There’s a myth out there that what it takes to create a virtual community is hard work, a grind, or nearly impossible if you are starting from scratch.
Let me say this upfront: It’s just not true.
Understanding how to build a virtual community has never been more important and it’s also gotten much easier. All it takes is starting with the right goals and expectations, a bit of planning and focus upfront before you dive in, and embracing one of the new software platforms expressly designed to make launching a virtual community super easy.
In this article, we’ll organize how to create a virtual community into five easy steps. All you have to do is follow along. Let’s get started.
Step #1 of How to create a virtual Community: Define the purpose of your community
We’ve had a front row seat to the creation and growth of literally hundreds of thousands of successful virtual communities over the past decade. And one thing separates the ones that are successful from those that never get off the ground:
A clear, specific purpose or motivation for people to come together
around a topic that matters to them.
When the purpose behind your virtual community is too general, it gets a lot harder for someone to see that what you’re creating is for them. Be clear about who your community is designed to serve and what rewards people will get when they join and contribute.
Taking the time upfront to get specific in three key areas is well worth the time and investment. We call this a “Big Purpose Statement” and it goes like this:
Three simple questions fuel this sentence:
- Who are you bringing together?
- What will your members be able to do as a result of being part of this virtual community?
- What clear benefits or awesome rewards will they get from following you?
The more specific you are in describing a path for a very clear subset of people, the more compelling your virtual community becomes.
Step #2 of How to create a virtual community: Identify your initial ideal member
Once you get your head around this step, it will make your process for creating a virtual community so much easier.
For example, your Big Purpose may help every professional who wants to realize their full potential or anyone interested in clean vegan cooking. But the broader you describe your initial ideal member, the harder it will be to get your virtual community off the ground.
You can always expand who your virtual community serves later once it’s up and delivering value to your initial ideal members. This approach of starting narrow and expanding to more subsets of people over time is less work and sees better results than stubbornly staying general upfront.
How specific or narrow do you need to be? Here’s a simple rule of thumb: Will someone know that your virtual community is right for them when they see a post you make whizzing by them in under a few seconds on their newsfeed on Facebook or Instagram?
To capture someone’s attention this quickly, here are some ways to think about the external characteristics of your initial ideal members:
- How would you characterize them if you saw them walking down the street?
- Are your initial ideal members at the same life stage?
- Do you focus on a specific gender or age group?
- Do they share a profession or aspire to a specific role or career?
- Do they come from a similar background or geographic location?
As you get clearer on these answers, it will get easier to describe your initial ideal members to people. And, more importantly, it will get easier for them to raise their hand and say, “yes, that’s me!”
Now with some external characteristics in place, you can also go deeper and get clearer around their internal motivations:
- What are you going to help them achieve?
- What are their goals?
- Where are they starting today?
- Why aren’t they able to achieve these goals on their own?
- What have they already tried? How else have they bought or done to get to where they want to go?
- Are they missing the right expertise, support from other people with the same goals, or both?
- What gets them the most excited about with respect to the Big Purpose of your virtual community?
We recommend doing a few live 15 minute interviews with your initial ideal members to listen to how they describe their own stories and motivations. Using their own language in how you talk about your Big Purpose and the transformation they are going to get from your virtual community will make it so much more effective.
Step #3 of How to create a virtual community: choose a platform
By definition, choosing to create a virtual community means you’re going to use community website software to deliver your Big Purpose and bring your initial ideal members together from around the world.
A few years ago, there weren’t a lot of options for you to power a new virtual community. You were pretty much stuck with Facebook groups. It turns out the software you choose when you build a virtual community matters. In fact, one of the reasons creating virtual communities has gotten a bad rap is that a Facebook group makes certain parts of running a group much more of a grind than newer Facebook group alternatives.
When you look beyond Facebook groups to create a virtual community, the conventional thinking today is to turn to Slack.
Slack is a collaboration software platform meant for teams that already know each other to chat, message, and get work done without having to turn to email. Many folks comfortable with Slack have sought to also use it to create a virtual community of strangers coming together.
As a platform for running a thriving virtual community, Slack has been hit or miss.
Specifically, Slack lacks member profiles and a central activity feed, so there’s no easy way to discover new members or fresh content. Interaction is limited, too: there’s no poll function, no place to host live events, and no place to create rich media or long-form content. In a virtual community, you want your people to build a habit via multiple kinds of interactions. With Slack, there’s no real way to do that.
