Discover 6 best practices for building long-distant connections in the first 90 days of your new community.
By Ashly Stewart, Content Marketing Manager
Relationships always find a way
“Life always finds a way,” Dr. Ian Malcolm wistfully declares in the summer blockbuster hit, Jurassic Park.
And as I watched Jurassic Park for the 50th time while simultaneously responding to a comment on a Reddit thread, I realized this important sentiment also rings true: “Relationships always find a way.”
Even before the pandemic changed all our lives, community forums on Reddit, Facebook, and other sites proved that connection isn’t contained to face-to-face interactions. People have been turning to online forums to find people who share common interests, gain new knowledge, and find a fun way to spend their time for a while now.
But since the pandemic hit, these nice-to-have places of acceptance and entertainment turned into need-to-have online communities of genuine support and friendship. Online communities also became one of the only ways to engage with members, meet for events, and gain financial support for associations and nonprofits of all sizes.
If you’re wondering how to grow a new online community, but you’re wondering where to start, you’ve come to the right blog! Read on to learn six ways to grow a new community and set the proper expectations for your internal teams and your members.
What is an online community and why is it so important?
Many people already have an idea of what an online community is and how it works, but it’s always good to remind ourselves why communities are so important and why they’re worth your time and investment when you have so many other things going on.
1) The number of online community users rose last year as 44% said it was more important to have an online member community in 2020. Did the pandemic contribute to the rising numbers? Absolutely. Will remote work and play fade as the pandemic subsides? No. Long-distance connections are here to stay, especially as online communities get better at closing the gap between members using various digital experiences like video, custom online groups, and virtual or hybrid events.
2) Our communities are expanding beyond our back door. The digital space has made our world feel smaller while making our communities feel bigger. Between text, video tools, mobile apps, and our online communities, it’s just as easy to meet someone in the next state or even the neighboring country, as it is the person living next door. These long-distant connections make your association’s reach go further and it makes your community even bigger.
Even an association that seems hyper-local like a chamber of commerce can now proactively reach people who are planning to move to their towns. They can have a dedicated space on its online community for “People new to the area”, and from there, breakout groups can meet and connect over places they’ve just moved from or their hometowns outside of the local chamber community.
3) You don’t want to miss the new opportunities to build deeper relationships and grow your association. From using your online community to post an updated events calendar, to allowing members to meet and build their own custom groups, it’s easier than ever to make your members feel like they’re a part of your mission, engage them in volunteer opportunities, and secure support.
But, wait, can’t a Facebook group do all these things, too? We’re glad you asked.
Social media isn’t cutting it anymore
Social media certainly has its place in attracting and engaging with members. When it comes to online community, social is a great initial meeting place for potential members. After all, nearly everyone has a social media account, there are no barriers to meeting people from different regions, and you can post as many videos and memes as the group can handle.
But for active members looking for a place to truly call their own and a place for your team to create a “source of truth” for member knowledge and activities, you can’t beat an online community.
The most important element of connection, especially online, is trust. And community members are sharing that trust one of the biggest aspects that’s lacking about social media groups. In fact, internet users were found to have 31% mistrust in social media content.
7 ways to grow a new community
Now that we’ve covered two of the biggest questions people have when launching a new online community, let’s dive into six online community best practices to help set expectations and get ready for community growth.
- Gather your internal community ambassadors.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your online community will take longer than that, too. It will also take support and advocacy from a couple of like-minded ambassadors. Find the cheerleaders on your team who can help you make a business case for new tools or systems, who can help you promote or manage the community, who can strategize and pull reports, and who can be guinea pigs for any new online community campaigns and features.
Launching an online community can feel overwhelming, so having one or two people on your leadership team or peer group can ensure you stay motivated and complete your project timelines.
- Look for member influencers.
At the same time you’re building your internal team, you’ll want to be recruiting your member influencers. These are members who are actively engaged with your organization, whether through regular social media interactions, events, or volunteers. These people believe in your mission and do a great job rallying other potential or current members around your efforts. These influencers will be key in building trust in your community and will be essential to start generating member content.
- Promote it often.
When it comes to getting the word out about your new online community, we can’t stress enough how important it is to promote it early and promote it often.
A month or two before your community goes live, you can start planning and promoting the new messaging around your online community, tutorials and videos showing the benefits of the community and how to access it, and maybe even plan contests for launch day (the first post gets a prize, the first video posted gets a prize, etc.)
- Find your balance.
Benjamin Morton, Senior Product Consultant for CommUnity, says that one of the biggest markers of success of an online community is a good balance of member-generated and staff-generated content. In order for your community to be the hub of your latest and greatest organizational news, updates, and opportunities, your staff will need to plan to publish and post regular content.
At the same time, your staff’s time is precious, so even from the first day you launch your community, you should start recruiting your influencers and content contributors. You want your members to start owning their community and to start taking some of the content generation work (posting about new topics, starting breakout groups, volunteering to be a part of a new blog post or article) from your team. Consistent member-generated content proves beyond a doubt that your members are truly connecting and gaining value from the community. At that point, it’s being built for them, and by then.
- Embrace the opportunity to quickly respond to member feedback.
One of the most thrilling things about an online community is realizing that you’re learning more about your members than ever before. Since communities encourage authenticity, you shouldn’t be surprised that you see new sides to your members. It can be tempting to think, “We didn’t know our members as well as we thought we did.” But we encourage teams to view the new knowledge positively by saying, “What an amazing opportunity to get to know our members.”
So as you learn new things about your members, respond accordingly. If they want more opportunities to volunteer, post about that more. If they want a custom breakout group where a group of users can post in a forum about their pets, encourage them to build it. You don’t want to be reactive all the time, but you should embrace the flexibility an online community offers.
- Never stop planning.
Like all good things (and successful community strategies), good planning is essential. The first 90 days after launching your online community should include regular meetings with your internal ambassadors, influencers, and staff. After all, setting — and revisiting — expectations are important.
In addition to weekly and/or monthly meetings, make sure to schedule an annual community recap where you review what you did well and new things you would like to try in response to member feedback and activity.
Get a roadmap to your first 90 days of launching your online community
We hope these six online community strategies give you clarity as you launch your new community and confidence that you don’t have to build it alone.
Join us for our upcoming webinar, “What to Expect: How to Grow an Online Community in the First 90 Days after Launch” on September 2 at 12:30 p.m. ET as we walk through a roadmap of the first 90 days after you launch your online community, complete with helpful checklists!