Building an online community where your clients, fans, and lifetime customers can connect is one way to benefit your audience and your business long-term.
An online community allows you and your audience to make meaningful connections and gives you a platform to truly share everything your business has to offer. If you’re looking to grow a community that’s engaging and profitable, here are the top tips you need to know when building an online community.
WHAT IS AN ONLINE COMMUNITY EXACTLY?
Before we dive into building online communities, let’s talk about what an online community is exactly. While every community won’t look the same, they all serve a few similar functions.
Mainly they are a group of people communicating online around shared interests, challenges, or goals. Each of these groups will that their own set of guidelines to support members and encourage a shared sense of belonging, knowledge sharing and connection making.
Online community platforms can be open or closed. Community features normally include the ability for community members to interact and learn together through posting discussions or questions, private messaging other users, or referring new members to the community platform.
Online Community Platform vs. Social Media Platform
We’ll be focused specifically on branded online communities here. These are different from your neighborhood Facebook group and are typically built to connect your customers or audience with each other and with your brand on a deeper level.
You might already be connecting with your audience or current customers on social media platforms. This is an important connection but much different from building a true online community space.
You probably spend time on social media either personally or for your business. Chances are you are not there too deeply connect with content or people. So while social media spaces could be considered and internet community of sorts, many people are not engaging with those platforms to invest in their growth or relationships in an intentional way.
More targeted online communities give users a comfortable space to show up, get vulnerable and feel a sense of belonging. Because the conversation and sharing gets much less diluted, people can feel more open to sharing their expertise.
YOUR ONLINE COMMUNITY VS. YOUR ONLINE AUDIENCE
Many business owners get confused when it comes to knowing the difference between their market, audience, and community. It is important to know your market, sell to your audience, and build your community in order to grow a successful business. Emily and Corey discuss how you can nurture all these aspects of your business in Episode #267: Community vs. Audience vs. Market.
With your audience, you are doing the majority of the talking. You are creating the content. You are choosing the conversation.
Your audience has limited ability to join or contribute to this content or conversation. Typically they are leaving comments or sharing your content, but this leaves little room for true engagement.
In a true online community, content and conversations are being generated from all members. You become much less of the information “hub”. So, while you’re creating the space, guidelines, and moderation all members have equal chance to contribute and interact with the community at large.
THE BENEFITS OF A GREAT ONLINE COMMUNITY
Online communities offer many benefits not only to the members but also to the hosts and moderators including increasing your brand awareness, developing stronger relationships with your customers, building authority in your niche.
Creating Real Relationships
Successful online communities tend to be a great space for cultivating real relationships. We see this happen in the Being Boss Community all the time! This is a great benefit for community members and community managers alike.
Create A Better Customer Experience
Having an online community allows you to create special moments and experiences for your members that would be much more difficult to achieve on other platforms. When you give your audience a more personal level of access to you and your content, it will help set you apart and make you easier to remember.
Another way to provide a better customer experience is to listen to your members. Make time to gather their feedback and take note of common challenges that are coming up in shared discussions. When you apply this feedback and data to your content, products, or offerings you will create more loyalty and show that you are truly there to support your members.
Generate Leads + Referrals
Happy community members will want to talk about your community! When they have a sense of belonging and feel a sense of pride in being a member, they will become great advocates for you. Developing a rewarding ambassador program is just one way your could encourage and nurture referrals as well.
This blog post is inspired by Podia, a digital community platform for creative entrepreneurs.
IS IT TIME TO START YOUR OWN ONLINE COMMUNITY?
Having an online community lets you get to know your audience better, increases your product sales, minimizes research costs, and boosts your business’ engagement on the internet.
A 2020 report showed that 88% of professionals believe that community is essential for any successful company. If you’re a creative business owner, chances are you fall under one of these four categories when it comes to community:
- You’re unsure whether or not an online community is right for your business.
- You’ve decided you want to create a community but haven’t launched one yet.
- You started a community online, but you want to gain more members to boost engagement.
- You have an online community that’s growing and active, but now you want to scale/monetize it.
No matter what phase of online community you’re in, here’s how you can make the process easier on yourself and your audience.
Step 1: Attract the Right People to Join Your Community
The biggest focus that bosses have when starting an online community is engagement. A community can’t thrive if people don’t interact with one another! Before you can even consider trying to monetize your community platform, you need to know how to initiate and maintain valuable online connections.
Choose Your Niche
What type of business do you have? Before growing your community, you need to get crystal clear about your niche.
You don’t want to select a niche that’s too broad, such as “travel”. A lot of people are interested in travel, but without a specific target, people will feel lost and not want to engage. Something more targeted like “women traveling on a budget” is much more specific, yet it applies to a large demographic that can build trust with you as the business owner.
Offer Community Member Benefits to Your Niche
When you clarify your exact niche, you can start offering value to your online community. You attract new members when you offer exclusive content that will benefit your audience in some way.
Offers can include:
- Digital downloads, like PDFs and templates
- Free courses
- Podcast episodes
- Product discount codes
- Existing lead magnets (eBooks, prompts, blog posts, etc.)
- Access to you as the creator and business owner
If you’re new to building online communities, you can start attracting new members by providing free entry. Not every business owner charges for access to their online community (more on this in a bit!).
But if you plan on eventually charging monthly subscription fees, you can start encouraging sign-ups by giving access to the first 50 members for free.
Promote Your Community to Your Existing Audience
After the initial attraction, it’s time to directly promote your community through all channels. Announce your community and all the benefits of joining. Post about it on your blog, social media profiles, email lists, and website.
When promoting your community membership, think of what incentive you can offer your audience. What do they want to learn right now?
