To avoid depending on social media or search algorithms so much, many online businesses are focusing on appealing to a broader customer base, and investing in online communities more and more to grow their business.
So, let's see how to build your own online community.
What is an online community?
Before understanding how online communities work, let's look at offline communities. Traditional communities are just a group of people who live in the same place, have similar interests, or work on a mission together.
Similarly to local communities, an online community is a group of people who share things with each other. These people usually have something in common between them, like a passion, or a common goal.
Data from GlobalWebIndex shows that the main reason (66%) why people are involved in online communities is they have the same interest. That means people appreciate a space where most other people have a similar mindset and talk about their topic of interest.
When it comes to your business, the goal of your online community will be to serve as a platform where your audience can communicate, connect, learn and flourish.
Why do you need an online community?
We can all agree that announcing or promoting your business where all your potential buyers are is always easier, and owning this place on the internet makes it easier for you to make sales and find leads.
Also, you can quickly get feedback on what your potential customers want and research your market quickly.
Benefits of building an online community
Here are some of the perks of building an online community.
A community builds a strong network
When running a business, whether it is course creation, e-commerce, SaaS, or other coaching, you already know the following saying:
Who you know is more important than what you know.
The more robust the network you create, the more your business expands.
Getting thought leaders from your industry in your community can help your business grow by creating partnerships, and can help you improve your sales and marketing.
Your customers can connect with you easily
When customers and prospects can connect with your brand without any friction, they feel heard.
Communicating often with them allows your brand to build a connection with customers and can increase word of mouth, even with people who are not paying customers yet. For prospects, it will make the trust you more, and give them a reason to become a paying customers soon.
Members discuss your product and you get feedback
To improve your product and get more social proof, you need customer feedback and reviews. Communities are great for this!
A community where your customers can talk about your product freely is a great opportunity for you and your team to know who might be a good fit for creating a video testimonial for your product, or to get valuable feedback that you can quickly implement, and share the improvements you've made publicly!
Communities get you more brand awareness
Creating an online community can significantly raise brand awareness. Each interaction from your members, such as likes, shares, or comments, increases your brand's visibility to a broader audience.
Also, this active community can boost your ranking in search engine results, helping your business become more discoverable. Regular engagement and sharing of valuable insights within your community positions your brand as a trustworthy authority. This cultivates customer loyalty and may lead to more organic recommendations. So establishing an online community isn't just a fun activity, it's a strategy that can really help increase awareness of your brand.
The retention rate of customers increases
There is a relationship between your brand’s online community and your business’s customer retention, new leads, and increased sales.
A statistic from Vanilla forums (one of the major community platforms), shows that a brand’s customer retention increases by 66%, new lead generates by 68%, and sales increase by 55% when using a branded online community.
To start using a branded community tool, you can check out SchoolMaker.
Audience Vs. Community – The major difference
An audience and an online community may seem similar at first glance, but they are actually pretty different.
The audience: a one-way street
Imagine you're on a stage, delivering a speech. The crowd is listening to you, nodding their heads, being influenced by your words — that's your audience.
- They're primarily passive receivers of your message.
- Interaction often flows in one direction. From you to them.
- The strength of an audience is in numbers, but the personal connection might be missing.
- Audiences can be large, ranging from a few dozen to thousands, or even millions.
The audience only consumes the content or the production given by the primary source (you). And other members of the audience usually can't expect to receive much value from someone else than you.
The community: a networking hub
Now, picture a busy town square with people talking, exchanging ideas, helping each other out. That's your online community.
- Online communities are about active engagement and interaction.
- They’re generally smaller than audiences, but their strength lies in their active dynamics.
- The flow of information is multi-directional, it's an open dialogue among all members.
- An online community can be more loyal and supportive because of the relationships and common interests they share.
So, whether you're a creator, a marketer, or a noble cause supporter, always remember to talk with people, not just to them. As the saying goes, communication is a two-way street! 😉
You can create this experience by using branded forums, Slack groups, Facebook groups, Discord servers, and live events/conferences where people can interact and find value in each other's contributions.
