How to Build a Thriving Online Community by @AnnaMcAfee

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

by Anna McAfee | Featured Contributor

Online communities are all around us, and changing the way we work and live.  As humans we seek connection and often find ourselves participating in and contributing to online communities.  Not just for humans but for brands and businesses its an ever increasing need to create a following and engagement with your end user.  As online networking evolves these online communities become integral to that way in which we connect to one another in the digital world. 

In 2017 I intentionally created an offline community in my local area called #LinkedInLocal.  Shortly after I unintentionally co-founded a movement with the same hashtag created an online community of hosts.  We were and continue to be a tribe of LinkedIn users looking to follow the core idea and share the value and experiences among setting up local groups across the globe.  This has continued to grow to over 1000 host members globally, with 15-20 new hosts being added each week.  Along the way I learned some valuable lessons on what makes online communities thrive. 

Whatever you medium is for creating an online community, be it a Facebook group, Slack, or a LinkedIn group, here are some tips in order to get your community growing and thriving. 

Create a space for shared values where people can hang-out

When it comes to shared values private online groups can create a sense of belonging for users.  United by an idea or a cause, they are great opportunity for digital users to network.  Online communities should foster the sharing of ideas so in order to do this the community needs some shared values or themes.  It could be working moms, industry or location-based entrepreneurs, or hobby-based tribes, but this should be clear in both name and description. 

Say hello and value new members

New members help spread the message and continue the spread of ideas in a thriving online community.  They are integral to its success.  Its important to welcome new members to foster an environment where they feel valued.  We are all member of so many online groups, the ones in which we feel significantly more welcome will really help engagement.  This can happen in the form of a welcome message, and opportunity to introduce themselves, and communicated values around a welcoming environment. 

Facebook has a great tag within groups call New Member  for the first two weeks upon joining.  This helps identify those who are new and need more support, and well as context on their questions.  Slack also provides the ability to set up bots that welcome members as they join the community.  In the words of Maya Angelou, “its not about what you say, its how you make them feel”, so appreciation will go a long way.

Make the space safe

Privacy is an issue for everyone, so showing that your community values and respects that will help members feel safe.  Make the group rules on bullying and worrying discussions very clear and stick to them.  Protection from spammers is another matter you need to deal with.  Be strict on the pitching rules in the group and remove anyone who continues to not comply.  People often use closed online communities to open up and share thoughts on matters they don’t want those close to them to know about.  Ensure your online space has that in mind. 

Be consistent and show up

No one feels valued or engaged in a community that lacks consistent content, questions or the sharing of ideas.  Have certain days for types of content and schedule these, for example the

Ability to share instagram handles or offers in a Thursday thread.  Keep members up to date about what’s going on and create content that will either help add to their businesses or help them learn.  Use scheduling tools to make things easier but make sure the content is engaging, and not just external links or sales messages.  Content should be engaging and consistency related to the shared values and message of the group.

Its not just about creating content, but also answering questions. If necessary appoint some community ambassadors or champions to moderate and answer messages.  This will help ensure everyone is getting the information they need at the right time. 

Be organised

Within any community there are common questions that come up time and time again.  Seek to create resources that help answer these questions and add them as pinned posts, or even share as a mailer if you have a list to support your online community.   Use the files section in order to add regular documents.  Use learning features to put together modules or units from content in the group, such as previous live videos.  Online events are another way to foster community for connection, the sharing of ideas, and help facilitate connection.

Reward your best community members

Facebook now have some incredible tools to help you really make your community members and followers feel valued.  Slack and other providers do have recognition emojis, but LinkedIn groups have a lot to learn from Facebook’s badge system.  They’ve done their research and these badges are adding a lot of value to communities. These can be switched off but here are some of the great badges that help community moderators and members feel truly valued.

Facebook Group Badges

  • Group Anniversary: Celebrates the time a member has invested in your group, appearing on their anniversary day of becoming a group member
  • Conversation Starter: Recognizes members who start meaningful group discussions. This badge will appear for members whose posts receive the most likes and comments in the past month.
  • Founding Member: Acknowledges early members who have helped grow your group.
  • Conversation Booster: Recognizes people who frequently generate meaningful discussions can encourage other group members to contribute more
  • Visual Storyteller: Recognizes members for unique contributions to the community can help spark conversation within the community. It will appear for members who share photos or videos that group members find valuable.
  • Greeter: Provides new members with information and support upon joining can help them feel welcomed. The greeter badge will appear for members who frequently respond to new members’ posts and comments.
  • Link Curator: Recognizing members who help bring topic-relevant news to the group, the link curator badge will appear to members who share quality, external content with their group that receives good engagement
  • Rising Star: Recognizing new members within their first month with the group that contribute to the community

Facebook groups also offer a section of members with things in common, such as common friends or liked pages.  This provides a great conversation starter and a way to connect.  
Facebook Pages offer the ability to add Top Fan badges and Valued Commenter.  The “Valued Commenter” badge is awarded when someone comments frequently on a Page, and the “Top Fan” badge is acquired when a fan is one of the most active.

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