In building any initiative, and certainly in creating an online community, challenges present themselves from the start. How will I attract the members that this community is right for? Or how to properly onboard them in a way that they will be inspired to make active contributions? Which types of content work for my crowd? How can I keep my members active, engaged, motivated, and feeling like they belong? The questions are manyfold, but fortunately require a few key strategies that will impact the overall success your community experiences. Anyone who wants it badly enough, will see that building and running a successful community boils down to a strong will and ability to follow a few critical steps.
It is not without risks, of course, and some experimenting will be necessary and inevitable. But the experimenting in finding what works for your community and how to find their unique voice is a worthy pursuit. With consistency in posting and incentivizing engagement, your members will feel a sense of belonging to the community, will see the value and the purpose in participating, and be inspired to be active.
Attracting New Members
The first step in building a community is attracting new members to give the community traction. Even though this task can seem like a hurdle, sometimes it is just a matter of publicizing in the right places. This might mean cross promoting with other communities or asking your most dedicated members to assist you with this informal recruitment. Also, the stronger your online presence is, the more likely you will be discovered online. Stay diligent in posting and sharing content; even if it seems that engagement is minimal, you never know who is searching for your product or content at a given moment. Sometimes it is just the right post, or story, or repost that will convince someone to go from a casual ‘peruser’ to devoted member. Remember that in order to build a community, you need to convince your members that there is something they can gain from partaking and joining. This is as important in the continuation of your community as it is initially. You want your members to feel as though they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
Onboarding and Assisting New Members
Once you have found members who want to join the community, and who you believe are aligned with the community’s purpose, it is time to officially bring them in. This process, called onboarding, includes making the registration process as simple as possible, sharing information with new members, and generally aiding them as they join the community. It is important to inform members of the community’s values and ideals, as well as the cultural norms of your space. Try and show them early on how valuable their presence is, and encourage them in the small steps like completing a profile data and making their online friends. This way, you can also assist them in engaging with your community’s content and encourage them to share their first content post. When members feel like their voice is genuinely wanted, they will feel more obliged to share their thoughts in a discussion, to comment on a post, and even to create content.
Finding What Works for Your Community
The process of discovering your community is as critical as self-discovery is to a person. Don’t let this daunt you, on the contrary, this process is exciting and rewarding. Any community will have different types of content they respond more to than others, and this can change with time. It is important for this reason to learn about your members, and find what moves them. Inquire about the content they would like to see, and be unafraid to take risks and experiment. Stay on top of the data, so you can see what generates the most buzz. For some communities it will mean staying on top of trending hashtags and posting frequent content on the topic of the moment. Other communities will have members who engage more with discussion posts where they feel compelled to weigh in. Even simpler content such as polls, questionnaires, and reposts, will have varying degrees of success in different communities. Finding your community’s unique identity is complex, but as you progress you will find that the more you experiment with different content, the more it becomes clear what succeeds and what does not.
Maintaining Consistency and Motivation
Once you have the traction and your users are active, your work is not done. As critical to the community as finding new members, is retaining the members you have. Inertia alone does not perpetuate an active community. It is imperative to maintain consistency in your posting, even when you are no longer at the stage of discovering what content works for your community. If you have realized that your members engage most with each others’ content, incentivize their participation and increase their posting. If you have discovered that your members respond well to news stories relevant to your brand, don’t stop searching for those stories. In this case, consistency is key. When your members know that you are consistent, they will come to anticipate your posts, and engagement will increase.
You also want to keep motivating your members to be active participants. You can incentivize them to share content by giving perks to your most diligent members, or community ambassadors, by handing out badges, and even small prizes. Offer your members something that is invaluable by answering their questions immediately and giving them your support and guiding them to create content. Have community events where they can not only receive answers, but also network.
Utilizing Community Moderators and Facilitating a Feeling of Belonging
Fortunately, these tasks are not yours alone to complete; the burden not yours to bear alone. Utilize your community ambassadors, those who show time and time again how dedicated and passionate they are. Have them be moderators; people you can rely on to engage with your content, and propel discussion. Have them form relationships with new members to offer their encouragement. Ask them to start discussions, to also look for and experiment with different types of content. Their ‘rank’ incentivizes them, but so do your words of appreciation. Express to them how grateful you are to rely on them as pillars of your community.
In this same vein, foster a feeling of belonging amongst your members. Recognize your members’ contributions, both publicly and privately, too. Form personal and real relationships with your members. You can also create an initiative that pairs up veteran members with your newest ones. Building a strong and active community will also be a source of pride, and this pride in the community will also result in feelings of belonging.
Although building a successful online community is a difficult task, it is a rewarding one. Remember that investing in a thorough and smooth onboarding process, and even following up about it with members will reward you in the long run. Already, from the moment, you have attracted your new members, show how valuable they are to your community and be quick in your responses to their questions. Encourage them to share content, and be unafraid in your own discovery of the content that works for your community. It requires experimenting and is dynamic, but it will yield a valuable sense of uniqueness and community pride. Similarly, boost the feeling of belonging by utilizing your moderators or community ambassadors. Rely on them to form relationships with new members and to be active in sharing content. Following these key steps will ensure an elevated experience of building and maintaining a community, one from which both you and your members, old and new, will gain.