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How to Build an Online Community in 5 Steps

How to Build an Online Community in 5 Steps

Discover the power of online communities for businesses and coaches. Learn how to build a successful branded community from scratch and boost client engagement.


Communities are everywhere around us. In the simplest form, they are social networks or a group of people with shared interests or goals. Communities can also exist online. An online community is a digital destination (like a website or group) "where people can come together with a shared interest in a product or service." These online spaces allow people to connect with like-minded people and interact with companies whose brand values align with their own. Community building is a critical marketing strategy and important business tool. If you are ready to build your own online community, these strategies can set you apart and result in success.  

What is an Online Community?

Small businesses, content creators, and coaches have much to gain from creating online branded communities. Online communities are great places for small businesses to build brand awareness and boost client engagement as they enable people to foster connections, engage with others, and share common interests. 

Online communities can be open to everyone, private with special application processes, or invite only. Some are totally free, and others might have a subscription option. The world of online communities is truly expansive. Regardless of the forum or sign-up model, branded online groups help business owners and coaches to build a thriving community that cultivates a sense of belonging amongst participants. These spaces enable the creation of targeted and engaged content marketing strategies that directly appeals to the audience and further bolsters company support. 

Let's explore the importance of branded online communities and some top strategies on how to build an online community platform from scratch. 

Reasons to Start an Online Community

Many opportunities can arise when small business owners launch online communities. These include the following:

  1. Enhance brand loyalty: Brand loyalty can be understood as the "marketing success" that businesses enjoy when customers choose to purchase the same product or service from the same brand time and time again. When brands own online communities, they secure customer loyalty by creating a space for clients to engage with them directly or with other community members. These spaces make customers feel valued and might include a comment section, a chat feature, a feedback section, a blog, templates, and video tutorials. Ultimately, these spaces allow coaches and professionals to leverage their networks powerfully. 
  1. Facilitate client support: Online communities make clients feel seen and heard and create a clear-cut two-way street for conversation. Frequently, they will offer self-service tools that allow clients to quickly solve problems without frustration. These include things like FAQ pages, community forums where customers can chat with each other, chat box tools, and live support tools. 
  1. Potential for networking and collaboration: People connect with human beings rather than with big corporations. Online communities show the human side of your brand and enable people to network and collaborate. Whether it's you as a small business owner meeting a community member who inspires you or community members engaging with each other, these spaces can facilitate thought leadership and allow both customers and business owners to build meaningful relationships. 
  1. Improve products and services: Online branded communities allow business owners to be privy to their clients' experiences and opinions. When you really listen, this offers a unique opportunity to engage with your customer base at a deeper level and find out what they really need. If you have engaged, willing customers at your disposal, the "possibilities are limitless." Ask active members about new products in real-time and gain insight into customer experiences so that you can improve your brand.  
  1. Boost revenue: Not only can business owners monetize their online community following, but a growing community will also boost client retention and directly lead to more sales. Moreover, these communities can help businesses respond to market shifts and act accordingly to stay on the map. 

Five Steps to Build a Successful Online Community

Let's explore five important steps when building an online community. 

Find the WHY

Before you start, think about the big WHY. What is at the heart of your online community? Do you want to create a safe online space where people can openly engage around a specific product or issue? Are you keen to learn about your clients' experiences and ideas relating to your field? Do you want to cultivate a learning community platform where people collaborate and share? Do you want to enhance client satisfaction and boost sales? Know your why first. 

Establish your purpose and goals

Now you have the reason for starting your online community (your why), it's time to zero in on your goals. Think about who you want to bring together, how you want to engage with them, and what you hope to achieve. A coach, for example, might write the following: 

"I want to bring my coaching clients together so that they can engage with me and each other about their struggles and motivations to cultivate a supportive community that fosters belonging. In doing so, I want to enhance client buy-in and secure brand loyalty by creating a valuable online space that meets client needs." 

Goals can also be specific and might include specific launch dates, platforms, forums, topics, content plans, collaborators, and sign-up criteria. 

