1. Set Your Goal
What is the purpose of an online community? What is your end-goal and when do you want to achieve it? Being clear about the purpose of your work is important since a lot of time and effort will be devoted towards reaching it. What helps during initial stages is some heavy brainstorming, research, and evaluation of sites similar to your concept, already present on the market.
2. Define Your Audience
Targeting is crucial. Your site could be for entrepreneurs, cyclists, local clubbers, or anyone you want. What’s important is the understanding of what the targeting audience values and wants most; what are the defining characteristics, and motivations for taking part in your particular online community.
3. Choose a Platform/ Software
The philosophy of building and developing a successful website has changed in recent times. Nowadays more people have at least basic knowledge about coding, while open source is shaping the future. Platforms like Wall.Fm allow building complete functional sites from scratch in just a few quick hours. The whole process is becoming easier, cheaper, and faster. You can create and manage an online community literally sitting at the beach and listening to favorite music.
4. Optimize Your Platform
The first thing to do after creating a website is to optimize it for your audience. Refine the most used features, test, correct, and measure performance. Always keep track of what features your community is using most, as that will tell you what areas need further improvement, and what should go altogether. Depending on the feedback, change design, enhance integration with social media platforms, add the most common questions in your FAQ, etc.
5. Find and Invite New Members to Your Community
Surf around the web, take part in discussions on blogs, forums, groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other community sites where your target audience may hang out. Use your offline and online networks. Frequently post on your social networking profile pages, updating information relevant to your new community site.
6. Build Relationships with Members
Set the communication tone for the site. For instance, use shorter sentences, and construct them in the way to make interactions feel less formal/less funny/more personal/less personal (depending on your audience, and concept). Introduce members to each other to create the sense of community. Build relationships with opinion-makers. Reward the most active members, share control and power with them to increase their involvement. Keep your community interested by frequently creating catchy, compelling, and sophisticated content.
You will find measuring and monitoring your success an addictive and exciting activity. Use Google Analytics (or any other similar tools), and see what practices are working best for your members: which posts received most views and responses, which picture or video was clicked a lot, or which online event was most attended. This will help you immensely with analysis and later decision making. Measurement is especially important if you are planning to monetize your community.
8. Monetize (optional)
So, you’ve invested time, money, and efforts into setting up and maintaining an online community, so it’s reasonable to expect some return on investment. Many Internet communities do just that and make great money. There are dozens of way to do so, and here are just a few most common ideas:
- Charge for Membership
With this option you might get fewer members, but those who get through will all be ready to pay.
Partner with companies whose target audience is represented by your community, and charge them for advertising.
- Affiliate Sales
Get a percentage from sales of goods and services promoted on your platform.
Organize events (like Moz or Mashable do) for your community, and charge an entry fee. You can even invite speakers or opinion-makers in the field.
Sell branded t-shirts, caps, accessories, cards, etc. This also helps to build a sense of community, especially early on. Loyal members are always happy to buy stuff and help their favorite project along the way.
Good luck with your communities! Lots of love, Wall.fm.