Building and managing an online community is an excellent way for your business or brand to foster better relationships with its clients. It boosts trust and credibility. Plus, it’s known to offer a considerable return on investment. With a solid online community in place, your business can enjoy more revenue from increased sales, lower support costs, and this platform can help with product innovation.
Have you been thinking about building an online community for your business? First, let no one mislead you that not all businesses are community-friendly. Every enterprise can benefit from an online community irrespective of the niche or industry it’s operating in.
Getting started with building an online community may seem a bit overwhelming. However, things become much simpler once you get the hang of it. In the guide below, we will explain what online communities are, the different types that exist, how to build and manage one, and everything else you need to know about them.
What is an Online Community?
This is an internet-based or virtual community that comprises a group of people who share and interact about a common topic. Online communities are hosted on digital platforms, and the members can be as little as ten and as many as a billion. Unlike social networks, where members can discuss anything, everything revolves around a particular idea in an online community.
Online communities are mainly hosted on social sites such as Facebook. Another excellent platform that best hosts online communities is Reddit. Reddit would have become irrelevant years ago if it were not for online communities.
Initially, these communities were based on friendships and other social bonds. However, the business sector has revolutionized these online communities and use them to build better relationships with their clients. For companies and businesses, online communities help drive engagements with users. They improve brand presence which in turn leads to an increase in revenue.
How to Build an Online Community for Your Business
Don’t let the above benefits of an online community trick you into thinking it’s hard to build one. An online community is one of those simple things that offer a lot of value. Thanks to the widespread use of social media platforms, building an online community has never been easier. Depending on your brand and marketing needs, you can create a basic support website. Alternatively, you can launch a subreddit or open a Facebook group and start building your community from there. It’s not complicated, but it does require dedication.
If you don’t know where to start, here is a comprehensive guide on building a community from scratch.
Identify the Reasons Why Your Brand Wants to Build an Online Community
Do not rush into creating an online community just because other businesses are doing it. If you use this approach, your audiences probably won’t have a reason to join it, and you won’t get a return on investment.
Whether your run your business alone or as a team. Take a step back and evaluate how your business can benefit from an online community. What is your goal? Do you want the community to offer support, or are you campaigning for a particular cause? Once you figure out your goals, then you can get started with building an online community.
Find Out Who is Your Target Audience
As a business, you probably have a big audience. However, not all these people will be interested in your online community. You have to research and find out who will be interested. In this step, you should also figure out how to convince the remaining lot that isn’t interested in joining your online community.
If you sell mattresses, your ideal audience should be those who want to buy a mattress, mattress testers, researchers, and other individuals interested in joining this business. Knowing who is interested in joining your online community can help you personalize it to meet their expectations.
List Down What Your Members Will want from You
People won’t join the online community for a reason. They must benefit in one way or another. If you are creating an online support community, it should offer insight on various related topics. Going back to the example of a mattress business, if you are building an online community, some of the things members may want include personal experiences with the mattresses, advice, and tips on fixing or preventing mattress issues. Your online community won’t grow if you don’t offer members value. Therefore, figure out what members may want from you.
Choose the Ideal Platform to Host Your Online Community
As mentioned earlier, various platforms can host your online community. The ideal platform depends on the number of people you are expecting to join your community and the type of community you wish to create.
If the community is for a few individuals, Whatsapp or telegram are great choices. For a community expecting a more significant population, you can head over to Facebook. Many startups prefer Facebook over other social media apps because it’s group-friendly, and almost everyone owns a Facebook account. The other option if you have a large group is Reddit.
Businesses that would like to have more control of the online community should create a website to serve this purpose. With a website, you can make the community private and design it to promote your objectives.
Set Rules and Regulations
You would be surprised how quickly things can spiral out of control in an online community. You need to lay some ground rules. The number one rule should discuss the requirements needed to be a member. Not everyone on the internet deserves to be in the community. Certain criteria must be used to filter audiences and leave behind only those who use your products or services.
Members should be guided on how to interact on the site. Unless you want your community to be the battlefield for World War III, you should set rules that restrict abusive language, racial comments, discrimination, and sharing of unrelated content.
Organize Members of Your Community
The community can’t run itself. That’s why you should assign roles. The first and most important person in your community is the moderator. They will go through comments and posts and ensure they adhere to the company objectives and community rules.
