Community Building

The ultimate checklist to build an online community

The ultimate checklist to build an online community

There’s no doubt communities are an invaluable asset for businesses, but growing them and engaging them in a meaningful way is not an easy task. This article provides a thorough checklist covering all significant elements one needs to address to successfully build a community. We review topics relative to community benefits, goals, growth, management, empowerment and the strategic thinking behind all solid communities. If you are a social media marketer, a community manager, a brand manager or simply an individual interested in building a community, keep reading.

How does the checklist work?

We want to help you kick-start your community. Towards that end, each section of this article ends with one checkpoint that needs to be addressed. Being able to answer all 7 checkpoints in the checklist guarantees that the fundamental aspects of community building have been covered. The entire checklist is available as a Google Form (the form is emailed to you for safe-keeping after submission).

Table of contents

Introduction

Building a community

Managing a community

What is an online community?

By definition, communities are groups of people that share similar characteristics; from interests, politics, religion, or profession to geographical proximity, or some other criterion. When we talk about “online” or “connected” communities, we are only specifying their means of communication. It implies that members meet, exchange, share, or work together by way of web platforms or mobile apps.

In most online communities, although we may only virtually know our members, it is essential to remember at all times that they remain individuals with their own real life, ideas, behavior and background.

Checkpoint 1

Your community is a group of people. What are their common characteristics? What brings them together? Access checklist now

4 Benefits of managing an online community

For any brand or business, nurturing an online community comes with many benefits. Obviously, the actual gains depend entirely on your objectives, but whatever the goals may be, if you can impact your members in a positive way, your community will infallibly positively impact you in return. The mere presence of your members on your dedicated platform already grants you many meaningful gifts which we list here.

1. Learnings from and about your audience

For a brand, it may seem like a waste of time and money to invest in a community at first, but in reality, this investment is always worthwhile: building a relationship with one’s customers results in an endless source of truthful information, and a fortune saved on market studies.
Indeed, to a certain extent, your community is similar to a giant focus group from which you can draw information on multiple levels:

  • Demographics: age, gender or location
  • Market needs: what your customers are expecting from you
  • Competition and industry: directly from the trendy topics of discussion

2. A playground to experiment and get valuable feedback

Customers are more involved with brands on social media than anywhere else: 9 customers out of 10 say the presence of a brand on social media has an impact on their loyalty (ref. Clare McDonald, computerweekly.com).

Knowing this, it makes sense that having an active community indirectly increases your business value: it becomes easy to conduct experiments and surveys directly on your own platform and make decisions based on their results. If the community is sufficiently large, it is even possible to exploit A/B testing for faster results.

3. Visibility

Communities can make your brand more visible in several ways:

  • Communities, if well engaged and organized, eventually give rise to brand evangelists: people completely in love with your brand, spreading information about you on- and off-line.
  • If your community platform is hosted on your own domain, the presence of your members on your website indirectly improves your domain name’s authority: whenever they share content from your platform, they contribute to adding backlinks to your domain.

4. Unique insights into your users’ thoughts

Every day, an engaged community provides valuable feedback. Sometimes it can be very direct, but most of the time, it takes some reading between the lines to get to the actual insight. For instance, a question about a feature may be the sign that its usage is not clear. Or a comment about a competitor may be an indication that your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is not clear enough. Every single post is a huge asset for your company, and no question should go unanswered. Taking advantage of this constant flow of hints allows to improve the product and the marketing strategy, as well as stay close to your community.

Checkpoint 2

On which platform are you building your community? Does the platform of your choice allow you to: get demographic insights? submit surveys and perform A/B tests? Increase brand visibility? Make it easy for users to post questions and comments? Access checklist now

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Why build an online community?

We’ve made our point, online communities are beneficial for many reasons. But before jumping head-first into acquiring new members and engaging them, it’s paramount to define your goals. What do you want to achieve with your members? It could be about increasing your sales, raising brand awareness, growing loyal fans, getting feedback and ideas about products, etc.

If your goal is unclear, we recommend taking some time to follow these simple steps:

  1. Brainstorm with your colleagues or friends and write down all possible goals you could achieve with your community.
  2. Rate each goal based on how important it is to you, how fast it is to achieve, how likely you are to succeed, and any other criterion that makes sense in your case. The highest the rating, the better.
  3. Add the figures from step 2. If some criteria are more important than others, you can give them more weight by multiplying their score by 2 or 3 before adding them up with the other ratings.
  4. Choose the goal with the highest score.
To reach your goal, define clear metrics to measure your success and milestones to review your progress.

