Ashley Fox was in her early 20s when she did the unthinkable; she quit her 6-figure, Wall-Street job to launch her own business providing financial advice to people with low and moderate incomes.
After some growing pains, she came up with a vision: she’d provide financial education to the 99% of people Wall Street wouldn’t talk to.
The movement she built, Empify (EMPower + modIFY), reached over 20,000 people and got picked up by 50+ schools. Trying to figure out what was next for her movement, Ashley did something that would change her life:
She launched an online community.
And her community generated $100,000 of revenue in the first 2 weeks.
Today, The Wealth Builders Community has over 1,000 members–all of them people who didn’t grow up with wealth and want to break the generational cycle of poverty.
Ashley’s story shows that creating an online community can change your life. And, if you’re thinking about building an online community, you’ve got to know this. It can change yours too.
When successful influencers or brands talk about “their community,” it can cover a lot of ground: social media followers, diehard fans, email lists, website traffic, or other unconnected audiences they’re producing content to satisfy.
When we talk about community, we mean something different. Because thousands of people who’ve launched Mighty Networks have learned a fundamental truth about building an online community: You don’t need the social media following of a Kardashian or the website traffic of Glossier.
All you need are a handful of people dedicated to taking a journey together and/or mastering something interesting. And from that flows connection, opportunities, friendship, growth, and money.
This ultimate guide to building an online community will teach you what you need to know to get started, from that little spark of an idea to your first few excited members. It will show you how to build an online community that matters, not by reaching zillions of people, but by forming real relationships with a smaller group of people who share some key passions.
The value of building an online community today is to connect people mastering something interesting or important, together.
Let’s show you how to do it.
If you want more support in building your online community, come join OUR Mighty Community for free and meet other new and established community owners! We’d love to meet you. Join for free!
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What is an online community?
An online community “is a group of people with a shared interest or motivation who meet up on the Internet to inspire, affirm, learn, grow, and form connections with each other.” The people who create online communities care about bringing people together and forging meaningful relationships.
Unlike social media, online communities go deep, not wide, as a group of people embark on a journey to master something interesting together. The community Hosts work to grow the community, but eventually, the members do too, as they get invested and meet people!
6 Reasons to start an online community
You wouldn’t have thought it, but a generation of people who are more connected than ever are lonely.
It’s been called a loneliness epidemic, and it’s especially hurting young adults. And studies show that the best cure is building deep and meaningful social networks. This doesn’t mean “social networks,” like flicking through cat videos and angrily doom-scrolling Twitter.
The thing that will fix it is real social relationships.
In fact, the technology we refer to as “social networks” doesn’t always lead to meaningful social networks: that is, real and deep connections with people that give us strength and support.
But don’t be fooled. Real communities of amazing humans do exist online, just like they exist offline.
We know because we help build and power them. And once you learn how to build an online community, you'll never look back
They bring people from all walks of life together to master something interesting or important… together.
From sticking to a new exercise routine to learning how to use a product that enhances your market value or asking for a raise in your industry, online communities are the single best way to dive deep into a topic and come out the other side taking action.
And many people come out the other side with a REAL social network.
Ever have trouble focusing your energy on what matters?
Building an online community can generate the magical, life-affirming, brand-affirming, passion-affirming value each and every member of your community gets from being a part of a thriving network of individuals coming together to master something interesting or important, together.
This focus is magical, in a world of a zillion distractions where everyone is too busy to learn anything new.
A community will help you and your members to learn new skills and reinforce new habits. Just being a member of an online community means a person is more likely to make the changes that they haven’t yet been able to make on their own. The community adds a layer of accountability and support you won’t find anywhere else.
And, as your audience grows, you’ll grow as a community leader too.
Teaching what you know
One of the great benefits of an online community is the ability to share your knowledge with your members. This could happen in discussion boards or live events. But it could also be through teaching a course.
An online community makes a HUGE difference in helping people complete an online course. This is extra true when that course is important to a person’s career, professional development, lifestyle, spiritual practice, health, or wellness they’ve had trouble seeing through on their own.