You need to have a guy who will be accepting new members in the community. Unless anyone is free to join your community, you will need to delegate the duties of accepting or declining member applications. There ought to be an influencer who will initiate discussions or hashtags. They can be in charge of responding to queries. As you build an online community, everyone needs to be aware of their duty. That’s the only way the community will exist in harmony.
You have figured out pretty much everything that you may need to get an online community up and running. What awaits you is turning the idea into reality. Where you should start depends on the type of community you want to create. The first step entails setting up the online community. If you decide to run it on a website, buy a domain and build your website.
The other option is to create a Facebook group and give it a name. The procedure is also the same for platforms like telegram and Whatsapp. Branding is a crucial step when you are building an online community. Ensure that you use company logos and designs.
Market Your Community
For the community to grow, you have to let people know about it. Therefore, start sharing your community once the website is created and functioning or if you have already created a Facebook group.
There are several ways you can market an online community. First, it’s through word of mouth. As customers visit your store, tell them about the community you have created and ask them to join. Share this information on your website, blogs, and social media. In your email marketing campaigns, include that there is an online community available. You can seek the help of influencers if you are having trouble getting members to join. The last option is to advertise.
Irrespective of whether your business is new or old, big or small, starting an online community can put your brand on the path to success. As you have already seen above, running an online community has many benefits. It may require a lot of effort initially, but once you set everything up, you will start reaping all the benefits of your hard work.
Types of Online Communities
Before you build an online community, the most important thing is to familiarize yourself with the different types. Depending on the nature of your business and its objectives, you may lean more towards a particular type of online community.
As you will see, online communities are pretty similar to physical ones. They feature objectives, guidelines, and rules. They can be open to all members of the public or private. Within the community, moderators ensure members adhere to the rules. Influencers are in charge of sparking up conversations. If you want to get the most out of an online community, you must identify which type best suits your business.
There are three main types of online communities.
1. Support Online Communities
This is one of the most popular types of online
communities on the internet. Brands have invested significantly in these
communities since they not only lower support costs but offer tons of valuable
information to clients of a particular business. An online support community
focuses on advice, guidance, and tips about a specific service or product.
Through these communities, customers get assistance and help from other
Support communities have become a must-have for most
businesses. Many clients need help with using products or services.
Alternatively, issues are bound to arise from clients. An online support
community is where clients can get tips on how to use, fix, exchange or even
return a product or service.
Let’s take PayPal online community, for example. PayPal
has got millions of users, and they have one of the best online support
communities. It mainly comprises contributors and clients. In this community,
you will find various topics related to PayPal issues. If a client has a
problem with sending or receiving money, they can go to the community and ask
questions. Active members answer these questions from personal experience, and
the issue can be resolved.
One of the perks of online support communities is that
customers get to hear the opinions of other clients. Many consumers prefer
listening to their peers. This is, therefore, a win-win for everyone.
Businesses, on the other hand, can focus their resources elsewhere. Support
online communities require moderation since certain users can offer misleading
information, which can tarnish brand reputation. As long as your business
offers a particular service or product, a support community can be valuable for your brand.
2. Discussion Online Community
Just from what the name implies, these communities focus
on a particular discussion. This could be about work, education, business, or
any topic of your choice. Discussion online communities are characterized by a
lot of engagement. This is because the members have a lot of interest in that
An online discussion community appeals mostly to brands
that want to improve their relationships with clients. An example of businesses
that can benefit from this community includes educational institutions. Through
online communities, learners can spread information faster. Even though this
online community isn’t as popular as a support community, it can significantly
boost loyalty and trust.
3. Action Online Communities
These communities usually bring together a group of people fighting for the same cause. Action online communities mostly promote various forms of activism. These mostly aim to illuminate issues such as racism, police brutality, climate change, hunger, discrimination, draught, animal cruelty, pollution of the environment, and many more. A recent example of an action online community is the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Even though online action communities seem to suit activists more, businesses can benefit from them. By identifying what your audience cares for, you can start a movement that champions for their rights or demands. For instance, a company selling agricultural produce can create an online community advocating against animal rights. Since most of its audience comprises of vegans, by campaigning against what your customers are against, you can win their loyalty.
When it comes to action online communities, a business can be part of as many as possible. Provided it’s in line with your business operations.
The above are the three main types of online communities. They are, however, further divided into other categories. Knowing all these different types is crucial before you start building one.
