Building an Online Community 101

This is a post on how to build an active, contributing online community.

First of all, why should you listen to this random stranger? Good question. Among other groups, I administrate the Ladies Storm Hackathons (LSH) Facebook group of 1000+ members.

I could care less about the numbers.

What I am most proud about, are the constructive conversations, valuable resources, and awesome members that make up the group.

Here are some actionable items you as an admin can do!

1. Find relevant communities

This is crucial. You need to be able to identify the EXISTING however faint pulse of the community you are about to build. Not doing so is like building a product without first doing some market research.

Who are the key players? What are some controversial topics that should be handled delicately? What do people like talking about? How can you elevate the level of conversation? Speak their language.

2. Seed the group

It’s like torrenting!

Seeding comes twofold:

A.) With people you think will actively contribute to the group

B.) posts that will ignite conversation.

You can invite 100000 people to your community at once, but there won’t be any activity without seeding. If you do not have a few champion members or posts in your community, don’t expect to have a successful group.

3. Build trust + LISTEN

Cheesy I know, but so true.

This. Is. Super. Important.

Your members trust your sense of judgement to make the community a safe space. As soon as that trust is betrayed, so too does the validity and value of your community.

I make sure that people are well aware that they can message me if anything in the community makes them feel uncomfortable. Feel uncomfortable? The post will be removed, no questions asked. I step in when I need to. Check out this post I made.

At the same time, recognize when you need to take a step back. Process the feedback and adjust.

In my roller-coaster ride of being an admin, I have definitely made my fair share of mistakes. Acknowledge them, move on. You’re human, and recognizing that will gain further trust.

4. Troll fire fighting

There is a difference between censoring and troll-stamping. If you have had to moderate any sort of online community, you’ll know about the trolls.

I’m not talking about the wholesome good-humored trolling. I’m addressing the incredibly offensive, often times misogynistic, and hurtful things people will post just to get a reaction.

DO NOT. I repeat. DO NOT publicly acknowledge these posts. You will only feed the fire, damper the group’s positivity, and lose the trust of your group to constantly produce awesome content. By acknowledging the trolls, I have seen disillusionment fester in many groups and ultimately result in losing your champion members.

What should you do instead? Delete and ban.

5. Distribute ownership

So as an admin, one of the many challenges I still face is finding the balance between posting too much and being overbearing vs. posting too little resulting in less activity in the community. #AdminStruggles

You want your community to feel like they own a piece of it. The burden of running an awesome community is also logistically not feasible for one person to run. Distribute the control.

Let other people run meetups or newsletters. Let people suggest ideas and give them the support to run with the it. Lift up other leaders. Relinquish control.

6. Behind the scenes pruning

Which leads into this. I privately message members of the group to encourage them in things they are doing. Or, ask for them to provide input on the latest thread.

I also actively reach out to people outside the community who I think has awesome insight or an interesting perspective. Then proceed to add them to the community. This is a process I like to call “community beefing”. The more key players you can get into your network, the more valuable the community.

Another thing that naturally happens, is people will come to you for contacts. Because you have been watching all the peripheral communities, you will be a connector people can come to for introductions. Pay it forward.

7. Establish posting culture

This marks a healthy online community.

We have all been a part of these stupidly massive Facebook groups that disseminated into vague job listings and impersonal event advertisements. I look at them and here’s my reaction:

*eye roll* …come on. Do you honestly believe people care? Let alone if that post is actually contributes to the community?

Don’t get me wrong, people do post job listings as well as advertisements in LSH. But the difference is that, the members posting CARE about the community. The listings are PERSONAL. They will take the time to get on a relatable level with you.

The mark of truly healthy posting culture in an online community is marked by relatability. If members can’t joke, share personal experiences, speak candidly, or make friends in your online community… there’s probably something wrong with your posting culture.

8. Create an identity

This happens gradually. Just like personal identity, an online community’s identity is this weird wobbly thing that is constantly evolving. Its your job to weed out the noise, find that voice, and nurture it.

Your community will be serious at times, funny at times, both productive and unproductive at times. There will be times where you will doubt your abilities as a moderator. Other times, you realize ability doesn’t matter as long as you care as much as you do. There will be identity crisises.

Through it all, dear admin, it’s a roller-coaster ride you want to take.

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