How will they benefit from networking within your community? What topics will you personally be engaging with them? Make it clear that this community is packed with value, consistency, and fun.
STEP 2: MAINTAIN HEALTHY COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Once you begin attracting people to join your community, you need to know how to keep things active long-term. There are three keys to growing a successful online community:
Your members join your community to get access to you and your offers. But people stay in an online community for the benefits, connections, and opportunities that present themselves within your community.
ENCOURAGE COMMUNITY MEMBERS ENGAGEMENT
The main reason many online communities fail to succeed is that they lack consistent activity. It takes planning, creativity, and work to maintain a community online. This is why you— as the creator— need to be able to spark engagement among your member base.
Many active online communities stick to rotating schedules of posting weekly highlights or action steps. Posts should activate discussions, answer questions, and highlight key points that help your members.
Here are some ways you can encourage activity in your community:
- Post a question of the week, such as: “What is a win you had in your business this week?”
- Assign member promotion days, like “Promo Wednesday” or “Social Sunday”. This helps keep the community clear of promotional clutter, and inspires everyone to share when it’s time to shamelessly promote what they’re doing in their business!
- Organize weekly or monthly challenges, such as a weekly sales outreach or monthly book club.
- Share industry news, including links to podcasts or articles your audience needs to know about.
- Offer freebies or giveaways, such as drawing a name from everyone who recruits a new member to your community. The winner gets a free 15-minute strategy call with you.
The more activity you inspire in your community, the more you’ll need to get organized.
To avoid spammy posts and confusing interfaces in your online community, organize your platform with relevant topics. You can create 5-10 subjects that don’t overlap. Give each topic its own category on your community platform.
By making categories on your community page, people can choose to hang out on one specific topic instead of being bombarded with irrelevant posts they don’t want to engage with.
For example, if you own a marketing coaching business, you can set up categories on your community page with titles such as:
- Content creation
- Paid ads
- Lead magnets
- Sales funnels
- Instagram marketing
- Pinterest marketing
- Email marketing
Organizing makes content easier for your members to find. It gives them designated spaces to discuss topics of interest. It also helps keep people’s posts active longer, as they won’t get lost in the main community group or home page.
Think about where your community is today but also where they will want to be in 3-5 years.
Topics should be relevant now and in the future. The earlier you start organizing, the easier it’ll be to keep track of everything as you (and your community) grow.
In your online community, people need to be able to easily connect. Encourage networking among your group members by:
- Tagging new members in a weekly welcome post.
- Asking new members to introduce themselves to the community in a welcome post.
- Highlight interesting conversations or posts within the community at the end of each week.
- Scheduling virtual co-working days and online meetups.
- Allowing members to connect in their specific niches.
- Assigning accountability partners for a weekly or monthly challenge.
Another great thing you can do as a group leader is simply show up consistently. Be present with your online community. If you aren’t engaging with your community, chances are they may start to feel the membership isn’t worthwhile. Check in every day or so, and remain open to discussion and questions.
Step 3: Monetize Your Content in Your Online Community
An online community should be catered to your niche as a means to help them learn and grow. This doesn’t discount the fact that your community is a valuable asset, though: you own all the content you’re providing for your community. It’s a great way to continually engage with your people, and have an automatic sales pipeline that works for you.
When you have a healthy community that’s growing online, you can start planning how to monetize from it. One of the best ways to make a predictable revenue from your online community is through paid subscription plans.
There’s nothing wrong with free community membership; it’s an excellent start to growing your community digitally. But if you want to start offering more in-depth resources that require a lot of time, brainpower, and industry knowledge, you can set up tiered subscription plans.
Different plans allow people to pay a designated monthly fee for exclusive access to higher-level content. By upselling higher-tier plans, you can give your members a chance to receive:
- VIP group calls
- Advanced digital products
- Group coaching sessions
- Expert Q&A
- Access to private topics
- And more
Offering digital products is another way to successfully monetize your brand. Digital products help educate, inspire, and entertain the people who are part of your community.
Digital products can include:
- Guided lessons
- Creative prompts
- And more
Whether you’re an astrology reader, a business coach, or a service provider, digital products are a sure way to generate recurring passive income through your online community.
When you build an online community, you have a direct response and market insight into what people are looking for. By observing the questions your members are asking, you can get ideas for new types of online content to make and offer as time goes on.
In community discussion boards, you can learn how to answer questions and solve new problems for your people. Creating new content that matters to the group will maintain your community activity, and provide innovative products people want to buy.
HOW TO BUILD ONLINE COMMUNITIES
BEST PRACTICES FOR ENGAGEMENT AND MONETIZATION
If you’re ready to improve your online community, we hope these tips will help guide you through your next steps. If you’re completely new to online community development, you’re likely wondering where to find the best online community platform to get started.
Choosing a Community Platform
There are many community platforms out there to choose from, each with its own set of features and pricing options. When choosing a platform to host your community on, here are some things to look for:
- Supportive of tiered subscription plans
- Allows digital product sales
- Easy payment processing
- Access to audience analytics and communication
- Affordable hosting plans
- Customizable branding and layout
- Simple user interface
- Ample customer support
- Minimal transaction fees
Embracing the Ongoing Learning Curve
Running a business and creating an online community both require ongoing learning. It’s a journey! The more you grow your business, the more people you’ll be able to help. By following the tips in this article, you’ll be on your way to a vibrant community that helps people achieve their dreams— all while you achieve yours.
JOIN OUR ONLINE COMMUNITY
Want access to more helpful content like this when it comes to growing your business? Join the FREE Being Boss Community where members have access to discussions, virtual events, and helpful resources for creative business owners just like you!