Once you know where you want to go, how do you evaluate your progress? To reach your goal, define clear metrics to measure your success and milestones to review your progress and adapt your strategy on a regular basis.

Checkpoint 3

What is the most important goal you want to reach with your community? How can you measure your progress towards that goal? What milestone can you set for the next 3 months? 6 months? Access checklist now

Why do people join a community?

“If you build it, they will come.” This famous quote from one of my all-time favorite movies “Field of Dreams” is often used in the context of entrepreneurship… because it’s not true. You can build a product, but unless you’re extremely lucky (or Kevin Costner), no one will come. The same goes for communities: setting up a community platform and starting to post messages won’t make people join.

You can build a product, but unless you’re extremely lucky (or Kevin Costner), no one will come.

So, before even starting to promote your community, find out why people would be willing to join. It will also help you understand how to recruit new members in an efficient manner. We short-listed here the five main reasons why, in our opinion, a person joins a community.

1. Sense of belongingness

As the pyramid of Maslow states, once people have taken care of their physiological and safety primary requirements, they need love and belongingness. Exchanging and interacting with peers whose life experiences are similar to theirs is thus not just a fancy; it’s a necessity. For community builders out there, the best part is: a sense of belonging is not something one has or hasn’t; it’s something you can nurture and grow in anyone.

The third level in Maslow's hierarchy of needs is belongingness.

Typical communities tapping into these feelings are all successful alumni associations. We can find in companies like McKinsey an interesting example: they invest time and money to manage and maintain their corporate alumni network, or in other words, a community for their ex-employees. Instilling a sense of belonging to former employees is a smart move and has endless benefits: keeping track of people, getting new recruit recommendations, developing partnerships, hell, even potentially re-hiring!

How
To foster a sense of belongingness in your members, we recommend to actively connect them with each other in the context of your organization: provide access to an online directory to let them easily get in touch, offer goods derived from your company (T-shirts, pencils, stickers, …), support offline interactions by organizing regular social events, and mediatize such offline reunions to further relay the good experience in your organization. If your community is large and widespread, creating antennas or chapters managed by one of your loyal members is also a good way to keep everyone involved.

2. Usefulness

For some people, feeling useful is the number one reason for joining a community and sticking with it. For instance, social organizations such as NGOs have very strong communities, because their members do not only have the opportunity to support a cause, they also gain a sense of usefulness. It’s interesting to note though that providing a sense of self-achievement is not the exclusivity of NGOs. Any community can foster it by pushing its members to volunteer in helping out with the group’s management and maintenance.

How
Members feel useful if they have missions to complete, so continuously engage them by setting goals, inform them about the progress achieved thanks to their help, highlight particularly involved members, provide statistics about the results. Another excellent way to foster a feeling of usefulness is to often ask your members their advice and recommendations.

3. Support

Many groups are built on the basis of mutual aid and support, and in many different areas. New members join because they need the support of others, while older members stick around to give back. E.g. the anonymous alcoholic groups all over the world; a community created for mothers who have daily questions and worries about their young ones etc.

How
A community manager can instil a culture of support and mutual aid by congratulating members achieving their goals and acknowledging their efforts, but also and most importantly, by rewarding the ones who help too. Gamification techniques and badges, if well implemented, are known to provide great results in motivating members to handhold each other (think Stackoverflow

4. Passion

It is said that when a passion is shared, it is even more enjoyable. Working with people’s passions is obviously a smart move to develop a brand’s loyalty: the brand is not only hosting and overviewing conversations, it can also foster discussions about its own products.

For instance, Sephora’s BeautyTalk is an online platform where makeup and beauty aficionadas can freely talk about products, share pictures of their makeup achievements and much more. In return, they receive comments, ideas and advice to pursue their beauty quest. Whenever they purchase a product through the site the beauty enthusiasts automatically get a dedicated page to share their immediate feedback. This ensures content generation, which in turn generates interest and visibility.

How
Become a genuinely interesting source of information about the passion you’re targeting, engage users by all possible means: commenting, sharing, providing discounts, organizing contests and events where all can show what they do with their passion.

5. Learning

Last but not least, learning is also a reason why people join communities. The more people in a community, the more knowledge. Networks of entrepreneurs are a good example: aspiring entrepreneurs thrive on platforms like Quora where they can learn from otherwise inaccessible experts.

How
Provide your members with all the necessary tools they need to improve their learning process (e.g. great readings, guidelines, etc.), seduce and invite your domain experts to take part, connect people with each other by making intelligent introductions, and foster networking by frequently organizing online and offline events with different themes, speakers and activities.

