10 tips to starting an online community

I do not profess to being an expert in social media, but I have done a lot of research and participated in online communities. In my role as an online community facilitator I have put together this short list of top tips I’ve learnt along the way:

1. Ensure there is demand for the community/establish your audience

It very rarely works when you think of a great idea for a community; put all the hard work into setting it up and then nobody turns up!

It is so important to first establish if the community is needed or wanted by others. You can find your likely audience in other communities (maybe already stating that they need something else that the existing group cannot or will not provide), or you have an existing network that could use something online between meet ups.

2. Have co-facilitators and champions within the group

There is a lot of work involved to set up an online group and more hard work keeping it running. You will need support from other facilitators. Their role is to help find content, harvest discussion between members, encourage participation. Champions are also vital to the success of a community – a core group of members who are passionate about it but may not have time to be a facilitator. Their role is to promote the group to others and start the word of mouth process

3. Spend time getting the purpose right and agreed by the core facilitators/champions before you launch

You have an idea, but you need to scope that idea into something tangible. Set objectives – what are you trying to achieve through the community? Do you want to inspire discussion or more of providing a resource – what kind of resource? Get these clear and agreed among the facilitators and champions before you start to build your community

4. Develop a good toolkit for members stuffed with guides, templates and how-to steps

Once you have your objectives, start to build your initial content which are practical to help new members get involved in the community. These should be accessible from when you launch, so prepare them ahead of the launch.

5. Have a clear vision and purpose for the community

This goes hand in hand with tip number 3 but you can spend time doing this evaluation after you have launched – review your objectives 3 months, 6 months and annually to keep the community on track. Helpful questions to ask yourself could be what are you there to do? What do you offer members? Make sure you sustain giving people a compelling reason to join you.

6. Start with six areas for content – interviews, news, announcements, features, events, live chat opportunities or forum.

These are typical features that new members are likely to expect when they arrive. If you have done your audience research ahead of building anything, then you should have a fair idea of what potential members are going to be looking for. These six area suggestions can help you organise content and get you started

7. Stage a launch with a core group of interested people.

Have a launch with your core group, invite them by asking them to help you shape the community – you want their expert experiences (flattery will get you a long way to initial engagement). This core will help you find at bugs or improvements necessary before you launch the community again but through social media and your Champions word of mouth.

8. Introduce traditions and rituals into the community

A weekly roundup on a Wednesday, showcasing a member on Friday, just two examples of rituals. Welcome new members personally and highlight parts of the community that will interest or help them – because you want to encourage participation. These acts will become traditions among members and members can create their own rituals.

9. Provide engaging content

Keeping the home page fresh and up to date (not a static page) is a good place to start. Allowing off topic discussions can increase participation which you can then build on by relating it back to your core objectives. Make sure your content is relevant and niche – keep your members coming back for more.

10. Ask members what they want.

This may be best in private messaging or through a survey within the forum – allowing members of the community space to express themselves and tell you what they want. Anonymity can be powerful when used in the right way, allowing members to be honest without fear of persecution.

Use this as vital research to constantly update and refresh your community (within reason) ensuring your members remain enthusiastic about their community space.

What would be your top tips for anyone starting an online community – what shouldn’t you do?

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Former Member 5 Years Ago
Great article. I'll add this to my "must reads" on my own links. John