Communities are powerful, and the internet has facilitated ease in community creation more than any other technology. No longer do we have to be in the same neighborhood as someone to connect; we can be all over the world, in different time zones,
No matter your interest, you can find online communities out there dedicated to it, from obscure television shows to old technology and other niche interests.
Have you ever stopped to wonder where these online communities come from? More so, how you can engage in online community building?
That’s what we’ll explore today, so buckle in and get ready to learn the fundamentals of creating your online community.
How to Build an Online Community in 6 Steps
Jumping right into the basics of creating online communities, here’s how you can start yours.
Step 1 – Determine Purpose and Identity
What do you hope to gain by building an online community? Is it more recognition and clout? If that’s all there is to it, you have many ways to get that, such as through social media marketing or advertising.
The answer should be something like unifying people over a common interest. Perhaps you want your online community to provide information and resources, such as for people looking for a job or those new to a career who want to grow.
Your online community will have a limited reach without thoroughly understanding its identity.
Step 2 – Choose Your Platform
Online community building requires the right platform. Just as you scoured high and low for the best platform to sell your online courses, you should dedicate as much time to finding a platform for your community.
While you can always rely on preexisting online community platforms like Facebook Groups or LinkedIn Groups, you can also create your own forum on any online hosting service.
Platforms like Discourse, Circle, Disciple, Discord, Mighty Networks, Hivebrite, and Thinkific have also proven themselves as viable options.
There are a few pointers to keep in mind when selecting a community platform. For starters, does it fit into your budget? Some platforms, like Facebook Groups, are available for free, but you can only communicate with those who have Facebook profiles.
Other services, like Discord, don’t charge and are more inclusive, although community members must still have an account to join and participate.
The next consideration is accessibility. You can more easily sway members to join a well-known platform than a small one they’re unfamiliar with.
The final consideration is the most important, and that’s scalability. Your online community is small now, but it won’t be forever. What happens when you have 500 members? 1,000? 5,000? Can your platform support that many members, or would you be forced to switch?
If you have to change platforms as your community grows, you risk losing some members forever as the community fractures during the migration.
Step 3 – Build Members
There’s a framework known as the Social Identity Cycle that suggests the only way for a community to succeed is by community and member values aligning, members having many ways to participate (and the encouragement to do so), and some form of reward for engaging.
That doesn’t have to be a cash reward. Participating can be the reward in and of itself, but building community ties is its own form of reward.
Bearing all that in mind, now that you have your community identity sorted, the next step in how to build an online community is to find members.
The members you select should connect with your community in some way. For example, if you start a community board for job seekers, you might have several job experts involved who can facilitate positive change.
Once you’ve identified a handful of members, invite them to your new community. Don’t provide empty promises; only offer them what you know you can realistically do.
You might not get members to join you for the first go-around, so have some backup names, and then more backup names after that.
Step 4 – Gain Trust
As you get a core group of at least 10 members to start, you next have to build and maintain their trust.
This isn’t an overnight process, so be patient.
Think of matters from the perspective of your initial members. They’re maybe not investing anything more than their time, but time is precious. It’s money. Wasted time hurts because you can’t get it back, so they want to be sure they’re hitching their wagon to a star that has a chance of success.
If this is your first time creating online communities, it’s harder to earn that trust because you don’t have a track record. That’s why tapping into a community of parties you already know and perhaps have worked with is best.
For example, you can reach out to your most loyal customers and suggest they join your community.
If you’ve engaged in online community building before, it’s easier to build trust, as you can showcase your record of success and use it to onboard new members.
Even once you gain a member’s trust, that doesn’t automatically translate to posting more. It’s tough to get the ball rolling on a new online community. People aren’t sure what to talk about, or they might feel shy about starting the first thread or post ever.
As the one building community online, you might open some threads or start some posts to get people talking. Alternatively, you can privately communicate with some of your members to ask them to start or respond to a post.
It might feel awkward and a bit like pulling teeth at first, but the early days of a community typically play out just like this. Once more people begin joining and you gain your footing, the communication will happen without your involvement.
Step 5 – Make the Rewards Apparent
You promised a rewards system when you invited members to your community; now it’s time to deliver. This is why you should always keep your promises realistic and attainable. Otherwise, you will alienate your community, destroy what little trust they had, and fracture the group.
Keep the rewards simple, such as gaining more knowledge or building connections. As your online community members begin posting and interacting more, they will realize those benefits, just as you promised.
Step 6 – Continue Building
How to build an online community? Well, it never exactly stops, does it? Even when you have a good member base, you shouldn’t stop aspiring to onboard new members.
So, how do you increase your numbers? Here are some strategies to utilize:
- Use free and paid marketing measures to spread awareness of your online community.
- Post on social media, drawing attention to your new community.
- Share insights on Quora and LinkedIn to draw attention to the community website.
- Start a referral system, where long-time members recommend others they believe would be a good fit for the membership. They should receive a special reward for helping, such as a freebie or discount code.
- Write a blog post about your new community and cross-post it across social media and email.
Why Is Online Community Building Important?
You know how to build an online community, but why do it? It takes great time and expense but pays back dividends in these ways.
Those early days when you’re building trust with your first members notwithstanding, creating an online community is an excellent way to foster more trust in your brand or business. Leads will see a bustling community full of unique, varied voices sharing their thoughts and opinions.