To sum it up:
While an audience can give you a sense of reach, an online community provides depth and engagement. And both are integral to an effective online presence.
Types of online community
The great thing about online communities is that there's one for almost every interest, hobby, or need imaginable. Let's delve into some of the most common types:
A brand community centers around a specific brand and its customers. This type of community is one of the most prominent types. These communities are created by companies to engage their customers, gather feedback, and cultivate brand loyalty. A great example is Apple's user forum where customers can ask questions, share solutions, or discuss products.
Besides, the moderator of the brand community actively engages them in conversations by creating content and directly asking the members about many things.
A learning community is more of a teacher-student discussion platform. Course creators and students are the core of this kind of community. Here students get a more ample opportunity to ask specific questions to the teacher. Learning communities are popular in the field of academics, coding, languages, and many more.
To get started quickly with a community where you can create online courses, share lives, do QnAs, and have a great community space, we recommend using SchoolMaker, which is the platform we created to make it easier for you.
As the name suggests, these communities gather people passionate about specific causes, advocating for change, and promoting activism. Greenpeace’s online community is a great example. There are animal activists, social activists, religious activists, and so on. In such an activist online community, they talk and practice their beliefs and norms more effectively.
These are platforms where political discussions, debates, and campaigning take place. Many politicians have their own online communities to engage with voters.
These are built by fans of a particular celebrity, band, team, or TV show. They share news, create content, or simply talk about their shared interests. For instance, Reddit has countless fan communities about your favorite TV shows or bands.
Peer support groups
These offer support, advice, and encouragement around specific issues or challenges like health conditions, life changes, or hobbies. Reddit’s r/loseit community, where people discuss their weight loss journeys, is an example.
Expert communities are designed for experts on a specific niche. They come to this community to learn more from other experts, share their knowledge and journey, and become more skillful.
Fitness, Wellness, And Lifestyle
Fitness, Wellness, and Lifestyle communities revolve around topics like healthy eating, diet, nutrition, weight maintenance, exercise, tips and tricks, and products related to the niche.
Sometimes there are very niche-specific communities that focus only on a couple of things, and there are combined online communities as well. The motive of this type is to help everyone achieve their fitness and wellness goals.
Local online communities can range from neighborhood areas to cities. These platforms connect people living in the same region or city. They share local news, recommendations, or organize events. They can for example cover a town's news, discussing the economics and geographical rules, regulation, norms, dos and don'ts, etc.
How to create a successful online community — step by step
You must have seen any online community being crowded with members and discussions. They are highly engaged community platforms that you wish to have as a creator someday. But how to do that exactly?
This step by step guide on building an online community could be a kick starter for your future raving online community:
Step 1 - Figure out your community's purpose and target
You must figure out what your online community's goal and who your community members will be even before you start building the platform. This is because they are these elements are the foundation of your community, and they should be well chosen.
Spend some time brainstorming and defining the purpose of your community, the shared interests or values its members will have, and what you hope they'll gain from it.
For example, if you're aiming to create a community for your online course students, you goal would be to provide a platform where your students exchange tips, successes, failures, and learn from each other.
Step 2 – Choose the right community platform
Once the purpose and target of your community are clear, you need to choose a platform. While getting started with a community, choosing the right platform can be complex, to make it easier, you can ask yourself what your needs are first.
The ideal platform can be different for every business. As we've taken course creation as our example, a perfect community platform would be a branded forum community.
Let's see what the three types of community platforms are:
Platforms like Slack, Discord, or Telegram are examples of chat communities. The benefit of chat platforms is that starting conversations is quick and easy. Another advantage is that you get to talk with others in real-time.
The disadvantage of chat communities is that you and the other members must be online simultaneously to have a more meaningful conversation. It is impossible to be like this in different time zones around the globe. Also, if there are too many people on this kind of community, it can get spammy quickly.
Moreover, as a community owner, you want your community to appear online on search engines when anybody searches for it. But you don't get it with chat communities.