Public vs. Branded Online Communities
Public online communities are those that can be accessed by anyone. For instance, communities on Facebook or Twitter only require a user to have a profile for that social media platform. These often don’t have many rules and regulations.
On the other hand, Branded communities require specific credentials for you to access them. For instance, you may have to key in an email address and a password. Branded online communities are private, and if you aren’t a member, you will be denied access.
There are pros and cons of both public and branded online communities. With the public option, you are guaranteed to get many members. On the other hand, branded online communities give you more power to control the agenda of the group.
Free vs. Paid Online Communities
Most of us are used to free online communities. However, there are those whose membership is paid for. Before dismissing either option for another, let us compare them.
- Free online communities tend to have many members since people like free stuff. However, paid communities only have a few dedicated members. Here you have to choose whether you want to go with the majority or a few individuals focused on attaining the group objective.
- Paid communities best suit a group that wants to attain a particular goal. On the other hand, free communities work best for bigger audiences interested in novel topics.
- A free community will expose your brand to a big audience and help you reach many people. A paid community allows you to deepen your relationship with your audiences.
- In a free community, you will have plenty of inactive users. But if it’s paid, you can be guaranteed all users will be active.
For a brand or business that wants to build an online community, please go through the above types carefully. The type of online community that you choose can have a significant impact. For companies managed by a board of directors, it is essential that you make a unanimous decision on which type best fits your brand.
Reasons to Build an Online Community
Companies and businesses wouldn’t be investing in online communities if they didn’t offer value. A couple of years ago, Facebook shifted its focus on Groups. Today, there are millions of active online communities, not just on Facebook but all over the internet. This only proves how meaningful online communities are.
You already know what an online community is and the different types. But do you know what an online community can do for your business? At the moment, you may only have a rough idea of its benefits. Allow us to shed more light on the main reasons you should build an online community.
It Lowers Your Business Expenditure on Advertisements
Any company that is serious with its marketing campaigns usually engages in various forms of advertising. Whether you are advertising on the internet, TV, or print media, this can be quite costly, more so if you are doing it regularly. For startups and already established businesses, advertising can heavily weigh down your finances.
Building and running an online community is quite affordable when compared to advertising. You can gain plenty of leads without having to pay for a single ad. An online community creates interest in your product or service. It also creates awareness and fosters an emotional connection between the brand and its clients. Unlike ads, the element of coercion isn’t present in an online community. As if that’s not enough, it’s more affordable than advertising. If you are tired of spending on ads, you may have better luck with an online community.
It Allows You to Understand Your Clients Better
Every business boasts about knowing what their clients want. However, if you look keenly, there is a lot of information that you aren’t aware of. An online community gives you a chance to interact with all your clients. As a result, you better understand their expectations, values, and needs. With that information in mind, you can personalize your products or services to satisfy their requirements. Remember, a satisfied client will always be loyal to your brand. It’s crucial that you do everything in your power to satisfy them.
In the online community, you can get all the above information. First, you can add surveys where they will give you feedback. Secondly, you can inquire about their opinions about your product or service. Thirdly, depending on how you have built your online community, there is an option where you can evaluate analytics and see the demographics or interests of your audience. This information comes in handy in creating the perfect product for your customers.
Improves Brand Trust and Loyalty
As clients are shopping for a product, they are more likely to trust a brand with an online community than one without. An online community is a safe haven for many consumers. It’s where they go when they are having issues because they know they are most likely to get a solution from there. An online community also gives your customers a sense of belonging.
All these things contribute to one thing – building trust. If you have been in business for long, you can testify how important it is for customers to trust you. If you have many loyal customers, you are guaranteed consistent revenue. This is because trust leads to loyalty. The other thing you need to know is that a loyal customer will always recommend your business to friends and family.
An Online Community Enhances Customer Service
How you serve your customers can make them buy from your business again. Or, it can make you never see them again. Customer service is an integral part of business operation. This is because a customer is most likely to speak about a bad experience than a good one.
Having an online community strengthens your customer service. It creates the ideal environment where clients can answer a wide range of questions. The opportunity to interact with clients away from the website improves your brand’s customer service. It also takes off some workload from the customer department.
Drives More Traffic to Your Website
Because your brand is the main topic of discussion, members of an online community will frequently share your website on the platform. A lot of brands spend years trying to find ways on how to market their websites. This is a free method that can offer lasting results.
