A Step-By-Step Guide For Building An Engaging Online Community

What Is An Online Community? 

Online community is a group of people associated with a common interest, belief or belonging connected to an online platform. 

They collaborate together at online forums to discuss relevant , interesting topics to the community. 

The idea of an online community is to bring people together with similar interest to help each other in different ways. 

building engaging online community guide

For a small business, the online community is an asset to small businesses to develop relationships with their customers and prospective customers as well. 

Online community helps in amplifying your customer’s reaction on your product and create a family around it to the you

Step-By-Step Guide On Building An Online Community 

How To Build An Online Community Step By Step?

  • Find out the requirements, objectives, goals, and motivations of your online community. For what reasons you are creating this online community in the first place?
  • Find out what your user wants. How you can bring value to your potential customer? What kind of content, engagement, and community can help them?
  • Assign the responsibilities and roles to manage your community
  • Select the kind of platform you need or prefer for your online community depending upon your requirement, type, and potential scale of the community.
  • Start developing your community by laying some ground rules and regulations. Build members’ profiles, create categories and roles. See how you connect the brand to your community.
  • Develop a community engagement plan organizing and automating content, encourage conversations, and better engagement rate in the community.
  • Moderating community engagement and content to ensure a healthy and friendly environment to engage with each other.

Step 1:  Finding Out The Requirements Of Your Organization

Whether you are starting out with your small business or already established one, sooner or later you will address the significance of the online community for your brand.  

And since you are already here, and looking forward to building an engaging online community for your company, you need to assess the motivations behind this call. 

Why do you need to build an online community for your organization in the first place? 

What objectives, goals or motivations are backing your decision here? 

Here are few objectives of potential online community that you can think of : 

  1. It can be a binding glue for various team members, clients or stakeholders to connect at a singular platform.
  2. It can help grow your business targeting a certain existing community by bringing them together online to help each other.
  3. To create a community to give value to your prospective customers along with promoting your brand to targeted markets. 

And, much more. 

Step 2:  Figuring Out The Requirements Of Your Users 

An online community doesn’t only originate from your requirements as an organization but primarily also out of what your user needs. 

Your community should appeal to your targeted users, and should be as helpful and engaging as possible. 

For that, you need to discover the exact needs of your targeted customer or users. 

You can figure out on following queries regarding your users : 

  1. What are your users looking for? 
  2. What kind of content can help them? 
  3. What will ultimately help them more – content, consultation or service? 
  4. How much of your product or service are able to solve the problem? 

And, much more. 

You have to marry your company goals to the value you provide to your users. It is essential to strike the perfect balance. 

Further, you need to see : 

  • Mode/ Platform :How they want or prefer to communicate? What platform will be apt? 
  • Content : What content they want? What kind of content will be valuable for them? 
  • Connection: How do you develop connections amongst community members? 
  • Collaboration: How can these members help each other? 

Step 3 :  Assigning The Stakeholders For This Online Community 

The significance of organization and management for an online community is as essential as of your business. 

So, you need to identify the key roles in this online business community. It needs to have an administration, management, technical and content department. 

So start specifying the job roles for this online community to make it function well for your business as well as for community members or prospective customers. 

Here are few roles that are essential for a flourishing online community :  

  1. Marketing Manager : He/She will manage the content calendar for the online community along with marketing campaigns associated with it as well.
  2. Community Manager:  He/She will be at the administration or management level of the community handling everything related to your community.
  3. Content Creators/ Marketing Associates: They will be creating and curating content for the online community and social media platforms. 

And, there can be certainly more roles depending upon the versatility and scale of your community. 

Step 4: Choosing The Community Platform 

This is about deciding where this online community will thrive, it will be home for your community. 

Well, this starts from the foundation question you must ask “ How many people I aim to grow in this online community?”

This will surely expand over time but you need to have some vision at the beginning. 

If the community is supposed to be very inclusive with around 20-100 members, even a whatsapp group community will suffice and apt. 

The platform very much depends on the scale, nature, type of the community you want to build. 

There are two major type of community platforms to go for : 

Free Community Platforms 

Image Source: Falcon

Various free to sign up social media networks such as Facebook, Reddit etc are some great examples of free community platforms. 

Even messaging platforms like Whatsapp and Telegram prove to be great choices for that matter. 

It is easy, free and quick to create accounts on these platforms, also easy to manage micro-communities here. 

Dedicated Community Platforms 

Image Source: CMNTY

These platforms are dedicated for creating communities where owners will have login and password to access and manage it. 

Here you will have your own website hosting a community where members can join and log-in with their unique credentials. 

Step 5 :  Developing Your Online Community 

This is a long and elaborated process requiring some time to get done with to some extent. 

You have to initially develop your community to a much more mature stage where it can function almost on automation. 

For that, you have to arrange all the moving parts together. 

