How to build an online community

Happy milennials friends walking in old town city centre talking about how to build an online community

Creating an online community with your website can be a really useful way to engage with visitors and spread the word of your business. A virtual community makes customers feel more connected to your ethos and ideas, thus creating a more loyal and attentive customer base. 

Brands that create a strong online community are seen as trustworthy and worthy of promotion and conversation by their community. There is a sense of the company wanting to fulfill the individual needs of the customer, not just wanting a customer base for the revenue. 

There are many simple steps you can take to build an online community for your business and many of these start with your website. 

Choose Your Platform

There are a few different ways you can create an online community. Some businesses choose to mainly operate through social media, creating engagement through comments on posts or sharing their followers images. 

Other companies may use online forums for their business. An online forum is a specific site owned by the business (e.g. a website or blog section), where visitors interact in a similar way to social media. A key difference is that the owner of the site can oversee the content created and delete comments or start threads (online conversations) surrounding certain topics, making sure the focus stays on the company. There are two different types of online forum:

A Shared Interest Forum:  this is a site where people who have a shared interest can come together to discuss and share information. This can be really useful for businesses to find people who are interested in areas surrounding their business. By engaging in these platforms firms can market their business to potential customers. 

Information Forums these are forums which are specifically focused around a certain product or service. Usually the first post is surrounding this product or service and then others contribute their opinions or suggestions about the product. 

These forums can either be on a platform designed and made by your business (on your website) or on social media. There are benefits of both. Often social media can be better at reaching a wider variety of people initially, and then a link to your online forums can ensure you attract those who are more interested. When you set up your online forums ensure you have some way of taking members details or allowing them to ‘subscribe’ to your online community, even if this is simply a like to your page on Facebook.  

Foster Your Community

Creating an online community is pointless unless you are willing to continue to build and inform those in your community. To foster your virtual community you must consider the following questions:

  • Who is the main leader of this community? 
  • Who in your business will be responsible for posting and engaging?
  • What kind of content will you post? Examples may include:
    • Questions about a product you may start selling to see if there is interest
    • Gathering data on your community – age, location etc
    • Asking questions surrounding topics related to your business 
  • What platform will be your main forum?
  • How many members are you aiming for?
  • Will you run competitions with prizes/giveaways in your forum to attract more people?
  • How else will you interact with visitors to your forum? (e.g. blogs posts, videos etc.)

One of the biggest questions is how to engage a wide range of people. Some internet forums can be very exclusionary, however with studies showing that there are many social and individual benefits to belonging to online forums, reaching out to a broad audience is incredibly important. 

Establish Guidelines

As with many large communities the importance of guidelines cannot be understated. Without clear guidelines for your community there is opportunity for hateful comments or threads that are not related to your topics. Therefore, writing your guidelines at the start of your forum and ensuring that these guidelines are visible for everyone can reduce unwanted posts. This blog outlines some guidelines you may want to consider.

Whoever is running your forum should also be in charge of moderating the comments and posts made. This means that if there are any posts which do not fit the guidelines then the moderator can delete these quickly. If someone is posting regularly against your guidelines, then you may want to exclude them from the forum.

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