Checkpoint 4

p>How are you going to attract new members in your community? To which sense are you appealing: belongingness, usefulness, mutual-aid, passion, or learning? Access checklist now

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How to grow a community

Although we address community growth and engagement in two separate sections for clarity reasons, I’d like to point out that promoting a community and engaging it are two intertwined challenges that need to be tackled together. If you spend all your efforts acquiring new users but there is no engagement on your platform, you’re basically trying to fill a bucket full of holes. At the same time, there can be no engagement unless there is a critical mass of members to engage in the first place.

Promoting a community and engaging it are two intertwined challenges that need to be tackled together.

In this section, we share some recommendations on how to acquire more users in your community:

1. Referral program

Surely, loyal members are more than happy to spread the word about your community and invite their friends to join, without expecting anything in return. But most members don’t even think about it. It’s not that they don’t like your community or don’t want to recommend it; it just slips their mind once they leave your circle.

A good way to incentivize them to remember you is to spice up their interest with a referral program: in short, you offer some tangible reward to your members for bringing in new recruits. It could be anything from a complimentary gift to a free entry pass to a paid event.

2. Newsletter social sharing

It takes time and dedication to build a beautiful newsletter: gather valuable information, create a beautiful layout, compose a joyful and intriguing content and finally diligently send it to all our community members every month (or according to your strategy). Such a shame it doesn’t have a wider reach.

There is one additional simple step which can help you win new members: make your email shareable. This is quite easy to achieve with solutions like MailChimp or MailerLite and your members will be much more likely to forward your piece of art to their non-member friends.

3. Open events

Organizing exclusive events - i.e. to which only your members are allowed, is vital to help them feel special. But on the other hand, having regular open events are a great way to recruit new members. You can always make your members feel privileged by reducing or waiving the entry fee for them. A great example is AMAs (Ask-Me-Anything events): identify the experts in your community and bring them onto a stage or on a webinar where you allow non-members to attend.

The tricky part when organizing such events is to promote them widely enough to tap into new circles and target potential new members. Post the event on multiple forums and make sure to highlight the expert so as to give him as much prominence as the event itself. This type of events surely have an impact on your credibility.

4. Post-event PR

If you organize regular online and/or offline events, you’re familiar with all the promotions and preparations each one requires in order get people to join. Unfortunately, most organizers stop there and don’t think about the post-event PR. This is a very powerful tool that can bring in many new members. The idea is to exploit the same forums you used to market your event and show how great a time your members had: draft an after event roundup (for offline events, make sure to include many pictures), and share it on all the platforms where you originally advertised the event. For those who attended the event, it serves as a reckoner of the people they met. For non-members, it shows how wonderful your community events are and how they wouldn’t want to miss the next one. Make sure all the media content of your roundup is public and shareable to reach a much wider audience.

5. Member feedback videos

Again, whenever you organize an online or offline event, use this opportunity to take some feedback: for offline events, have volunteers use their smartphone to record quick experiences of members, and for online events, enable users to share a quick testimonial/feedback video about the sessions using the cameras on their mobile devices and/or laptops.

Publish the videos on social media along with your thank-you note to the members who shared their valuable feedback. This will provide non-members a sneak peak of the great things that are happening inside the community.

6. Blogging and guest posts

Maintaining a partially or totally public blog is a good way to attract new members. Feed your readers with content they like and are keen to share. Make sure you post content that is relevant and on a regular basis or your efforts will be fruitless. Don’t forget that some parts or all of your blog should be publicly accessible.

Once your blog is running like a well oiled machine, regularly invite your community experts to write a blog post on the topic of their choice and publish it publicly for the world to see. Make the most of their available time though, as you cannot expect them to write for you too often. Also, put some efforts to edit their publications to fit with the tonality and style your members are used to.

7. Recognition

All the suggestions listed above are not likely to work if you do not respect and recognize all the stakeholders who help you get more members in. So, remember to thank them, talk about them, and hold them in great regard. You will be amazed to see them do even more for the community if you properly recognize them. This will also increase the respect and love for the community in the minds of the newer members who will, in return, do their bit to grow the community.

Checkpoint 5

How are you planning to spread the word about your community? List 5 tactics (from the list above or your own ideas) you plan to follow. Access checklist now

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How to engage a community?

The beauty of a community lies in the unique flavour brought on by its members. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many communities start on an upbeat mode, but lose out after a while as the excitement dies down and people get bored. That is when they quit and join other promising groups. If people do not reap the value of being around, sooner or later, they are bound to leave.

