Whether it’s a book club, a group coaching program, or just a common interest group, virtual communities can be a powerful tool in business.
Online communities can serve as a revenue generator, a way to strengthen brand awareness and customer loyalty, or an opportunity to position business owners as thought leaders.
They can generate leads for new business and they can be a tool to keep your finger on the pulse of market and customer needs.
The list goes on.Whether it's a book club, a group coaching program, or just a common interest group, #VirtualCommunities can be a powerful tool in #business. Click To Tweet
Having been a community leader—and member—for a number of years now, I thought I would share a list of best practices I have picked up through my experiences.
How to Build a Stellar Virtual Community in 7 Steps
1. Pick The Right Platform
When it comes to picking the platform for your online community, there are a ton of options out there, each with different features, benefits, and downsides.
For years, I exclusively used Facebook to host my virtual communities because nearly everyone was on it! But recently, people have been experiencing Facebook fatigue—a feeling of exhaustion and disinterest for a platform that is so oversaturated with endless groups and a constant stream of polarizing content. Can you relate?
I discovered this platform last year through Pat Flynn’s community, SPI Pro! Circle is an all-in-one community platform for creators, brands, and companies. It allows for engaging discussions between members, live streams, direct messaging, and events—all in one place, all under your own brand.
I recently began using Circle to host The Strategy Lab and so far I am loving it (and Lab members are too)!
2. Start With a Small Group of Founding Members
When creating a new online community, whether it’s a paid program or a free group, it’s helpful to start small with a group of founding members. The hardest part is often figuring it out at the start—figuring out how to structure your community, deciding how to manage it, etc.
By starting with founding members, you can allow them to be a part of the building process and really help to shape the community by giving feedback.
3. Create a Code of Conduct
Having a code of conduct, community guidelines, or a list of expectations around how members are to behave is important in order to ensure your community is a safe and respectful space where everyone can show up and feel comfortable.
This list could include things like a rule against selling in the community, a confidentiality policy, a ban on polarizing conversations, etc.
You also need to enforce these rules diligently. If someone is posting spam, remove it and remove them from the group. Your members will look to you for leadership and you want them to feel that the rules apply to all. The only way to have them enforced, especially over time and as the community grows, is to start enforcing them from day one.
4. Onboard New Members Like a Rockstar
The key to a strong community is ensuring your members feel they are in the right place, right from the get-go. This means having a process for welcoming new members that makes them feel special and valued. It’s also important that this process is well thought out and positions your community as a professional one.
Make sure new members have all of the information that they need about joining the community. If it’s on a platform they are unfamiliar with, ensure they know how to navigate the space and how to find things.
Although a welcome package that includes a small gift related to the community such as a branded notebook or t-shirt is a great way to make members feel appreciated, the welcome process doesn’t have to be costly!
Giving them a big welcome into the community in the form of a post or a short video recording can have the same effect. And don’t forget to have them introduce themselves too!
5. Find Ways to Celebrate Your Members
Making your members feel valued doesn’t just stop at the onboarding…you should continue to celebrate them on an ongoing basis.
We do this in The Strategy Lab in a few ways; we check in with our goals and wins weekly, we shout out member accomplishments in a weekly recap email, and we regularly celebrate successes, both big and small.
There are a thousand and one ways to make members feel good—get creative!
6. Show Up Regularly and Encourage Members To As Well
A community will only be as engaged as it’s leader is. Show up frequently to connect, discuss, and engage, and your members will too.
One of my favourite aspects of The Strategy Lab is actually the Members-Helping-Members Sessions! Each month, our members volunteer to lead a workshop or an Ask Me Anything, offering their unique experience and expertise.
The power each member has as an individual is one thing, but together in a community, the sum of member knowledge is extraordinary.The power one person has as an individual is one thing, but when many come together in a #community, the sum of knowledge and experience is extraordinary. Click To Tweet
7. Provide Value
It’s number seven on the list, but it is by no means the least important; creating a community of value is crucial.
Not only do you need to give people a reason to join, but you also need to give them a reason to stay and this is done through providing value.
One of the best ways to maintain engagement and retention in your group, and to create goodwill and excitement, is to do things that are just for members. For example, you could host a webinar or some type of live training that is exclusive to that community. Or, offer them a special discount on your next program.
Now that you’re armed with some ideas to build a stellar online community, what questions do you have for me? Leave a comment below with your burning questions and if you want to see how it’s done first hand, join us in Thought Readers or in The Strategy Lab—we would love to have you!
Founder and CEO of the Lisa Larter Group, master strategist, author, speaker, podcast host, social media expert, consultant, and business coach. Lisa inspires entrepreneurs and business owners to see the possibilities for their organizations when it comes to strategy. She uncomplicates modern marketing and creates (and implements) strategies for businesses that are guaranteed to increase visibility, inbound leads, and revenue.