can be based on certain achievements or a specific member profile that has been pre-determined. In a community focused on teaching web development, for instance, each month you can put the spotlight on a member who has managed to achieve mastery in a particular web development language. Other criteria that can be used to select members for special recognition include:
  • Top contributors
  • Most engaged
  • Expertise
  • Most influential
  • Most improved

Reach out to the disengaged

There are members who simply won’t partake in community activities, for whatever reason. The 90–9–1 participation rule suggests that up to 90% of community members can fall in this category. Whether this is true for you or not, attempting to engage those considered as “lurkers” can help to increase overall engagement in your community. This involves looking at community analytics to determine user participation in the first place and then designing a re-engagement strategy to reach those who rarely engage or are mostly absent. You may need to try a variety of tactics, including:
  • Sending emails inviting absentees to come back
  • Introducing new types of content in your mix
  • Directing posts to “silent” members asking what would make them participate more
  • Segmenting members into smaller discussion groups within the community
It should be noted that your best efforts are unlikely to bring about 100% engagement at any given time. However, devoting some time to the disengaged, even once per month, will help to pull even a few lurkers to become more active, which can make a big difference.

Ask for feedback

A great way to keep online community members engaged is to ask them for their personal views. A well-structured poll/thread on a sensitive topic can drive discussion for days, weeks, or even months. The same applies if you ask for feedback on a current event topic relating to your industry, throw out a new product idea for critique, or pose a triggering question. Whatever the case, getting the opinions and viewpoints of group members allows you to get insight on what is important to your community members. The feedback received can even be used to influence business decisions going forward.
Extracting the perceived benefits from your online community depends on how well you engage community members. Used correctly, the above tips can prove to be helpful.

How to Manage an Online Community

Community management is the process of building an authentic community among a business’s customers, employees, and partners through various types of interaction. It’s how a brand uses opportunities (in person and online) to interact with their audience to create a network in which they can connect, share, and grow.

Community management

the process of building an authentic community among a business’s customers, employees, and partners through various types of interaction.
One of the easiest and most efficient ways to build a relationship with readers, customers, and peers in your field is to create and maintain an online community.
However, a flourishing community doesn’t just grow overnight. As a community manager, you have to set metrics, monitor conversations, and organize the data you’re receiving, all of which helps you run and grow a successful brand community.
Management of an online community

Drive engagement with gamification, activation & super users

As we mentioned earlier in this guide, successful communities should immediately begin producing results, and there are three elements contributing to those results: content, traffic, and activation.
Too many community managers fail to grasp the reasons that users initially join self-service communities. Believe it or not, your average Joe is not registering out of a burning desire to give back to other people or volunteer their precious free time answering ‘noob’ product questions. They’re signing up because they have a need of their own.
One of the ways community managers can go about activating such users and transforming them into active, engaged community members is via a strategic notification email strategy.
Traditionally, the default text of community notification emails tends to be rather formal. In the interest of engagement (and keeping things light!) think about what tone of voice you’d like your community to have (whilst complying with any brand guidelines, of course) and adjust your notification emails accordingly.
You can see that stamping your brand on your notifications has the ability to create a much more personal touch. While email templates should reflect your brand, so too should your community. Find a platform that allows you to fully integrate your community into your website while seamlessly customizing it to match your brand. Not only will this improve the user experience, it will make people feel more welcome and loyal to your brand.