Mastering something in a group
The practice of getting better at something you really want to master gets easier in a group. This is true of online courses (above), but even in the community itself, the presence of like-minded people on the same journey, learning from one another, makes it way more likely they’ll be able to master something interesting to them.
Monetize your following
Maybe you want to earn money from your following or from sharing your ideas. Maybe you want to build new products, grow valuable services, and reinforce loyalty to your brand.
Online communities are one of the best ways to monetize your following or your content; you’ll earn more per follower than any other online platform you can monetize.
If you’re a business, there’s even more good news. An online community is the single best way to rapidly learn what your customers care about, where they’re curious, and what they need next from you to stay engaged and committed.
Host amazing conversations
These new, incredibly valuable ways of using online communities don’t discount the other reasons people have been creating online communities since AOL chat rooms and dial-up modems: To meet other fans of their favorite teams; to talk to others about the TV shows, books, and podcasts we all love; or learn the latest and greatest updates from the people we care about most.
But these new online communities are also tied to membership subscriptions and paid online courses and they are starting to unlock hundreds of millions of dollars of new income for creators and brands around the world.
Even if you never intend to generate income from building an online community, it’s an option that’s available today in a fresh way that’s worth remembering.
5 Reasons you shouldn't create an online community
This is an equally important question to tackle, especially for someone just getting started with an online community.
If you're wondering how to build an online community, we should tell you when it doesn’t make sense to build an online community that connects people to each other:
You want to create content-not conversation
Building an online community will present you with new stories, ideas, and experiences you can incorporate into your blog, your content marketing, your weekly email newsletters, the book you’re writing, or the online course you’re building. In fact, a community makes your own writing easier because it gives you more material.
HOWEVER, if you find the solitary practice of writing (followed by counting the open rates or page views) to be your happiest place, you may find building an online community doesn’t deliver the energy, joy, or inspiration to you in the same way as it delivers to other creators. After all, there’s much more to a community than just writing posts.
It doesn't fit your personality
We’re not all wired the same. Some of us get energy from being with others. Some of us find it draining.
If it doesn’t sound motivating or inspiring to bring people together who are passionate or curious about the same topic, that’s okay. It’s not a requirement to build an online community, and if you’re not someone who gets joy out of engaging with people, it might not be right for you.
But it should be said that some introverts LOVE online communities because they give them the freedom to engage as they have the energy and the time.
You're not in it for the long term
We're not saying you need to commit for the next 10 years, but building a thriving community will take some time. Don’t expect to pop it up, cash out, and leave.
While building a great community doesn’t necessarily take a ton of work, it does take some time. Plan to invest a bit of effort for at least a year in making your community thrive.
Your customers or fans don't want it
There might be some cases where your customers or fans don’t really want or need to be in community with each other. It might not make sense to try and force an online brand community around something that really doesn’t require relationships.
But be careful making assumptions here. There are thriving online communities based on everything from planting succulents to mastering accounting software, so there are a lot of possibilities.
It doesn't fit your business goals
If you can’t connect building an online community to an immediate goal you have right now, that’s okay. It’s always better to focus on the goal and build a plan that evolves from the objective. If an email list or a social media post will get you what you need faster, by all means, do that.
10 Steps To Building An Online Community
1. Find your WHY
If you're learning how to build an online community, this might seem like a strange place to start.
But Step 1 to building an online community is simple: ask yourself, why do you want to build a community? What is it that’s going to get you excited about putting the time into this group of people?
There are tons of different reasons to create a community. They include:
- Bringing together people who are already good at something to learn from each other how to master it (e.g. a mastermind group).
- Taking clients on a journey together through group coaching.
- Forming a micro-community to immerse a group of learners in something you’ve mastered.
- Creating an online brand community for your customers.
- Hosting important conversations in an online forum.
- Creating a community of practice around a discipline of knowledge.
- Bringing your religious community online.
Get more ideas here: 11 Types of Online Communities that Thrive
The clearer you are about the value an online community is going to bring to you and your members, the better.
And there’s no easier way to make your goals a reality once you start building your community than by writing them down upfront.