Choose the Best Community Platform

Now you know why you are building an online community and you have a few clear, tangible goals; you need to think about the different types of online communities and what type of platform you will build. 

Firstly, you should consider whether you want to use a free community platform or a paid platform/membership site. The pros of free platforms (like Twitter or a Facebook group) are that you don't have to pay, and you already have a built-in audience. The con, however, is that since you don't own the platform, you may have to dramatically change your strategy if the algorithm shifts. Free social media platform community sites include:

  • Twitter 
  • Facebook 
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Slack 
  • Glassdoor 
  • YouTube 
  • Quora 

Paid platforms that you own also have advantages and disadvantages. One of the best pros is that you are autonomous when it comes to branding, giving you greater ownership over the online space and your messaging. You can also add more in-depth features like gamification, single sign-ins, and customized design. A con, however, is that you will have to build your community from scratch and, of course, pay for it. As such, you will likely need to engage in more promotional endeavors to make people aware. Paid platforms usually have pricing tiers and include:

  • Circle 
  • Mighty Networks 
  • Tribe (free up to 100 members)
  • BuddyBoss
  • Vanilla Forums
  • Discourse
  • Disciple 

You also need to decide whether your community space will be free to members or require a paid subscription. 

Identify Key Stakeholders/Target Audience

Next, you need to identify both the internal stakeholders who will manage your community and the external clients who will engage with it. Stakeholders can be divided into the following:

  1. Managing stakeholders: These are the people who will manage your online branded community. They are responsible for uploading and moderating content, facilitating community engagement, navigating marketing KPIs, and offering customer support. 
  2. Impacted or engaged stakeholders: These are the people – or clients – who will become part of your community, access your content, share their ideas, ask for support, and engage with other like-minded individuals in your digital space. These people are your so-called target audience, and it is vital to consider who they are before launching your community. Google Analytics and social media insight tools can give you in-depth information about who your customers or followers are, enabling you to tailor content to their needs. 

Promote and Expand Your Digital Community

Once you know your why, have planned your goals, have chosen your platform, and assigned the necessary internal stakeholders to create content and manage the space, it's time to launch your online branded community and promote it. Expanding your community might include the following:

  • Choose community management experts who nurture the space and foster connection to build an engaged community. 
  • Make new members feel welcome and encourage them to connect with existing members. You can also enhance their experience with infographics, a comprehensive FAQ section, and personal emails or messages. These actions will enable them to learn about the brand tone and messaging and make them feel welcome. 
  • Share your online community with your email list and clients, encouraging them to sign up. 
  • Use gamification and rewards to get your community onboard or enlist new people and really get involved. 
  • Choose the right content that speaks to your target audience and engages them meaningfully. 
  • Check KPIs and analytical metrics to ensure that your community is experiencing growth.
  • Consider adding webinars, an online course, podcasts, or videos to the platform. 
  • Work with like-minded influencers and community figureheads to boost your brand and create deeper engagement. 

What Makes a Brand Community Successful?

Successful online communities often share the following characteristics: These tips can help you to build an engaged community.

  • They have a clear, common purpose. 
  • They are easy to navigate and use. 
  • They foster a sense of connection, belonging, inclusivity, and trust. 
  • They encourage members to share their stories and communicate. 
  • They answer questions and concerns efficiently and offer solutions. 
  • They have an engaging group of content creators who create and share relevant and engaging content. They have effective community managers who understand the brand and moderators who ensure group members align with community guidelines.  

Looking to Grow Your Business? 

Small businesses and entrepreneurs can streamline growth opportunities and build successful networks by creating online branded communities. These online community spaces have huge potential and can ultimately lead to enhanced client acquisition and retention, as well as a meaningful community built on mutual like-mindedness and shared goals.  

If you are looking for more helpful tips on how to grow your business, explore our blog. We cover a myriad of topics, from social media marketing for small businesses and leveraging your network as a coach to financial planning for small enterprises and tips on creating your brand voice. 

If you are a small business owner, Practice is also an effective platform to help you optimize all administrative processes like scheduling, invoicing, client communication, and managing all your services from one secure platform. Try it free today.

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