Identify a purpose

A community, like a business, needs a mission statement and a reason for being. A community for the sake of having one is a recipe for failure. Like all businesses, communities need to serve a purpose and solve a problem.
Before you even get started doing the work to identify your online community, get very clear about why you’re even in business in the first place. Why do you matter? What are your values? What do you have to offer? How are you unique? Why should your customers care?  You’re going to build online community by being a great brand and providing something of value. But you’re also going to build community by identifying and attracting the right group of people.
Ask yourself what type of community you want to build. Who do you want in your audience?  Ideally, your community will be an audience of people who have chosen to be part of what you’re doing. Whether you’re acting as an individual or a brand, when you’re building followers, you’re building relationships. It’s not that every member of your community needs to engage or participate regularly (they won’t) but you want this group of people to care about what you do and what you stand for. You need to have some common ground. Communities that thrive aren’t just in it for themselves. They don’t just self-promote and talk at their customers all day long. In real life, nobody wants to be around those people and that doesn’t change just because you’re hanging out online.
What kind of people do you want to be around in the real world? People who provide valuable and relevant information. People who welcome feedback (good and bad). People who listen. When you’re building a community (whether virtual or otherwise), you’re looking for live humans who, in some sense of the word, contribute to the conversation and the process. Thriving communities are full of people who want and who choose to be there. You can’t just gather a bunch of numbers to make up a ginormous group of followers and call it a community.
As in real life, you may not be able to hand-select every single person who belongs to your community. That said, you most certainly can be very clear about what you stand for so that your community is a match for your values. That way, as you build a community around your brand, it is a direct reflection of who you are and what you believe as a company.

Establish community rules and guidelines

What’s off limits in your community?
Start with obvious violations, which likely include things like hate speech, violent threats, and malicious trolling. You’ll also need to set rules for things like self-promotional posts, promoting competing businesses, and copyright violations.
From there, clarify if you’ll be monitoring things like profanity, off-color jokes or comments, discussions of drugs or alcohol, general meanness, TV spoilers, etc.
Some of these violation categories will prove more subjective than others. Also, if your community includes folks from all over the world, you may encounter wildly different perspectives on what constitutes internet rudeness.
This is where your power — and responsibility — as a community manager lies.
You’re in a unique position to uphold your brand’s values while also nurturing other perspectives. Remember: How you respond to community kerfuffles will inform who sticks around and why.

Keep that code of conduct visible

Your community members won’t go digging for a code of conduct. Whether your guidelines live in a pinned post or on a welcome page, make them easy to locate, if not the first thing a new user sees. If your community is invite-only, consider delivering the code of conduct to new members alongside a welcome message.
Your written guidelines don’t have to sound like they’re coming from a mean substitute teacher, either. Revisit your brand voice guidelines, and let those shine through in your code of conduct.

Make it easy to report abuse

Your community members won’t go digging for a code of conduct. Whether your guidelines live in a pinned post or on a welcome page, make them easy to locate, if not the first thing a new user sees. If your community is invite-only, consider delivering the code of conduct to new members alongside a welcome message.
Choose a timeline for dealing with issues. Will your response time be one hour? 24 hours? If necessary, write yourself a script ahead of time for diffusing conflict or informing members they’ve violated the rules. Having a conflict-averse personality should never stop you from being a swift, diligent enforcer.

Check on your community regularly

Despite having guidelines, there may still be times when you need to remove a comment or address an issue. As such, it’s important that you closely monitor the community seven days a week, unless conversation halts on the weekends.
If you do have to remove a comment, you may consider addressing the group about it, or simply reaching out that person specifically to explain why. When addressing the group, re-share the URL to the guidelines so everyone can get a refresher on what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Understanding typical member categories

I like to think of my members in a few bulk categories to help guide my engagement with them. They are newbies, lurkers, regulars, and leaders.

Newbies

Newbies are the members who most recently joined the group and are still finding their footing. They may introduce themselves on a welcome thread but not jump into asking questions right away. Be sure to welcome new members to your group and give them a question to answer when introducing themselves so they have a clear reason and way to engage right away.

Lurkers

These are the people who join the community and occasionally “like” a discussion but never comment or ask a question of their own. They still may be getting massive value out of the content but it’s hard to tell. Surveys and polls are great ways to engage lurkers because there’s very little pressure and doesn’t call attention to them individually.

Regulars

After some time your group will develop a collection of members who stop by often (a couple of times per week) to engage in discussions. The goal is for them to see your community as the go-to source for getting feedback or getting answers to their questions. They’ll enjoy going to the group and will even get to know each other a bit.

Leaders

The leaders in your community will clearly stand above the rest. They consistently welcome new members, answer questions, and participate in discussions. Leaders often like to be acknowledged for their contributions to the community and will appreciate a shout out or being tagged in a discussion because of their expertise. They’re likely willing to help with a campaign or give you a testimonial as well.
By knowing the member types in your community you can effectively create content that will engage all your members.

