Getting an online community off the ground can seem like a daunting task—to say the least. There’s some technical and social work that needs to be done and it can often feel like you’re trying to pull something out of thin air on both sides.
The truth is, though, that if you have a clear process laid out and you stick with it, you actually have an excellent opportunity to create a successful, flourishing online community. Remember, every successful online community started with only a few people working hard until the community could finally sustain itself.
There are four basic factors that need to be in place in order for members to become a part of any online community.
- The members need to identify with the community.
- They must trust that the community offers them value.
- They understand how and why to participate in the community.
- They feel they will be rewarded in some way for their participation.
If your audience feels that any of these factors are missing, they will most likely pass on the opportunity to join your community. These four concepts are critical for getting through phase one and will help to grow your community exponentially when you reach phase two. So if you create an environment that fits these parameters, you almost nailed it! Just always keep in mind these four concepts!
Phase 1: Constructing The Community Foundation
We can break the initial formation of your community down into five steps that will set you up for a good start and build the potential for growth.
1. Create An Identity - Look for ten potential members who personify the identity and purpose you have in mind for your community. Choose carefully who you would like to invite first. These early adopters will help create the initial momentum that draws others in and set the tone.
3. Gain Member Trust - Since there is essentially no community yet, it’s important to ensure initial members are invested in the idea. Let them know that they are a part of something new and getting in on the ground floor. Make sure they are aware that they are not only members, but founding members. Get their feedback and make them a part of the process.
3. Work Tirelessly To Encourage Participation - It’s up to you to push—and keep pushing—to fuel participation and breathe life into your creation. Start conversations. Make introductions. Ask questions and give answers. Get involved in all aspects of engagement. Eventually, these things will happen on their own but, for now, it’s up to you to make it happen.
4. Rewards Key Members - It’s important to continually ask for feedback from members. It’s the only way to learn what’s working, what’s not, and what members find the most valuable. If you show them that their contributions matter, they will feel a part of the adventure.
5. Repeat Steps 1- 4 Inviting New Members - Initial growth is simply a function of repeating these steps over and over, while inviting new members yourself and providing existing members the capacity to do so. At this stage you are not pushing key members to invite others, you are empowering them to shape the community with you.
Phase 2: When You Need To Power Your Community With An Online Platform
It’s common for small online communities to form on various social sites as people come together around a certain topic. These types of communities are also convenient to set up and manage—at first. Eventually, though, you’ll find that you can't offer the same value or maintain the same control as expectations grow in parallel with community membership.
By this time, you’ll need to incorporate a scalable platform that will allow your community to grow quickly and efficiently while maintaining a smooth and seamless experience for its members. A platform which centralises all your tools in one place while engaging your members in a more professional manner will be ideal. From there, the process for continued growth will be a slightly modified version of the steps we laid out above, but the sequence is really close!
1. Find back Your Founders - As in step one above, identify those you think will be the most valuable members. You’ll want people who show an interest in using and exploring the new system as well as guiding others through it. These people will have a genuine interest in the community and provide great value to other members.
2. Build Trust In The New Platform - Since they haven’t seen the new platform yet, community members won’t actually have anything to trust. You can, however, use their existing trust in you and leverage previous positive experiences. Collect feedback from your founding members and use that to create the best possible onboarding experience for arriving members when the new platform launches.
3. Facilitate Participation And Interaction - Have some content ready for members as they arrive. Post about popular talking points. Ask questions so people have something to engage with. It may take some poking and prodding to build momentum at first, but again, you need to drive interactions, using new platform capabilities, until it starts happening organically.
4. Get Feedback And Verify The Value - Just like above, you should regularly ask community members for their feedback, especially at an early stage. It is essential that members feel like they are getting some kind of value in exchange for what they contribute. Make sure you test and learn based on that feedback.
5. Extend More Invitations And Empower Members To Do So - With your community residing on a platform that can scale and flourish right along with your content needs and membership roster, growth is just a matter of continued recruiting. As you spot more potential members, you should continue to extend invitations to them as well as encourage your existing members to do the same. Quality members will create a quality community that will, in turn, attract more quality members, and so on.
It will take some effort to build a successful online community that sustains itself, but using those two fundamental phases will steer you onto the correct course. Choosing the right online community platform for phase two is an important decision you must consider.
Hivebrite is a leading provider of branded community management platforms and helps all size institutions grow and engage their community - Feel free to visit us or request a demo if you would like to know more.