Connecting people together

How to make sure your online community gets off to a flying start?


A successful online community doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere. These active online communities are the result of a carefully thought out and tested process. What are those processes that can help your online group get off to a flying start, and keep it active and make it thrive?


What do you want to achieve?

You probably already have an idea of what kind of online group you want to build. One objective might be to bring together members on a specific topic. This broad idea needs to be narrowed down first and will need to benefit the members who will be taking part.

Here are some typical benefits an online group can bring:

  • Solutions for daily problems
  • Transfer of successful practices
  • Focused collaboration of experts
  • Faster learning at a higher knowledge level
  • Identification of experts
  • Development of new knowledge
  • Coordination of cross-organisation activities and projects


Why do you want to start an online community?

Now you have identified some benefits, why will you and others put the time and effort into making it work? What’s missing from the way you do things at the moment?

  • You run a cross-organisational team and need a suitable place for effective collaboration.
  • You are working in a special field and need expert input.
  • You have constant trouble in keeping experience and knowledge alive.
  • You have innovative ideas in a specific area and cannot believe you’re the only one.
  • You want to approach a topic of great future importance and think there is still much learning to be done.
  • You feel work is progressing too slowly, or even worse, it’s not progressing at all.
  • Is there already an online group that deals with your topic?

There are so many different places an online community could be hiding. There could already be a group in existence, it’s just that you have not come across it yet.

Do a search across Knowledge Hub or other popular platforms on the topic or similar topics. If you find one that seems relevant, check it out and participate if it matches your needs. If not, then get in touch with your colleagues and contacts in case they know of a group that could be worth joining.

If you still are unable to find what you're looking for, and others are saying the same, then creating a new group could be the next step.


Are you willing to invest time and effort?

We talk about looking after an online community in a very similar way to being a party host. Being a good party host takes time and effort, and it’s the same with your online community. If you can’t commit the time and effort or get support from others, the party could fail.

You will need to spend some time on developing the strategy for the community, growing it and moderating it. Managing a community also involves collecting, sharing and writing content to share with the group, building the relationship between members, setting up and bringing together events and activities, promoting the community, capturing its successes, monitoring activity and progress, in addition to showing members how to use the community and how to participate.


What is your purpose and your scope?

First, think about the objectives and the reasons why you want to start an online community. Then, it’s time to refine it because you don’t want a woolly purpose such as: “This community is for knowledge sharing, information and for all members to keep in touch.”

Most online communities find themselves faced with trying to build a group that no one ends up using because the topic alone was not enough for a community to succeed. Speak to your core set of members - the first 10 people that you will invite when you start the community and ask them what they can offer (share) in the community and what they want from the community.

Once you have that list of wants and offers, you can break them down into:

  • Organisation goals (or problems) - in order of importance
  • Member goals (or problems) - in order of importance
  • This will help you to clarify the purpose of the group and help you set some clear objectives.

It will also highlight the WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) for members from the start.

Here’s a little equation to help you:

You want a group for {x} who are {y} to do {z}.

X = What’s your focus / vision?
Y = Who’s it for?
Z = What are your objectives / goals?


Do you know enough potential members?

An online community is only interesting when enough people actively participate. You must break the critical mass, which differs depending on the type of community you are looking to set up.

It can be expressed in the number of participants or, even better, in the frequency of valuable contributions. This is not just about the number of members. It’s about identifying those members who will actively take part and contribute to the community, not those who just sign up.


Are you able to provide “magnet content“?

What content will keep your potential members coming back over and over again?

In the beginning, look for content that members cannot find anywhere else, discussions that are specific to solving problems for the members, activities and events that share experiences and know-how from other members.

Build up an action plan of discussions, content and activities that are relevant to your community and can be rolled out over time, and review it over different periods to see what is working and what needs to be adjusted.


What are the benefits for the members?

Your members will be investing time and energy in the online community, so they want to see the benefits of taking part and you want to remind them of what these are too. Possible benefits are:

  • Value through saving time
  • Keeping up to date with current thinking
  • Developing ideas and innovations
  • Sharing good practice
  • Avoiding duplication of work
  • Widening their professional network
  • Building their expertise and reputation


How are you going to manage your online community?

Although it is possible to run an online community on your own, we recommend having at least three facilitators to share the community management role with. (Read our blog post on The Benefits of Multiple Facilitators) What happens if you have to take leave or any considerable time away from the work area?

The online community could stop working if the group has not fully established itself and members are not being engaged regularly. The community management role can be split into different roles such as lead, facilitator, subject matter expert etc. to help fit into how much time you can commit to the community between you. Look to get a good balance that works for you all, and keep an eye on opportunities for recruiting other members in helping out too.


Can you secure management support?

Why would your manager allow you time to support this online community effort? What are the benefits that it will bring to you in your role and for the work you are doing? How will these feed into the wider work of your team and your organisation? If you can showcase the potential benefits of the community and the realised benefits over time, your manager will be more willing to offer their support to help champion the community and overcome any barriers. Keep them up to date with the communities progress and its successes.

Are you running your own online community? What else have you done to make your online community fly?


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