Aliza Licht was building off the success of her worldwide reputation as the master of personal branding. With 1.5 million Twitter followers, a podcast, and a best-selling book, Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill it in Your Career. Rock Social Media, she had a ton of accomplishments to her name.
So when she launched an online community in 2021, she did something that might seem counterintuitive: she didn’t charge anything AND she made people apply.
That’s right, her amazing online business started with people being vetted and not paying a thing.
But this foundation created something amazing; more than just a digital product, it launched a movement that led to a thriving community.
An online community holds so much potential for meaningful, REAL engagements PLUS a recurring revenue business that’s super profitable for the Host(s).
But if you’re a Host who’s struggling to keep your community immersed and engaged, it can be frustrating. You can feel a strong sense of failure, especially when you hear stories like Aliza’s. And you might be tempted to give up.
Instead of throwing in the towel, let’s take a close look at what actually makes a thriving community. It’s not hard, but it is important to get some of the basics right to make sure your community CAN thrive.
Whether you’re a struggling community owner or getting ready to start and you want to get it right from the beginning, in this article we’ll use some of the principles of Community Design™ plus what we’ve learned from watching thousands of successful communities to share with you 10 secrets of thriving communities.
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!
In this article...
What is an online community?
An online community is a group of people who have come together because they share a common goal, interest, or experience. So, practically any topic can be used to foster an online community, as long as you can unify people around shared motivation.
That being said, to create a thriving community, you need more than just members. You also need to make your community space a place that people are excited to check in on. That means your community website should provide members the tools to interact, connect, and share with one another their challenges and triumphs.
Sure, communities have demographics and psychographics. But most important of all, they have people.
And often one of the secrets to a thriving community isn’t a perfectly structured bundle or slick copy. It’s a story that resonates with members.
Some of our best communities are built on stories like:
- Ashley Fox “made it” on Wall Street, but didn’t see financial advice to help the other 99% thrive. She quit her job and dedicated herself to financial empowerment.
- Kimberly Bennett saw the need for REAL, hard conversations about anti-racism and tech in the legal space she was working in.
- Scott Bakken returned to his native Canada after years away and through photography realized how beautiful it was – starting a community to share these experiences with others.
Whatever your story is, you have something to give. Sit with your story, and look for clues of what you have to offer:
- What have you overcome?
- What unique life experiences do you have?
- What’s your unique perspective or identity?
- What have you learned you could teach someone else?
Before you think about designing the perfect product or marketing campaign, get your story right. Learn what it is, how it connects to your community, and practice telling it to people. It’s where your power comes from.
From your story, look for others who share some of the same goals. Are there people who are currently where you used to be? How could you help them? What sort of support are they looking for?
We call these people your Ideal Member.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting a community is not having a clear idea of who it’s actually for. These are communities that often flop for lack of clarity.
If someone were to ask you, “Who is this for?” and you reply, “Everyone…” You’ve got some work to do.
Find your Ideal Member. Clarify who they are, and then hone in even more.
Entrepreneurs → Female Entrepreneurs → Millennial Female Entrepreneurs → Millennial Female Entrepreneurs with Creative Businesses
Each step you take to get a clearer picture of your Ideal Member is going to help your community be better. More focused.
And remember, in order to find someone who says, “This is for me!” it’s going to take lots of people who look at what you’re offering and say, “This isn’t for me.”
And don’t just guess at who your Ideal Member is and what they want. Try interviewing some of them! It’s a surefire strategy to move you towards a thriving community.
Your Big Purpose
From your story and your Ideal Member, you’re ready to develop your big purpose statement. You’re bringing together a group of people for a reason, right? A major characteristic of a thriving community is being clear about why everyone is together and what you’re working to build.
Think of your big purpose as the motivation for your community. It’s something that can only be accomplished by bringing together the exact people you have in your community.
If you’re unsure of how to communicate your big purpose, try this template we created to help you out:
Your big purpose is all about making clear what your online community is trying to achieve. When the steps are clear for what your online community is working to accomplish, it makes potential members more willing to join your movement.
Structuring your community
If you laid the groundwork with your story, your Ideal Member, and your Big Purpose, you’re well on your way to a great community. But there’s more. You can also unlock a lot of community growth by thinking through your structure.
First and foremost, let’s talk about the money. While we talked about the story of Aliza Licht at the top and how she let members in for free, she did eventually pivot to charging for the community.
And that’s one of the secrets. When we did our study of 12,000 Mighty Networks, we discovered the power of pricing. 77% of communities that had paid memberships are selling them, with an average price of $39.55/mo.
But do you want to know the real power of the membership fee?
We’ve realized over time that a membership fee actually helps to create community engagement. Free communities don’t often lead to powerful connections – after all, how many Facebook groups have you joined and never stepped foot in again?
When people pay something, they’re putting skin in the game. And that makes them pay attention and work harder at transformation… Which gives you more success stories… which makes your community grow… And so on.
Curate smaller groups
An online community is a group of people coming together to accomplish a common goal. But that doesn’t mean all your members are the same. As you get to know your members’ interests you can group similar people together to create connections.