A better alternative for running a virtual community in 2021: A Mighty Network
Mighty Networks is a relatively new entrant into the options you have for powering a new virtual community, but offers the broadest and most flexible feature set out there today.
With a Mighty Network, you are creating your own website for your virtual community (similar to what you get when you build a Wix or Squarespace website or Shopify store). It has member profiles, direct messaging, as well as a central activity feed where posts, long form blog articles, topics, polls, questions, and events all show up to the right members.
Even better? Each Mighty Network also has the option to launch sub-groups within your Mighty Network as well as run your own online courses and paid member subscriptions–three things just not possible on either a Facebook group or Slack team.
A Mighty Network lets you deliver your new virtual community all in one place, under your own brand, and instantly available on every platform–web, iOS, and Android.
If you are designing how you build a virtual community for growth, flexibility, and a future revenue stream via either one time payments for courses or ongoing membership subscriptions, there’s nothing quite like a Mighty Network.
Step #4 of How to create a virtual community: Launch with a bang to a small set of initial ideal members
If you’ve taken the first three steps above, congratulations: This is where you start to reap the rewards of working smarter, not harder in how you create a virtual community.
You might be tempted to ease your way into launching your new virtual community by inviting in a few members at a time, or as we call it, “dripping members in.” While that method might feel a little less stressful, it doesn’t work nearly as well as getting your initial ideal members together at the same time on the same day via Zoom or by having a proper launch day.
Now, launching with a bang doesn’t mean that you need to have hundreds or thousands of members to make a virtual community successful. You don’t. You only need five or 10 members to come together around your Big Purpose to plant the seeds of a thriving community mastering something interesting together.
If these two points feel contradictory, they aren’t. They represent different mindsets, one of which is going to make the effort to create a virtual community so much easier than the other:
Launch Mindset #1: Drip members in, always feeling like your virtual community should be bigger, more engaged than they are, and that with a ‘beta’ phase, you don’t have to be fully committed to it yet.
Launch Mindset #2: Launch with a bang with five or 10 members (if you’re starting from scratch) or more (if you are bringing a following or audience into a virtual community from somewhere else) together live at the same time on the same day. This will let your members see who else is here with them, meet you, and begin their journey to master something important or interesting as a community.
The goal is to get started with a small number of highly motivated folks, and to bring them together at the same time. If those people A) share the same motivation around your big purpose and B) have a lot in common by being a part of a narrowly defined ideal member profile, you can get them great results by being a member of your virtual community. And that’s a straight up win.
Step #5 of How to create a virtual community: Treat this like detective work
Hopefully by now, you see that bringing together a small set of people with a lot of motivation and a clear set of defining characteristics is anything but a grind. The seeds that will grow a thriving virtual community that can get a heck of a lot bigger than 10 people quickly. Plus, for you, I’d argue that a virtual community is one of the most fun and energizing things anyone with a curiosity or interest can create.
How will you grow your virtual community over time? Stay curious, experiment, and treat it like detective work.
This kind of detective work will be equally important to understand what’s going to help you grow bigger, as well as if you are feeling like things aren’t going as well as you were expecting.
Why might your virtual community not take off immediately? It turns out there are a few key reasons that have nothing to do with how busy people may be. In fact, people who say they are too busy are just trying to be nice.
The real reasons your virtual community may not be taking off include:
- A lack of a clear motivation or Big Purpose. If the thing that powers you isn’t clear, or if your Big Purpose lacks specificity, you could be confusing potential members. Be clear about your motivation, your Big Purpose, and how compelling the future rewards will be.
- Your initial ideal member isn’t specific or clear enough. Imagine this: You’re scrolling through your Instagram feed, and you see a product or a brand that’s targeted to everyone. More than likely, you wouldn’t stop to join. Recruiting for your community is the same. Your ideal member needs to know that your virtual community is for them.
- People don’t know how they are supposed to contribute. If your folks aren’t engaging in your virtual community, it’s likely because they don’t know what’s expected of them. Just asking people, “Hey, what do you think?” about some external article that you’ve read and they haven’t just doesn’t work.
When you approach growing your virtual community with openness, curiosity, and a bias towards experimentation, it’s easy to be successful.
Ready to get started? You’ve got this.