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Tips from a Community Manager on Building Online Communities

By Charles Costa , Casey Sheldon

Community

When you think of an online community, what comes to mind? Do you think of a forum, Slack channel, or social network filled with thousands or millions of users constantly chatting? Maybe you imagine a relatively small group of a hundred or so members who are all passionate about a common topic.

Successfully building an online community is often one of the most challenging and greatest accomplishments for any professional on the web. Building an online community isn’t something that happens instantly.

Regardless of whether you’re aiming for something large or small, with the right amount of effort, you can successfully build a lively community that encourages collaboration.

Tips for Getting Started

In order to build your community, you need to first gauge your audience and understand what their needs and wants are. Once you’ve gathered your information, make a list of the positives and negatives.

Then take those key points key points and use surveys and user interviews to gain additional context.

You should let the community know that they can be heard, making the user feel at ease when online, which will encourage them to stick around and contribute.

Think outside the box when communicating with your community. Utilize all the information you have. Community managers should make sure to always keep plenty of notes. Users love it when others make shoutouts for them or remember something that they said.

To drum up engagement on social media, use sweepstakes and challenges with hashtags, retweets, likes, and shares. For example, you could start regular features such as #WisdomWednesday (give out a piece of advice that day) or #FanFriday (feature a fan or do a giveaway that day). Use holidays to your advantage, doing something to celebrate them on behalf of your brand or product that is relevant to the community.

The Two Cs

As you start planning your online community, remember the two Cs: consistency and content. This isn’t just about the work you put out — it’s about what the community provides to its users. What value can you bring to the table that nobody else has? Maybe it’s a daily tip, a weekly webinar, or an exclusive eBook. Whatever it is, the key here is in adding unique value and insights which can’t be found anywhere else.

Of course, the greatest content isn’t going to be effective unless you’re following an efficient schedule. In order to build a following, you need to be a leader. You can’t just put content out every so often and expect your audience to stay loyal.

The Tools

If you’re looking to hit the ground running and you already have a WordPress website, integrating BuddyPress into your site is a simple yet powerful option for getting started. Keep in mind that BuddyPress can be overkill for many situations. As it’s built to be a full-blown social network, you might want to scale it down to fit your specific needs.

Another option is to use Slack to host your community. The great thing about this route is that there are no setup costs and it’s easy to promote. In fact, there are already a wealth of helpful Slack communities for web development professionals like yourself.

A third community platform solution out there is Discourse. Originally developed and proven by the team at StackExchange, it’s one of the best platforms for usability and attractiveness. If you have a technical team on hand, getting the system set up shouldn’t be a challenge. There’s also a hosted version available, but since it starts at $100/month, it’s not ideal if you’re just starting your online empire.

Other essential tools include:

  1. Hootsuite: Manage all your social media threads under one browser and schedule bulk posts ahead of time.
  2. BRAND24: Brand sentiment monitoring, always have a handle on what people are saying about your company.
  3. Twitter Analytics and Audiense: Insights on tweet performance and impression counts.
  4. Pinterest Analytics: If you’re running a fashion company or are selling products online, this is an essential tool for tracking Pinterest performance.

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