2. Choose your community’s “Big Purpose”
While step 1 covers your reasons for creating a community, a “Big Purpose” is why your members will join and participate in your online community. A Big Purpose is captured in a single sentence with 3 simple parts. It’s CRITICAL to have your Big Purpose before moving forward with anything else.
Here’s your Big Purpose sentence:
As you can see, this is a simple sentence. It’s designed to be. Knowing a few things up front, will make it even more powerful once you start using it:
- Pick a specific person at a specific life stage to bring together first. The narrower you are in defining who your community serves, the greater chance it has to achieve liftoff. Even when the concept, program, or online course you’re creating is relevant to nearly everyone on the planet, you’ll increase your odds of success by starting with one segment first, then expanding to adjacent people as you go. If you’re building something for everybody, the sad truth is that you’re building it for nobody. (e.g. “Single dads who are starting an online business for the first time” is better than “people running online businesses.”)
- Make it clear what you’re going to master together in the community. The part of your Big Purpose sentence that starts with “to _” is the place where you make clear what exactly your sound engineers, youth ministers, female entrepreneurs, or user experience designers are going to master together. This may include mastering the skills needed to get promoted in your field, the meditation techniques that will bring your calm and focus under stress, or the knowledge you need to live with a newly-diagnosed chronic disease in the best way possible.
- Capture exciting benefits that will come from being in your community. Lastly and most importantly, you want to give people a clear picture of the rewards that are possible for them once they’ve mastered your topic in a supportive community. This may be as concrete as increasing someone’s chances of getting a raise or as hard to quantify as living with a greater peace and staying fully present in an increasingly hectic world. You want the rewards of your community to be clear and aspirational in what someone will get for being a contributing member.
3. Use your own story to support your Big Purpose
Your own story (or your company’s story) plays an important role in setting up your community for success. It’s not about your years of experience or particular area of expertise, it’s about how you discovered your own passion or focus on the focus area of your community and why it matters to you.
The most compelling stories of community leaders are those that are accessible to the person motivated to join you but intimidated by whether they could actually master this topic themselves. That’s where you as their mentor and your own story of discovering and mastering this topic comes in.
If you can lead with “I was once in your spot, knowing I wanted to do this but not knowing how to get started” or could share, “through trial and error, I finally found my way to taking on more responsibility as a user experience designer and have a way for you to avoid my mistakes,” both are powerful ways of using your own story to recruit new people to join you.
4. Define your ideal member
We touched on this step in your Big Purpose. Narrowly focusing your initial online community efforts on one or two ideal kinds of members will be the single best thing you can do to set your community up for success.
To refine your ideal member, start by doing 30-minute interviews of a handful of people who represent folks you want to serve in your community. Ask them to tell you about their goals and motivations around your topic, as well as their fears. Try to understand the things they’ve attempted to do on their own to master your interest or create their own results and why they failed. The more that you listen for the language they use and the things they care about, the better you’ll be able to build an online community around what’s most important to them.
If you’re having difficulty choosing just one kind of person to serve, just remember that you are going to be able to add more kinds of people once you’ve got your community off the ground. This is a momentary focus that will increase your chances of success long term.
5. Have a 12-month “a year in the life” plan of your community
Here’s a little secret. The more of your ideal members you can speak with live and details you can crystalize about your future community that you write down on paper, the higher the likelihood is that you’ll end up with that thriving world in practice.
That’s why it’s important to look out a year and capture in detail what you want your community to deliver to its members.
For example, what can a member do in a year that they can’t do today? How did they achieve this result or transformation? What kinds of steps did the community motivate them to take? What did they learn over the course of 12 months that they didn’t know on the day they joined? How does all of this tie back to your ideal member interviews and what your people are seeking to accomplish that they’ve not been able to achieve on their own?
Once you’ve written down these specific, vivid details about your members after a year in your community, then you can work backward. What would be relevant “themes” that someone on this path would be interested in exploring? What are the weekly or daily habits that would ensure that your members have achieved their goals?
This “year in the life” is the foundation that you’ll use to come up with the calendar of activities for your community we’ll talk about next.