Members wouldn’t be able to talk freely if your products were of poor quality, so the community is a testament to your products.
Leads will realize they have less to lose by joining your community and trying your online courses and other products, increasing conversions.
Boosts Your Brand
What’s the next frontier for your brand? Online communities!
Creating online communities is a way to strengthen your brand and build recognition, especially if you participate with other members from time to time. Your competitors will kick themselves for not thinking of it first.
Improves Member Retention
Customer engagement is a great way to retain business, but you don’t only have to rely on email to do it. An online community is a constant source of engagement. Your customers will realize the value of participating in the community in that they get to talk to you and knowledgeable others.
They’ll want to stick around because of your high-quality goods and the professional connections and friendships they’ve made through the community.
Helps Your Customers/Audience Feel Heard
Everyone wants to feel like they have a voice that people listen to. Put your money where your mouth is with your online community. When customers share their thoughts and opinions, ensure they don’t fall on deaf ears.
If possible, implement changes based on customer feedback. At the very least, let your audience know you hear what they’re saying and will take it into account.
Being heard and appreciated is a great way to boost loyalty and retention.
Increases Product Sales
With almost 100 percent of customers reading reviews before making a purchasing decision, what others say about you matters. A review or testimonial isn’t the same as an online community, but it’s close.
Why would people continually engage, and positively at that, if the community was a bad atmosphere? The high levels of trust others in the community have for you and your products will inspire more sales of your online course.
Acts as Customer Support
Although not the primary benefit of online communities, they can sometimes be a stand-in for your customer support team. Customers will undoubtedly have questions about how to use or do this and that, and more experienced members can answer.
This saves the customer service team from a pointless call, freeing up their time to handle more complex requests.
Can Help Spread Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Word-of-mouth marketing is influential because it’s all customer-based. Rather than you directly selling to an audience, your customer says all the nice things for you. Their words resonate more because they’re not trying to sell online courses like you are.
If a customer has a good experience on your forum, they’ll talk about it elsewhere online, such as on social media. Likewise, if customers within the community share high-value answers, those answers could get quoted and spread across the internet.
Tips for Keeping Your Online Community Thriving
Once you’ve built your community, you can’t take a hands-off approach to its future. You should be as involved as anyone, overseeing and participating when you can. That’s how you build an online community with staying power.
These pointers will help you in your efforts of online community building and maintenance.
Create a Code of Conduct
A community is a fun side hobby, so no one wants there to be too many rules. At the same time, the community can’t be devoid of rules, as that’s how chaos reigns.
Introduce a brief code of conduct or community guidelines, and sticky the post so everyone can see it. Redirect new members to the rules and mention them to long-time members when necessary.
You might consider a three-strike system before kicking someone out of the community according to the rules of your community guidelines, or you could create your own violation system. Whatever your choice, you can’t let someone run roughshod over the community you built.
Removing a negative presence from the community will do more for it in the long run.
As mentioned, the best online communities allow their audiences to share their thoughts and opinions, with responses from the community leader(s). Incorporating the feedback you receive from community members will bolster their trust and provide a better environment for all.
Disagreements will happen, and they may devolve beyond a mere difference of opinion. If two or more members are being nasty to one another or otherwise causing discordance across the community, this is where a moderator should step in.
A moderator or mod’s job is to patrol online communities, look for rule violations, and keep the peace. It’s an important job, but one someone does out of the goodness of their heart, as mod positions are unpaid.
You should dole out modding responsibilities to a team of trusted members, at least two or three. Although the mods might not have much to do when the community first gets off the ground, as it gains traction, that will change.
In fact, depending on the size of your community at that time, you might decide to add more mods!
The value of partaking in your community should commensurately increase as your numbers grow. The more people participating, the more insights and resources that become available for all the members.
That said, periodically review the level of value you’re offering your community members and decide what, if anything, you could do to make the experience even more value-inclusive.
Provide Varied Content
Online communities can’t stay stagnant; evolution is needed to engage longer-term community members and intrigue newer ones. Expand the type of content you post, from videos to surveys, whitepapers, blogs, eBooks, and contests.
Examples of Online Communities to Inspire You
As you build your online community, it helps to review others across the web to see what their blueprint looks like and how they drive success. Here are three examples to get you started.
The online community to end all online communities, social media giant Facebook cracked 3 billion users in 2024. Facebook is more than a platform for connecting with old high school classmates. It has Facebook Groups, where people can talk about professional and personal topics, and share their thoughts and insights.
Created in 2005 (making it nearly as old as Facebook), Reddit is a social network for connecting with others. Reddit divides its platform into Subreddits, which are dedicated to specific topics.
For example, each sports team in the NFL has its own Subreddit, and many popular and obscure television shows have Subreddits as well. It's not the teams or actors starting the Subreddits, but dedicated fans, who can post images and videos.
Visa Developer Community
How about an online community on a much smaller scale? The Visa Developer Community connected the Visa Developer Team with external developers to share and grow ideas based on collaborative brainstorming. The presence of the community drove more Visa loyalty and got Visa several nods and awards.
If you’re wondering how to build an online community, it all starts with a purpose and a few members who see your vision.
The early days of the community are tough. You have to convince new members to trust you, and you might have to ask them to post and reply to others more than once.
After you get over that initial hump, continuing to build and maintain a successful online community becomes easier and more rewarding.