Explore new ways to engage your community

In order to have a thriving and vibrant community, it is important to encourage participation by the members. Successful community builders do not build communities for entities that exist in cyberspace, but they create communities keeping in mind that there are real people behind the community handles and that these people have real needs, feelings, emotions, desires, aspirations, etc. It is imperative to understand that people are not alike; they each have their different perceptions and personalities. While encouraging participation, community managers need to keep in mind that not all members in a community will participate in an equal manner. In any community, the participation is as follows:

Using your community to scale customer self-service

Peer-to-peer conversations make online support better and more scalable, and they offer a human touch that the latest ‘cost-reduction’ technologies like bots and AI will always struggle to replicate — at a fraction of the resource cost of customer service conversations.
That’s where the beauty of your online community comes in!
All of your customers combined probably know a lot more about your product than you think  —  and what’s more, many of them are willing to share their expertise. So offer your community as a first line of contact. If the answer is not there, and people start asking, get your in-house experts involved, and have their answers benefit many users well into the future rather than just the one user who is asking right now.
The result? We see that close to 50% of customer support questions can actually be answered by peers easily. For those that can’t, ensure users always have the option to talk with support or CSM. Enabling this mechanism can deflect 25 to 50% of the questions currently hitting your support team.
With a community, you’re not just helping existing users to self-serve. Because community content ranks so highly with Google, a large majority of a community’s traffic typically comes from organic search — usually in the range of 60% to 80%. Prospective customers looking to self-educate can also be helped here.

Mobile responsiveness

Over 50% of people worldwide access the internet from mobile devices or tablets. In the past, websites were designed with only desktop functionality and user experience in mind. However, with the growth of mobile users, it’s become imperative to design websites that are responsive to all design types.
This goes for online communities. For your online community experience to be rewarding to all users, it must be mobile-responsive. The most successful online communities offer a seamless experience for all users.

Case Studies

Smartcat

Smartcat is an all-in-one translation platform that connects professional translators, language companies, and corporate entities. There are more than 2,000 jobs posted weekly. Translators can use Smartcat to manage their projects, while also being a part of the most active language marketplace in the industry. Translators can then invoice projects and receive payments through Smartcat. Smartcat utilizes PeerBoard to host its active online community of translators.

Mom365

The Mom365 community covers topics from getting pregnant to birth, baby development to raising children. In this community, parents help each other with their questions. “Who better to share their advice and opinions than other moms going through the same thing as you?” is the community’s motto. The platform is a smart move for Mom365, who ultimately specializes in baby portraits. By offering their customers (and potential customers) a community to meet and discuss, they become the one-stop-shop for parents.

Gain Grow Retain

Gain Grow Retain is one of the world’s fastest-growing customer success communities, growing to over 3,000 members in just under six months. The founders, Jay Nathan and Jeff Breunsbach, started the community by building a following on LinkedIn. Next, they broke into podcasting, and started collaborative office hours for their members.
So where does the community part come in? Members actually requested an online community to continue discussions — so now, Jay and Jeff try to drive everything back to the community. And they still promote their thriving community on LinkedIn, run a podcast, and collaborative office hours for customer success leaders.

IndieHackers

Indie Hackers is an online community geared towards helping independent entrepreneurs remain profitable. It is a place where founders of profitable startups and owners of successful side projects get to share their stories. At the same time, aspiring entrepreneurs have the opportunity to learn from the experiences shared. Emphasis is placed on “independent” entrepreneurs, which are those business owners earning revenue from customers rather than getting paid through an employer. In addition, the website provides a forum setting where so-called “indie hackers” can share knowledge, explore ideas, and offer support. To date, over 20,000 indie hackers have joined the community, with many working on new digital products and services and/or partnering up with others.

Blogging Guide

Blogging Guide is an online community of writers. All content is crafted to help new bloggers monetize their online writing. Blogging Guide also provides in-depth coverage of all digital publishing platforms, to help writers and marketers stay ahead of the curve. Blogging Guide started as a Medium publication, grew into an award-winning paid Substack newsletter, and now consists of a robust website, with forum software provided by PeerBoard.

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