Here are multiple initiations required in order to setup and develop your online community

Setting up some ground rules 

Start from setting up some ground rules for your online community. There should be some eligibility factor for joining the community as well. 

Some rules and norms must be there for members to agree to abide while joining. 

You also have to clarify, in case of violation of these rules and norms, members can be removed from the group as well. 

For eg. profanity, abusive language etc should be not allowed. 

Building members profile 

Member’s profile should represent your target potential customer or audience. It will be laid out accordingly. 

From the dashboard, member’s avatar, profile and all other sections supposed to be about the niche or industry you are targeting. 

Image Source: Memberhouse

For eg. If you are community members are about solo or budget travelers, the avatar, profile and section could be about : 

  1. In which places they have traveled? 
  2. Their hotel and restaurant recommendations 
  3. Their reviews about places 
  4. Stories or information they want to share 

And, so on 

Focus on asking the right question to your members on the basis of the objectives and purpose of your community. 

You have to think of how you can provide ultimate value to the members. It should be something unique and helpful that they never had earlier. 

It’s essential to keep tracking how they are feeling about the community and whether or how much it is able to help them.

Creating categories & roles 

In order to organize and optimize the community at its best, you need to create various categories for the members to choose. 

These categories, sub-categories, sections help members identify at a more specific level. 

For e.g some communities also categories in the form of their profession type in specific industry. 

It will also help you customize your potential customers in better categorization for selling your product. 

Connecting community to your brand 

The million dollar question is how you align your community with the brand or the products you are selling. 

Whether you have a role-based inclusive business community or engaging interest-based community, the end goal is to make your community an extension of your brand. 

You can start with customizing your community branding identity with your organization. For eg. customizing the logo, color scheme and design matching with your brand colors.

Step 6:  Designing Community Engagement Plan 

The whole point of joining a community for any member is to gain knowledge in that spectrum, connect with other relevant people and even promote their own brand as well. 

An engagement-lacking community is a ‘dead’, and doesn’t really help your brand reaching anywhere. 

Even not directing the engagement of your community towards the right direction leads to misinformed, irrelevant or spammy content engagement. 

So, it becomes crucial to consistently engage with members with the help of creating content and inciting interest within people. 

The best approach is to build or design a community engagement plan or strategy that you go in with. 

Step 7 :  Moderating Your Community Interactions & Engagement 

You need to make sure your community platform is safe, friendly and enjoyable to discuss and engage with others. 

Creating an enthusiastic environment where people feel comfortable to interact, share and learn is essential to make it grow. 

But that isn’t an easy job to do! With more and more users, you will come across some bad apples, trolls, rule breakers and other disturbing agents. 

They can really create troubles for other members, so there you need moderation and management in the community.

Here are few tips on how you moderate your online community :  

  • Introduce the set of rules, regulations and guidelines for the online community and make sure everyone reads and agrees with it before or while joining.
  • Try to find the balance between moderating and controlling interactions to maintain order.
  • Don’t go overboard, and make sure you are not discouraging discussions and conversation in the group.
  • You have to contribute most often to keep the conversation enthusiastic and going in the right direction. Try to keep it fresh and bring new perspectives. 

Some Additional Tips  

Don’t Let Your Brand Awareness Interfere Engagements In Your Community 

It is amongst the topmost mistakes of any new community started by small businesses or any enterprise. 

Apparently, for businesses, it boils down to how you can spread more and more words for your brand. 

And, that’s totally understandable, should be amongst your primary goals as a business owner. 

But you need to remember, success in any online community doesn’t depend upon how fiercely you propose your sales pitch in every conversation, posts and messages. 

Rather it damages the very result you want here. 

So, keep intact the authenticity of your community, and make it a place that really brings value to their members. 

Be generous with intent that you are here to solely help people and not ulterior motives to sell them your product. 

When you just do that, the byproduct of the result here will be much more powerful brand awareness, lead generations and sales as well. 

Allow Your Community Inspire Your Business  

You need to let the community influence your business for the better. 

The community is in fact, essentially are the potential customers you are serving, they represent exactly the kind of audience you are targeting. 

So, over the time, it is bound to happen where you will learn so much insight from your team members regarding your product, approach or anything related to your business. 

You need to be encouraging and receiving from your end to adapt to all those valuable insights that can improve your product and business. 

It is a long-term consistent improvement you will be gaining from the community apart from anything else. 

Celebrate Your Members In The Community More Often 

It is important that you make sure that every member in the community feels registered, heard and comfortable in the community. 

You certainly cannot make everyone feel that way at once. It’s part of the job you will require to do consistently over time. 

Communicate with your community members all the time, treat them well and try to listen to them and resolve their issue at the best you can. 

Celebrate them being part of the community every once in a while. Everyone likes to be noticed, celebrated, and appreciated, so you try to do that more you can.

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