Facebook, LinkedIn, and different social media platforms can be used as an online community. Their pages and groups are great features to use as community platforms.
Their advantage is there is no subscription or registration fee, so members are more eager to join in than in a paid community. But the downside is the same as chat platforms. They don't appear on search results when looked into search engines, and can get spammy quickly.
Besides, social media are more of a controlled setting. So your members can only see items the platform chooses to make visible after showing them unrelated posts and ads.
Forums stand between a chat and a social media community. The pros of a forum community are you can go through discussions, content, conversions, and everything there.
There are no limitations like social media. Members can also comment on discussions and share their opinions freely.
For example, with SchoolMaker, you can create a community forum for your audience easily.
Step 3 – Launch the community
After completing your groundwork, it's time to softly launch your online community. You can do this by inviting a small group of people, say 10-20, and initiating some friendly, engaging conversation. This takes us to the first phase of your launch, the setup:
- Prepare a Presentation: Host a virtual meeting and present a deck showcasing the features of your community and the benefits members will enjoy. Excitement is contagious!
- Engage in Conversation: Understandably, a new community might feel little quiet. That’s okay! Be the first to break the silence. Ask intriguing questions or interesting topics that your audience can resonate with. Aim to have at least two engaging convos per week.
Then, it's time to bring in your first community members. In a presentation post, you can answer essential questions by talking about:
- Why you created the community
- The content the community will offer and how members can contribute
- What are the guidelines and rules of the community
Be honest and let your community see your sincerity — people will appreciate your authenticity.
Wrap up the post with a clear call-to-action, like asking the members to introduce themselves in the community. You can make this feel more interactive by creating some example posts yourself.
Once the initial wave of members subsides, repeat the process with a fresh batch of people. As your community grows, you can throw in new offerings, activites, or challenges in your community to keep your members engaged.
Step 4 – Create valuable content
Your members are now ready, great! Now, how do you keep them engaged? The answer: Relevant and valuable content. Think of captivating posts, interactive webinars, or insightful podcasts. Plan to share at least one piece of content per week.
Step 5 – Promote your community
Now your online community has turned from a ghost town to a mildly active one. It's time to go outside and promote it! Here are a few strategies to help you out:
• Content Promotion: Whenever you publish a blog post, a video, or a podcast, mention your community to invite more interested people. Remember, the aim isn’t to have a high number of members; it’s about having engaged and excited members.
• Social Media Promotion: Social media is an excellent channel for promoting your community. Share interesting conversations, highlight member contributions, or post about top contributors.
Step 6 – Measure your community's progress and improve it
Keep a tab on your progress by regularly checking out the following parameters:
• Page Views: This metric can provide insights on where you receive visits from, which can help in planning promotions.
• Sign-ups: Recording sign-up numbers can help you understand your conversion rates and strategize accordingly.
• Active members: The number of active members can indicate the level of engagement in your community. For example, you can consider the members who participated in your community during the last 30 days as active members.
• Likes or Reactions: Though often overlooked, likes and reactions can be a strong indicator of engagement and reflect the sentiment of your users.
The community platform for course creators: SchoolMaker
SchoolMaker's in-built community is one click away from your courses and can help your students have a seamless experience between learning and sharing. I
But that's not all, with SchoolMaker you also get:
Step by step Programs
SchoolMaker allows you to set specific steps for your students to follow at the end of each lesson. And it remembers at which step they left off. You’ll never again get an email asking “What should I do next?”
For example, you could ask members from your online courses to interact in the community, and the step will only be completed when the member has actually created a post.
Click here to learn more about steps and milestones.
All course questions are shared directly in the built-in community
All the questions your students will share under a lesson will also be shown in the community to encourage peer-to-peer learning.
With SchoolMaker, you can share links to events and lives to your students and community members, click here to learn more.
Automated video Q&As
Answering dozens of questions every week can be pretty tough. To make these questions easier to answer, we built the consultations feature, which allows you to answer all your student's questions back-to-back, in less than 2 hours per week.