Why are you even considering building an online community? Communities are, by definition, “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.” So, the key thing about building a community online is that you are bringing together a group of people, potentially geographically dispersed, to come together around a common interest.
I have blogged previously on the fact that I feel both part of an international community and a local one and I love the way in which the online world enables us to connect with like minded people the other side of the world. The more niche or expert the topic you want to engage in and learn more about, the more helpful it is to be able to reach out far and wide.
One of the first challenges of building a community online is determining and sharing the area of focus. The likelihood is something will have sparked the process of considering this as a community to establish. This is the same process as the offline, in person world, look at how any communities or movements start. We see people come together to exchange thoughts, ideas, learning and to unite around an interest or goal.
The building of my own online community has been slow yet valuable to those who participate in it. My learning from making a start and observing the success of others has informed the following tips.
(1) Define the purpose of your community, who is it for and around what shared interest, intention or goal?
(2) Determine the place for your online community to interact. Is this an open or closed group or platform? One factor is where do members of your community already hang out? You will get far more traction going to a platform they are used to logging into and interacting in. You can build communities on all social media and collaboration platforms but be selective.
(3) Invite existing members of your network who share the same interest or intention to join you. Ask for their early commitment to engage online with you and eachother. For example, move some of the in person or direct message conversations into the new online group. Let others see and join in your discussions.
(4) Encourage your early community to be helpful to others. Whilst you will be encouraging them to share experience and knowledge in new posts, it is also important that they interact with new members and field questions.
(5) Be the host. Any online community needs to be nurtured. Whether you do this alone or with others, it is important in order to initiate and stimulate conversations until the community is large enough to being generating most of the content and conversation itself. A great way of doing this is scheduling regular posts to kick off discussion. Linked to this, get to know the early community members well and connect them to eachother by tagging them under relevant discussions.
(6) Spread the word. Make likeminded people aware that your community exists. An effective way is to remember to talk about the group offline in workshops, conferences and events. In addition, spread the word online. For example posting Facebook lives on a page, can usually result in a flurry of new membership requests in a linked group that you encourage watchers to interact with you.
In short, as an online community host:
- be consistent with your posting to stimulate questions and sharing
- be clear of its aims and post relevant and tailored content
- connect and tag people in discussions
- encourage people to ask for help
“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals.” – Jean Vanier