How to Build an Online Community That People Actually Want to Join

Regardless of how diverse humans are, one thing is clear: we’re all social creatures. This desire for interpersonal connection is compelling, and it’s what makes communities — online or in-person — a powerful force in the world.

Harnessing the power of community to build your business or brand takes time and effort. But when done right, this effort will provide impressive benefits.

When the value is present, people will join and stay. Adding that value is where challenge and opportunity intersect, creating exciting possibilities for businesses and brands.

Discover the value for your business

Gain knowledge from the other side

Interfacing with clients outside of a typical customer-service lifecycle is one of the biggest values added for any business cultivating an online community. You’ll be able to discover unique opportunities and implementations that community members have enjoyed, learning more about your business than you could ever learn from your own internal perspective. You can build on this knowledge by sharing tips and workarounds with users through your online community, and use community members’ feedback to improve tools and processes as needs arise.

For example, do you build software? Ask members to share feedback on new features to quickly learn what’s working and what’s not. Are you an influencer? Share your posts with community members first to see what points you might need to refine or clarify. Do you provide products or services to other business? Let your members be the first to know about new offers and hear how you could sweeten the deal or what pushback you might receive from clients.

Build your reputation

Having a group of members speak about your work and the value you’ve added to their lives is imperative. In today’s “fake news” culture, the power of peer reviews has only deepened as consumers search for an authentic understanding of what your business can do for them. Research indicates that people regularly read online reviews to learn about companies before doing anything else. By establishing an online community, you can keep your fingers on the pulse of those you serve. You can also encourage members to share their experiences with others by inviting them to be a part of case studies, provide quotes for your website, or post their experience on review sites, like Yelp.com. An online community gives you the relational space needed to post invitations for providing meaningful feedback and reviews.

Ensure value for the community

Perhaps it seems obvious, but it’s easy to overlook — your community must provide value to its members. This is crucial.

Plan ahead and determine what members will gain from being a part of your community. They’re going to be investing time, knowledge, and maybe even talent. What will they get in return? Will they be privy to member-only webinars? Will they be the first to gain access to new software features? Will they receive insider information or get news before others? WIll they be able to influence the development of your company’s product or contribute to molding a central component to what your business does?

Whatever value you choose to provide, be sure you clearly identify and communicate membership rewards to recruit, keep, and thank those who choose to be a part of your community.

Create a plan to build an online community

Understanding the value of building an online community is a first step. But you may be asking: where do you start? The first action item is to create a plan that encompasses an objective, target audience, guidelines, and the proper platform.

Identify the objective

First and foremost, you have to identify the purpose of your online community. Is it to provide technical or customer support? To allow members who follow a specific passion to connect around ideas and resources?

Make sure you have a clear objective for your community to make it more enjoyable for new members. They’ll quickly be able to qualify what value the community will bring them. A clear community objective will also allow members to gage what to share and what not to share, creating more valuable member-generated content for everyone.

Identify the community

Hand-in-hand with determining the objective of the group is identifying who should be a part of it. Which stakeholders should be involved? Is the group open to those considering your business products and services, or is it for clients only? Are you interested in creating a community of people or clients who share interests and values, or do you want your community to be completely product-focused?

Determining who your community members will be is essential when ensuring you’re building a community that members will find meaningful and engaging.

Create guidelines

While some guidelines may come and go in the life of the community, establishing a set of values for the community up front is key. Are you interested in gathering feedback? Make it clear, and explain the best way for members to provide it. Do you want users to help answer questions for other users? Encourage it! Will you prohibit certain activities or posts? Then make sure these are clearly outlined to decrease negative community interactions.

Find a platform

An online community brings with it challenges for group communication and organization. Addressing these challenges with the right tools will be the foundation to making your online community a success.

Keep in mind that in today’s world, privacy is a key concern. Don’t trade security for community. While some platforms, such as Facebook, create a space for setting up free online communities, the risks for users often outweigh the benefits. Search for safe alternatives, such as Unison.io, which exists to provide more private solutions for creating an online community that everyone can enjoy.

Adapt constantly

Once you’ve launched your group, be open to growth and change. Subgroups may begin to organically emerge or the need for updated guidelines may become evident. Be willing to stay flexible. This is vital to keeping your online community alive in a rapidly changing digital landscape. Listen to your members and follow their lead. Remember that although there are plenty of benefits for your business and brand, an online community should ultimately provide value to the members and give them a space to enjoy a deeper connection with your brand.