As members of your online community share your website or some of your content in the forums, other members will click on these links, and you will notice a spike in web traffic. An increase in web traffic indicates an improvement in the number of conversions.
Another way an online community can boost web traffic is through referrals. If a member shares your website link in the community forums, they may also share it on their social media platforms. They will be referring you to friends and family, which contributes to an increment in web traffic.
An Online Community Can Help with Product Innovation
Who is the best person to tell you how you can improve your product, other than the one using it? Your clients are the end-users of a service or product. They, therefore, know it better. The advantage of having an online forum is that they will tell you what they hate, love, and changes they would like to see in a product. As an intelligent business owner, you should use their feedback to innovate your products.
It Increases Engagement
A business can’t succeed without engaging its customers. That’s why many brands nowadays have blogs. As helpful as blogs are, you can increase engagement by creating an online community. Your customers can comment about your products, services, issues they face, and many more. This engagement goes a long way in creating bonds.
What is the Difference between a Community and an Audience?
Before we look at other aspects of building an online community, some people confuse this with an audience. From a general point of view, an audience and an online community may look like the same thing. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and we will help you differentiate between the two.
An audience comprises people who you think are your target customers. These are individuals attracted through methods such as email subscriptions or social media interactions. On the other hand, a community entails a group of people that have interacted with your brand. Mainly these include customers or people who have a particular interest in your business. It’s easier to win over people in an online community than those from your audience. Since with the latter, you are unsure about what they want. An online community makes it easier for you to target and convert people into potential clients.
What Makes a Good Online Community?
Building an online community is the easy part. On the other hand, growing it is where things get messy. There are certain characteristics that make an online community thrive. They include;
A Good Online Community is one that;
Celebrates Its Members
On your end, an online community will boost brand awareness and improve your relationship with customers. But what do the members get in return? Your online community should make the members feel special. This entails celebrating their achievements. If a member performs outstandingly in a challenge, participates in most discussions, or refers most new members, celebrate them. You can do this by sending them gifts, coupons or free products. Celebrating members boosts engagements and participation.
Encourages User Generated Content
There is nothing that online community members love more than content written by real people. This is what we are referring to as user-generated content. Your online community influencer should create an environment that encourages user-generated content creation. This will keep members active and happier.
Mobile phones have become the go-to devices for internet users. This applies to online communities hosted on websites. It would be best if your site is optimized for mobile use. Your members should enjoy a smooth experience when accessing your community through mobile phones.
Incorporates Participation Features
This includes forums, sections where members can vote, send comments or submit ideas. Your online community should allow members to express themselves in a wide range of ways.
An analysis is a critical component in running an online community. It shows you how many new members you are getting in a day, which members are more active, and other helpful information. By tracking the online community, you can gauge its performance and whether it meets your objectives.
Supports a Wide Range of Content
Comments alone aren’t enough to spark engagement. The best online community should allow members to post photos, videos and even share links. The more options available, the better members will express themselves.
Adhere to Rules and Regulations
Rules exist for a reason, and your moderator should enforce these rules. The use of profanity or abusive words should result in a ban. Members should communicate politely. Enforcing rules ensures law and order. Do not spare members that are interfering with discussions.
How to Grow Your Online Community
Building an online community is the first step. The next thing you have to do is to nurture it. That’s how your community will grow bigger. Educating you on how to build an online community isn’t enough. That’s why we are including a section on how to make it grow. These tips will help you expand your community, get more feedback, boost web traffic, and, most importantly, innovate your product or service.
Hire Skilled Community Managers, Moderators, and Influencers
Unless you have superpowers, you will need help running an online community. We aren’t talking about any help you can get your hands on but professional assistance. It pays off if you hire skilled and experienced community managers, moderators, and influencers. These are the guys who will ensure the community is active and rules are being followed.
Always Integrate Your Brand into the community
It’s essential that you don’t drift away from your main objective, which is to promote your brand. As your clients move from the online community to your website or social media pages, one thing that has to be consistent is the branding. At all times, the community should promote your brand.
Regularly Sponsor Discussions and Engagements
An online community is all about engagements and discussions. There should always be a topic actively being discussed in your community. It should be related to your business or niche. This is the only way to ensure your members don’t lose interest. Your influencer should frequently raise questions, ask for opinions on various matters or create challenges. They should do whatever it takes to encourage engagements.
Partner with Active Users
In any online community, some people participate more than others. You should bring these guys to your side. Some brands even turn active users into brand advocates. These guys can help engage other members. To retain active users, you may have to offer them incentives.
