How to Manage an Online Community
Managing online communities can be a challenge when you’re starting out. Here are some tips to make your work easier.
Even in today’s highly connected world, many people still feel more disconnected from one another than ever.
Fortunately, online communities have provided a great space for people to find others with similar interests, goals, and aspirations. And because of this, cultivating an online community for your brand is a great way to both become more connected and make money doing what you love.
But an online community can’t sustain itself on its own. The most successful organizers spend time thinking about how to manage an online community and provide value for their members—a process that helps them build thriving communities and find success.
To that end, we’re diving into tips for managing online communities to keep it lively and interactive. But first, let’s unpack what an online community is.
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, an online community isn’t just the people that comprise it. Online communities also must have a unifying place to convene like a website. That way, members can have the tools to interact, connect, and share with one another.
Now, let’s uncover some ways for how to manage an online community and keep the energy and interactivity flowing.
Communicate a “big purpose”
Our first suggestion for how to manage an online community is to start off with a “big purpose.” You’re bringing together a group of people for a reason, right? Part of managing online communities 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.
Introduce guidelines and expectations
When you create an online community, you bring together like minded people. But your members will still have their own unique experiences and approaches.
What we mean by this is what one person deems okay, might be offensive to someone else. So, an important part for how to manage an online community is having concrete guidelines and expectations for how members should communicate with one another.
When you have clear guidelines, it will help keep the conversation positive, constructive, and on-track with your big purpose. You’ll bring together a bunch of rad folks, but it can be easy for misunderstandings to happen in online environments. When your expectations and intentions are clear, your online community is a safer space.
We believe a great way to make sure your guidelines and expectations are known is to have a dedicated article about them on your website. This way you can continually update and share it as your community grows.
Facilitate networking opportunities
Another important aspect of online community management is encouraging your members to network. You know what they say, when you network you net work! Okay, maybe no one says that, but the point stands. Networking helps you and your members form connections and discover new opportunities (both professional and personal).
Managing an online community effectively means that you set your members up for success. A great way of doing that is facilitating ways for members to meet with one another, share experiences, and ideas. This is great for community engagement, and it also takes some work off of your shoulders.
If you’re curious about some simple way to facilitate networking opportunities, consider these:
- Schedule a weekly video hangout. Offering low-stakes video hangouts is a great way to give members opportunities to meet each other. You don’t need a highly structured event either. It could be one large group call or you can split people up into breakout groups.
- Utilize discussion boards. When you’re planning how to manage your online community, don’t underestimate discussion boards. They are a great way to foster member interaction. Again, this doesn’t take much on your end besides posing the initial question, idea, challenge, or whatever else.
- Create polls and Q&As. In addition to discussion boards and video hangouts, smaller interactions like polls and Q&As are simple ways to keep members active. Both of these options don’t involve large time commitments but can be beneficial for you in understanding your members a bit better.
Facilitating networking opportunities to your online community adds value and another incentive for members to stick around and interact with one another.
Model the types of interactions you want to see
The best community leaders lead by example, modeling the types of interactions they’d like to see in their communities. If you’re wondering how to manage an online community, then first think about what you appreciate in the communities you’re a part of.
When we say “model” the types of interactions you want to see, we’re saying that you should be active in the community as well. Early on, as you’re gaining your initial members, try to comment on their posts. Ask questions, provide feedback, give compliments. In short, be available to your community. When you’re an active participant, members will feel more comfortable doing the same.
Hold regular live video webinars
Hosting a regular video webinar is another great idea for how to manage an online community. Why? Because it gives you a chance to talk directly (with your voice and face!) to your members.
We’re using “webinar” pretty loosely here. What we’re getting at is using live streams as a way to give updates to your members, provide lectures, or even host things like interviews for members to watch.
Live videos allow you the rare opportunity to humanize yourself in front of your online community and build trust. We aren’t saying that the awesome content you post is not genuine, it’s just highly curated. Putting yourself out there for your members to see you as a human being adds some personality and flair to your persona.
For example, in a community based around health and wellness, you might feature a talk about a new wellness concept. Or you could answer some questions posted on a discussion board.
Regular live sessions are a good way to remind people that a real person (you!) built this amazing online community and that you’re invested in keeping it around.
Highlight members’ accomplishments
So you’ve brought together a group of people all working toward a common goal. That’s great! But sometimes, no matter how clear your purpose, guidelines, and expectations are, it can still be challenging to convince people they will achieve their goals through your community.
Highlighting your members’ accomplishments is a great way to show that goals are being met. And you can highlight them 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. These stories can make for great posts on your website that your members can read and discuss in the comments.
- Host a member spotlight event. In place of (or in addition to) your scheduled webinars, you could invite members to join you in a live event. This could be a panel pertaining to their success story or even a live interview. Whatever angle you take, it’s a great way to shine a spotlight on members and get the community rallying together.
- Have members write guest posts. Another great way to highlight member accomplishments is to invite them to write about them. Guest posts allow your members the autonomy to tell their stories how they’d like to tell them. 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. We believe that peoples’ achievements should be shared, don’t sleep on the opportunity to highlight your supporters.
Listen to your members
One of the most important tips for how to manage an online community is also a simple one: listen to your members.
When we say listen to your members, we mean that your job becomes easier when you pay attention to what your members want. You can plan how to manage your online community for months but there will still be things you don’t anticipate. That’s completely okay!
Your members are your greatest asset. Don’t be afraid to ask them about what they like in your online community, and also what they don’t. Instead of coming up with new features and events by yourself, ask them what they’d like to see more of.
If you’re thinking that asking your members for advice on what’s next will take away authority, don’t. In fact, your willingness to listen to their desires and needs creates opportunities for growth, value, and deeper connections with your online community.
It’s go time!
We’ve talked a lot about how to manage an online community, but none of that matters until you get started.
By following these tips, we believe it will make online community management easier for you in the long run. At the end of the day, managing online communities come down to understanding the wants and needs of your members and delivering on them. When members feel that the space you’ve created facilitates real connections and achievable goals, they’re much more likely to stick around.
Now it’s time to get started creating your online community. We’ll be looking forward to what you build.
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