6. Organize a weekly calendar and monthly themes
One of the best ways to ensure engagement in a community (especially without you having to do a lot of work) is to schedule a regular weekly calendar. It’s simple. Do less work with better results by doing the same 2-3 things at the same time on the same days every week. With most community software today, you can even schedule these weekly events ahead of time.
When you have a weekly calendar, you and your members will get into a rhythm, which also means that you’re more likely to build your community into a habit among your members.
Then, you can use the novelty of monthly themes to keep your community interesting and moving forward, feeding the theme of the month into your weekly calendar activities to strike the right balance of habit and excitement that characterizes the best communities today.
7. Choose a platform
Now that you’ve got the strategy behind building your online community written down, it’s time to turn to picking a community platform. Over the past decade, many people chose to launch their community on a Facebook group. While Facebook groups can be good for very small friend groups or very broad fanbases–hello, LA Clippers, or Stanford University class of 2004!– they’ve become increasingly hard for influencers, creators, or anyone who cares about their brand to build a thriving online community.
Today, a new crop of community platforms have emerged expressly designed to put a creator or brand front and center, with no algorithms standing in the way of communicating with members, with more features from online courses to payments built in directly, and even the ability to offer the entire package of community, courses, content, and payments under your own brand across every platform, including your own native mobile apps and spot in the app store.
That’s why you should build your online community on a new platform built for modern creators.
8. Share your community with the world
You’ve now got everything you need to share your online community with your ideal members. If you’re starting with an existing email list, online course, or group, recruit a small team of 1-3 people to help you share it with the right initial people. Once you’ve got your squad, pick a day that you’ll officially open your community to your founding members by scheduling a live “kick-off” video event on Zoom or Crowdcast where your members can meet each other.
Then, work backward 2-3 weeks from your kick-off event to announce your community to your initial members and begin the share period where for those 2 to 3 weeks you shout about your community from the rooftops.
Does the idea of shouting about your community from the rooftops make you a bit nervous?
You’re not alone.
That’s why you’ve recruited a squad to help you share your community, and why we created our own community of creators just like you learning how to build an online community at Mighty Community. When you realize that you’re launching your community in a supportive spot with others just like you, something magical happens. There’s no reason to do this on your own.
9. Face your fears and reframe problems as they come
At this point, you have everything you need to build your own thriving online community. But the knowledge of how to build an online community may still not be enough to actually build an online community.
For many, this a potentially nerve-wracking proposition! Some of the most common hesitations we hear are:
- What if I share my community and no one joins?
- What if it’s too much work for me?
- What if people are too busy or don’t want to try something off Facebook?
It’s normal to have some fear around offering a new community. It makes you human. But here’s what we’ve learned watching hundreds of thousands of successful online communities thrive: the probability that any of these will happen is low. If anything, with the right strategy and software platform in your corner, you can create a community so valuable you can charge for it and so well-designed it essentially runs itself.
The key things upfront are to embrace experimentation, stay curious, and reframe your fears into a fun puzzle to solve. There isn’t a single thing you’ll be doing in building your online community that someone else hasn’t faced before you and overcome.
Your mindset will make all the difference.
10. Keep going and keep trying things
Want more members to join? Ask yourself if there is another profile of people who would be more motivated by your Big Purpose. Then, start over again with ideal member interviews of this new group. Repeat the process.
Want more engagement from your initial members? Go back and test whether people know what awesome results they’ll get from being a part of your community. Then, make sure that as you deliver your weekly calendar the ways your members are expected to contribute is as clear as possible. Sometimes, people aren’t actually busy. They just don’t know what to do next (even when you think it’s crystal clear).
The point here is that when you build an online community, there’s always something new to try and discover. People may be messy, but they are also amazing.
It may take you a bit of tweaking as you zero in on a Big Purpose that’s the most exciting to the right set of initial members, and then build the most compelling weekly calendar and monthly themes to deliver on the promise of your community to them.
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Creating an online community is simply putting together the right pieces in the right format to unlock something magical.
You've now learned how to build an online community, and you have all the pieces at your fingertips.
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