To keep a community alive, one needs to nurture it by retaining its existing members and bringing aboard new ones. Easier said than done. While people and relationship management sounds very flavourful, community management is not as rosy as it sounds. It is in fact, a great deal of hard work of engagement, respect and attentiveness.

Community engagement is usually maintained by many different means, like organizing meetups and webinars, fostering discussions, recognizing experts, identifying influencers, etc. There are however a few steps, often overlooked, that one can take to further engage a community. We list some of them below.

While people and relationship management sounds very flavourful, community management is not as rosy as it sounds.

1. Know the newbies

It is always great to have new people join a community. This could be due to the extensive marketing efforts you have put in, or by sheer luck that the visitors decided they like the concept and became a member of your community. What next?

Whatever the reasons, it is your duty to make them feel welcomed. And no, a standard canned response is not acceptable. It is essential for a community manager to scan new members’ profile to know more about them and find out the possible ways they can contribute to the community with the skillset that they possess.

Based on this knowledge, make sure to extend the newbies an invitation to take part in the regular interactions in your community whenever you see they can potentially contribute.

2. Enable your experts

Experts come in all forms, shapes, sizes and intellectual and vocal frequencies. Neither of them are ignorable. The quiet ones might be the ones waiting for the right opportunity to contribute something valuable, or they just might be shy. Here are a few recommendations on how to make sure you enable all your experts to their true potential.

  • Recognize and thank the ones who actively contribute, or respond to queries, suggestions and comments.
  • Identify the less vocal ones and take note of their area of expertise. Whenever a discussion starts around these lines, include them so that they are given a chance to showcase their knowledge.
  • Devise new means to use your experts in ways that will benefit the community: ask them to advise when appropriate, call them to address the group once in awhile, etc. They usually are more than happy to contribute, and will put additional efforts to prepare and give out as much relevant information as possible.

3. Keep content fresh and interesting

As much as relevance is an important aspect of the content that is posted on communities, it’s also important that what you share is neither outdated, nor uninteresting for most of your members. It does not hurt to lookup the profiles of your members and access what they would be most keen to listen to. One trick to inspire you is to check out what they typically like and re-post on their other social media channels.

Since reactions and interactions are key to community engagement, your content should also have the ability to incite responses and initiate discussions. Asking open ended questions, inviting members to choose a side, or stating two different perspectives work wonders.

In your community management efforts, do not forget to aptly position the content and to relate it in an original way.

4. Spend Time Interacting and Responding Everyday

All the above efforts require you to contributing and initiating conversations. However, one of the most important thing that you should always remember is being part of the interaction as well. Respond, voice neutral opinions and also keep asking questions, even if they sound naive. Yes, being silly does not always reflect badly upon you, unless it is the domain you have expertise in. The more personally referenced interactions there are, the more the community grows.

Checkpoint 6

How are you keeping your community active? List 5 tactics you follow to engage and re-engage users. Access checklist now

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How to address my community?

Let’s face it, engaging with someone through a screen doesn’t have the same effect as in the offline world. Not seeing or hearing the person with whom you’re talking makes it harder to consider him or her as a real human being. The gap between an online and an offline interaction is thus considerable, and the former should be handled with extra care. There are 2 missteps a community manager needs to avoid at all costs:

1. Getting offended or hurt by members’ comments

Have you ever thought of how easier it is to lie or express your feelings through messages rather than in person? Online, people are bolder; they find it easier to share what they think, in a more direct way than what we are used to. Being the representative of your brand or company, remember that whenever you read content and don’t get hurt or offended. More often than not, the written words are more abrasive than the actual writer’s feelings.

2. Posting ambiguous messages

The second trap we often fall into is inadvertently writing ambiguous messages. In face-to-face interactions, our body language accompanies our words, thus making sure our interlocutor doesn’t misinterpret us. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a body language online. Hence, whenever you write content, keep in mind that trying to be funny or ironic, even when you’re meaning well, may upset some people lacking the context you’re surfing on.

Checkpoint 7

Which tone are you using to talk to your members? What is acceptable and what is completely off limits? Define 5 guidelines your users (starting by you) will have to follow. Access checklist now

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Conclusion

A community is a group of independent individuals that need to be respected, listened to, and acknowledged. All people are different, but uniting them on a platform to exchange, share and pursue their objectives as one is the true calling of all communities.

In this article, we’ve covered what are the definition and benefits of a community, and explained the steps to take in order to set up a measurable community strategy. We’ve also detailed how to build a community by seducing and acquiring new members. Finally, we’ve offered ideas and guidelines on how to engage your members and address them.