Re-evaluate Your Terms and Conditions
Rules are constantly changing, and as your community grows, you may have to develop new terms or revise the old ones. As you re-evaluate terms and conditions, you must be very strict with specific policies. Members who come off as toxic to others should be weeded out of the community. Within the community, there needs to be a section that discusses the terms of the community.
Always Show the Value of Your Community
People don’t just join communities for fun. They do it to gain value. This is why you and your team should work around the clock to show the value of the online community. As you share valuable tips and advice, members should remain engaged and active. Occasionally, you can throw in a few incentives and discounts to spice things up.
What is the Best Online Community Website Builders?
We understand why you may want to build an online community website. Platforms such as Facebook may limit certain actions, which can hinder how you operate or run your online community. There are two ways on how you can build an online community website. First, you can hire a web developer and designer to create one for you. If you have coding skills, you can do it yourself. The other option entails using website builders. These are tools that don’t require technical skills. They are very popular amongst online entrepreneurs. If you don’t have the funds to hire a web developer, here are the most popular online community website builders;
This is the go-to choice for anyone interested in creating a website quickly. This online community website builder will get your site up and running in just a couple of hours. Wix is very easy to use. It features an AI known as ADI, which offers valuable assistance.
There are very few website builders that specialize in online communities. Well, Ning is one of them. With this software, you can create your own social media platform where your members can share information, chat, answer questions, and much more. This advanced content management system allows you to integrate many functions into your online community.
This is one of the most powerful open source social networking engines. You can use it to create an online community for your institution, organization, or business. Elgg offers many features, and you can create an exceptional online community using it.
We love this software because it can convert any WordPress page into an online community. If you aren’t very tech-savvy, this is the ideal online community website builder for you. It can help you create user groups, member profiles and even add private messaging.
Remember when we talked about the importance of creating a mobile-friendly online community. This builder can help you achieve the above and much more. This builder doesn’t need any coding experience, and it’s packed with many features.
Examples of Successful Online Communities
To prove that online communities work, we scoured the internet to bring you some of the most successful online communities. Hopefully, they will inspire you to build yours right away.
The goal of this community is quite straightforward. It’s about taking care of children from when a mother is pregnant until they turn into adults. This community is quite popular because members get first-hand advice from mothers. The idea was very creative, and Mom365 has achieved a lot from this community.
The purpose of this community was to promote their language courses. With the help of members of this community, Duolingo was able to boost its brand visibility to an international level.
Foursquare Idea Community
This community witnessed a boost in members from 200,000 to 8 million members in a year. The idea to create a community for Foursquare started when the users of this app began editing content from their end. This company saw this as an opportunity to innovate the app by getting user feedback. The online community significantly helped them with that.
Getting more than a thousand posts every day, this is one of the most active online communities. Teachers can gain insight into both work and life issues.
This online community is an example that shows one community can cater to two different audiences. It brings together both models and photographers. For years, these two professionals have been in a cat and mouse game of looking for one another. This community was created to cater to this particular need.
How Do I Keep Online Community Members Engaged?
After creating an online community, you may think that you have succeeded. After a while, however, you may notice a drop in engagements and interactions. This is bound to happen at one point. But, for the community to keep growing, you must keep the members engaged. How do I do that? Use the techniques below.
- Find a purpose for the community. We spend years looking for our purpose in life. Well, you now have to find the purpose of your online community as well. Does your community exist to offer support, knowledge, or bring you closer to clients? Once you answer this question, you will never run out of ideas to keep the community engaged.
- Don’t just set rules. Enforce them. You may wonder what do laws have to do with keeping members engaged? Well, if your online forum is full of trolls, threats, and abuse, no one will participate. Prevent that from happening by enforcing rules.
- Regularly analyze the performance of your online community. This will help you track what’s working and what isn’t.
- Segment your members into groups. This will help you know how to encourage them to engage. For instance, once you identify the active users, you can celebrate them with incentives. This will encourage the lurkers to speak out.
- Make your site mobile responsive. This is the second time we are discussing about making an online community mobile responsive. Most of your members will access the site through their mobile phones. They can only engage with others if the site offers a smooth experience.
An online community has the potential to turn into a powerful marketing channel. You need to have a purpose, goals, and the dedication to build and grow one. From the above comprehensive guide, you should build a thriving online community from scratch.