How to Build a Community Site in 5 Steps
Starting a community doesn’t have to be a grind. Here’s how to build a community site with massive potential, whether you’re starting from scratch or with an established following.
When you start a community website, you do something awesome. You craft a journey for people to master a topic together, even in difficult times. You create a place where those people can navigate challenges and seize opportunities together. And you give them the opportunity to accomplish things they wouldn’t otherwise achieve on their own.
But sometimes, the process of actually sitting down and figuring out how to build a community site can feel like a grind.
Fortunately, there’s a way to work smarter, not harder, and create an online community website that gives you and your members a dedicated space to work towards a common goal. All it takes is knowing what goals to set, what challenges to expect, and a willingness to adapt.
And we’re going to help you get there.
Ahead, we’ll talk about what a community site is, what apps to avoid when creating an online community website, and detail how to start a community website in five easy steps.
What is a Community Site?
A community site is a virtual space where people with shared motivations come together to master an interesting topic together, or get closer to reaching a personal or professional goal. These communities are usually led by a host (that’s you!) who sets up the structure of the community, and connects their members around a common interest.
The best of these community sites have a few features in common. These websites:
- Help members connect with each other using member-forward features like member profiles, direct messaging, @mentions, and more.
- Give members a variety of ways to contribute, from attending live events to taking part in online courses.
- Offer people the means to build lasting relationships with each other. This one is important. Successful community sites enable members to create authentic relationships with each other, which in turn gives them an added value, and more reason to come back and contribute to your community.
In the past few years, it was pretty common for people to rely on platforms like Facebook Groups or Slack to start a community website and help their members connect with each other. But when it comes to creating a thriving, multi-dimensional community, those options fall short.
Facebook Groups has more than a few limitations when it comes to creating a community website. Because of Facebook’s algorithm, and the fact that it’s simply a distracting place to be, there’s no guarantee that your community members will see all the posts you make, the messages you send them, or the content you post.
Here’s the other thing about Facebook Groups: it doesn’t offer any way to grow or expand your community. You won’t be able to charge for access to content, create membership subscriptions, offer paid online courses, or host mastermind groups.
Slack is another popular option, but as a community platform it’s pretty hit or miss. If you’re just looking to connect co-workers or collaborators on a big project, Slack can be useful. But because it lacks member profiles, a centralized activity feed, a place to host live events, and a way to create rich media and long-form content, it’s not so good for connecting people who don’t already know each other. With Slack, it’s harder for your members to build authentic relationships with each other and navigate challenges together, and they just won’t get the incentive to keep coming back.
The good news is that if you’re looking to use a platform to start a community website, there are some better options on the table.
How to Build a Community Site Step #1: Find a Platform
The first step of starting a community website is finding a platform to host your members. Your best option for that? A white label community platform. These platforms let you skip all the hard work that comes with creating a community site from scratch, and focus on what’s important: the community itself.
While there are a few pieces of white label software out there, there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest: Mighty Networks.
Mighty Networks is a website builder and community site platform that offers a variety of flexible features to help you build, grow, and nurture your community.
With a Mighty Network, creators can bring every facet of their community together in one place: membership subscriptions, online courses, and the community itself, under their own brand and instantly available on the web, iOS, and Android. Plus, members get the chance to create connections and contribute with tools like member profiles, direct messaging, polls, live events, and more. That’s a lot more than either Facebook Groups or Slack can offer.
Once you’ve chosen a dynamic platform for your community, you’re ready for the next step.
How to Build a Community Site Step #2: Start With the People You Already Know
The next step in figuring out how to build a community website is to find members for your new tribe.
Fortunately, this part is easy. You can start a community website with the people you already know, whether you’re starting from scratch, or if you already have an established following. Here’s how it works:
If you don’t have an established following, start with what’s in front of you.
Think about it. More likely than not, you already know 50, or even 100 people. And that’s a perfect place to start.
Get started by creating a list of all of your personal and professional contacts, from friends to former co-workers. Explore digital spaces that attract the kind of people you want to bring into your community, and reach out to any people you have in common. It takes a little detective work, but it’s easier than you think.
If you do have a following, set yourself up for success with small numbers first.
It’s a lot easier to build something valuable that gets results for a handful or two of your most loyal fans at a premium price, and then scale up in the future. Starting narrow, and giving yourself room to expand down the line, will end up being less work and it will give you better results in the future.
Find potential members by reaching out to your email list or social network, and tell them about your new community. Explain how it’s different from what you’re already doing, and engage upfront with anyone who has questions or wants to know more.
Once you’ve found a few potential members, make the space to listen to them, and how they describe their own stories and experiences. Figure out if you share the same internal motivations: What will you help them achieve? What gets them the most excited about your virtual community? Answering these questions will help you create a virtual community that is in tune with its members, and therefore much more effective.
How to Build a Community Site Step #3: Launch Small With a Bang
At this point, you might be worried that you haven’t recruited hundreds of people. But you don’t need that many people to start a community website with a bang.
The truth is, you only need 10 people to be successful. And that’s how you should define your success.
The best way to do this? Plan a small launch with 10 highly motivated people, and bring them together on the same day, at the same time. Once they’re there, get them excited about the journey that lies ahead of them by sharing your story, and what ideas, motivations, and goals power your community. Show them why you’re the right mentor, and give them an idea of the transformation that’s in store.
Launching this way prioritizes your members’ results and transformation, and gives them the chance to see who else is on this journey with them. It also gives them a head start on building the relationships that will help them achieve their goals together, which is key: as we said before, those connections are what gives them the incentive to keep coming back, and to share your community with their own circle.
How to Build a Community Site Step #4: Build Personal Connections
Successful communities don’t just understand the power of building personal connections. They prioritize them.
As you’re building a community site, look out for opportunities where you can create and sustain these connections within your community. One of the easiest ways to do this is to create a consistent schedule and stick to it. That way, you’re creating a habit for both you and your members, and offering them concrete ways to contribute.
If that feels overwhelming, consider using a weekly calendar and a set of daily actions to encourage yourself to stick to your schedule. With a weekly calendar, you can pick specific days of the week to highlight member contributions, offer informative online courses, or host live Q&As where members have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation. If you can commit to consistently offering something two, three, or four days out of the week to your members, you can give them the space to get vulnerable and tap into each other’s experiences.
Daily actions work in much the same way. Small things like creating polls and surveys, or asking compelling questions can get your members talking to each other, especially on the days when you don’t have any courses or live events on the calendar. It’s super effective, both as a way for you to check in with your members, and for them to check in with each other.
Using both of these strategies together will do more than enable you and your members to build personal connections. It will also help you build new practices, and sow the seeds for a growing, thriving community.
How to Build a Community Site Step #5: Look at Growth as a Practice
In the long run, you can only create a community website that’s green and growing when you adopt a willingness to experiment and stay open.
What does that look like? As you tend to your community and its members, experiment with new formats, build relationships with your members, and be open to the stories and experiences they share. And always (always!) ask for and listen to their ideas and feedback.
When you have a dynamic, active community, there will always be something new to try and something novel to discover. If you’re curious about those things, and willing to tweak different parts of your network to better fit your community, you can lead your members on a transformative journey, and deliver the results they’re looking for.
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Now that you know not only how to build a community website, but to create a community that prioritizes connection, here’s your chance to take action.
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