When a community starts, there’s electricity. Often even a group of 10 - 20 people can all know each other by name and build friendships.
But as you grow, it gets harder and harder for everyone to know everyone else. And by the time you hit 100 members, it’s impossible.
And that’s why you need to curate smaller groups. Smaller groups let people make REAL friends, working closely with people who will cheer them on.
And the big group creates a great space for discussions and events.
By bringing people together in smaller groups, you’re creating more chances for members to form real connections with others and laying the foundation for a thriving community
In a Mighty Network, we accomplish this with the presence of the subgroup, which you can add, customize, assign different Hosts to, and even charge for.
Host live virtual events
Hosting regular virtual events is another great way to create a thriving community. Why? Because it gives you a chance to talk directly (with your voice and face!) to your members.
Don’t worry, hosting a live virtual event doesn’t need to be a grand production. Feel free to go above and beyond with it, sure, but a virtual event can also be a cocktail mixer. In fact, ask any community owner and sometimes members’ favorite part of community life are the unstructured moments.
It can be challenging to stay invested in a group that you never meet face to face. One way to build a thriving community is by figuring out ways to have video hangouts so people can see each other.
But of course, you can teach too! You could consider live presentations, webinars, lectures, and guest interviews as alternative live events.
All of these experiences allow you to assure others that you indeed are a human! Okay, jokes aside, they make it much easier to feel invested in you and your brand. Putting yourself out there for your members to see you as a human being adds some personality and flair to your persona.
Create a course
The final thing you might try when it comes to a community structure is to add in a course. With a Mighty Network, you can easily build an elegant, intuitive course for your members to join.
Courses are cooler in a community. Unlike the cold, canned e-learning you’ve probably had to sit through, community courses bring people together to learn from the teacher AND from each other. They can be pre-recorded, but they can also be live… And there’s NOTHING like the energy and excitement of a live course.
A course creates a structured transformation journey for your members which is a HUGE bonus for an existing community.
Daily life of a thriving community
Create different types of content
Do you know what keeps people excited about your brand? Creating new and interesting content.
If you want to create a thriving community, then try to keep the experience unique for your members. We are big advocates for having a clear purpose that will guide your members, step by step, towards accomplishing their goals. BUT that doesn’t mean you can’t surprise them from time to time.
Creating new content doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel. It could be as simple as utilizing a poll or Q&A post occasionally.
Your members are not a monolith. While they are striving to accomplish a common goal, they all learn differently.
This is a major benefit for you!
This means that you can tap into all the different interests of your community by trying different forms of content. If you’re interested in what kinds of content you might try, here are a few ideas:
- Discussion board posts, polls and Q&As.
- Recorded videos.
- Live streams.
- Paid content.
- Online courses.
There’s a range of possibilities for diversifying your content out there, and best of all, it can be really fun to try new things.
Put the spotlight on your members
You might be running the show, but it’s important to put the spotlight on your members and their accomplishments.
Spotlighting your members’ accomplishments is a great way to show that goals are being met (aka you’ve got the receipts!) But it also is just a good gesture PLUS a lot of fun. It gives members a chance to get to meet each other and to form deeper relationships.
You can highlight members in a number of ways. Here are a few suggestions:
- Highlight member stories in a monthly post. Once you’ve had some members complete your content, you can ask them to share their stories with you. Then you can use these stories in a monthly roundup of member success. This allows other members to congratulate their peers and take notes.
- Host a member spotlight event. This could be a panel pertaining to their success story or even a live interview. Or, it could be about what the member does for a living or how they got interested in your group topic. Whatever angle you take, it’s a great way to shine a spotlight on members and get the community rallying together.
- Have members write about their experiences. Another great way to spotlight member accomplishments is to invite members to write about them. Guest posts put the reins into your members’ hands to tell their stories. It’s nice to hear how great the online community is from the creator. But it’s much more effective to hear about it from the people who’ve actually completed your content.
Highlighting members’ accomplishments is a form of giving back to your community, while also providing opportunities for interactions. Accomplishments are meant to be shared. Encouraging members to tell the world about the great things they’ve achieved is a great way to create a thriving community.
Ask for feedback
When you’re working in an online space it can sometimes be hard to know if your content is striking a chord. Do you know what is an easy way of finding out? Asking your members, “What’s up? Are you enjoying yourself?”
If you want to build a thriving community then creating clear and open channels of communication is important. When your members feel comfortable telling you what is and isn’t working, they are more likely to stay active and invested.
Additionally, you can turn asking for feedback into an event for your community. Maybe once a month you hold office hours either through a Zoom meeting or discussion board and discuss what’s been going well and poorly.
You could even consider an anonymous poll or survey to get some really valuable feedback.
This gives your members a controlled and safe space to voice their concerns and ideas with their fellow members.
Ready to create your thriving community?
We hope that this article has you excited about your own community. The possibilities are endless, and there has NEVER been a better time to get started.
So if you’re ready to build a great community, why not get started with us?
Mighty Networks is a leader in the world of online community building and has a bunch of tools for you to experiment with to create a thriving community, offer paid memberships, and design online courses.
You can try Mighty Networks totally free, no credit card required. Come check it out!
Ready to launch your online community?