How to Create a Successful Online Community (and How We Did It on Facebook)

Posted On May 27, 2020

This article is part of Virtue Media’s Web Pros Series. In this series, we feature articles from our team of experts here at Virtue Media. Our Product Managers, Linux Administrators, Marketers, and Tech Support engineers share their best tips for getting the most of your website. 

As human beings, we have an innate need to belong and that sense of belonging is what connects us to the other people. There is a ton of research available that proves why we need community.  

We are all part of many different communities, some purposefully and some by circumstance. Communities can take on many forms and can be organized groups or a loose knit group of people with whom we share interests. Some examples of communities are: your colleagues at work, sports teams you play on, special interest groups you’re a part of, or your church.

Community can be an effective way to share ideas, get help, build relationships and so much more.  So let’s talk about online communities, how to build them, and what you need to know. 

Things to consider before you start a community:

  1. What is the purpose of the community?
  2. What will the guidelines for your community be?
  3. How do you plan to grow your community?
  4. How do you plan to moderate your community?

I’m going to use our “Website Owners Helping Website Owners” Facebook community as an example. 

1. What is the purpose of your community?

We created this community during the COVID-19 crisis when support resources were overloaded and customers needed to create websites quickly. 

But our guiding principle was this – the purpose of our Website Owners Helping Website Owners is to provide an online forum for ALL website owners to seek and give help to each other.  We wanted to provide a safe space where knowledge sharing is encouraged, where web pros could share their expertise in a time of crisis, and where people could ask for help without having to contact a web host’s support team.  

We kept this purpose in mind to create the description for our community group. Our stated  description is as follows: 

This group is for website owners & web pros, who are in need of help or want to help. Share Qs, struggles, tips, tricks and helpful solutions. We’re stronger when we help and support each other through trying times. After all, the world wide web is best when we keep it spinning together. 

Things to think about:

  • Is there interest in the topic at hand?
  • Does a group for this topic already exist, and if so, what are you going to provide that is different from the other group?

2. What will the guidelines for your community be?

I cannot stress enough how important guidelines are when forming an online community.  You must have good strong guidelines that cover many different areas and you MUST enforce them equally and honestly. 

If you don’t have guidelines your community could quickly stray from its purpose and comments can get out of hand. It’s easy to hide behind a screen and be nasty; you will want to stop that before it starts and nip any bad actors in the bud. 

Things to think about:

  • What will you allow to be posted?
  • Are you going to allow off-topic comments or conversations?
  • Are you going to allow self-promotion or soliciting?
  • What’s your stance on behavior? Are bullying, rude comments, and heated arguments okay?
  • What’s your stance on lurking? How will you encourage everyone to participate?
  • What’s your stance on swearing? Okay or not? Be prepared to give examples.
  • Adds for other companies, services, sites? Yes or no?
  • Privacy – This is SO important. You need to state outright that sharing personal information publicly is not okay and dangerous.
  • What are the consequences of breaking rules? How many strikes until people are removed?

This is by no means a comprehensive list and your rules will vary depending on the purpose of your community. Read our group guidelines here.

3. How do you plan to grow your community?

This topic is hugely important because the last thing you want to do is put all the thought and effort into starting a community only to be hanging out with a couple of your close friends who joined out of pity. You want people who care about this topic and who will engage in the conversation!

Things to think about:

  • Ask your friends to join, but only if they have interest in the group too. Ask them to invite their friends. This is an easy win and a great way to get started.
  • Do you have employees? Ask them to join and invite their friends, but set expectations on their participation.
  • Do you have customers or followers? Send out an email push sharing the group and asking them to join.
  • Incentivize participation: Offer swag (like free t-shirts, if you have any) to the most active members. If your forum platform has gamification – like getting extra perks for hitting a certain point level – use it. But make it meaningful.  
  • Send another email push to those who haven’t joined after the first 30-60 days.
  • Promote your community. Build your community on a forum that allows advertising (e.g. Facebook) and consider spending a little bit to promote your community

4. How do you plan to moderate your community?

I want to caution you, do NOT try to do it all yourself.  You are not available 24/7/365 to monitor and moderate your community. 

“But Erinn, I’m a staff of one.” Don’t worry. There’s still a way to get help moderating your community…

In the beginning, you’re going to have to be the only moderator, but pretty quickly you’re going to notice members of the community who are highly active and providing great, valuable information, responses, and original posts to your community. These are YOUR people! 

Private message these engaged community members and ask if they’d be interested in being a moderator so that the load is shared across multiple people. I recommend one moderator for every 200 people in your community. This will of course vary depending on just how active your community becomes.

Things to think about:

  • You will want to set clear and easy to follow expectations for your moderators. If your moderators can’t or aren’t following your expectations and the community’s posted guidelines, show them the door.
  • Show your moderators some love: think swag, shout outs, thank you posts, and free product.
  • Trust your moderators. If you don’t trust their judgement, then they shouldn’t be a moderator.
  • Ensure that the moderators are applying the guidelines equally. To begin with, have them ask for approval before removing a post or blocking a user, once you know they’ve got it, let them know and let them do their job.

Lessons learned from Virtue Media’s “Website Owners Helping Website Owners” Facebook community

We spent one day focused on setting the purpose, guidelines, and future plans for our Facebook community group (steps 1-3 above). Then we sent an email invite to let it loose on the world! 

The response was overwhelming! People flocked to this group and instantly started asking questions and providing help. 

Below are a few more secrets to our success:

  • Use your coworkers as a sounding board. We have three staff moderators for our community group, and we will bounce ideas off of each other in a private chat whenever in doubt. 
  • Active community members that become moderators can quickly turn into self promoters. Stick to your community guidelines and remove their moderator privilege before it gets out of hand. 
  • Create a weekly post that welcomes and tags new members to introduce themselves. This is a great way to create ongoing engagement. 
  • Email your current customers inviting them to join the group. This was our most successful way to grow our group quickly. And it worked!

Wrapping it up…

Community is really such a wonderful thing. There is so much to think about and do when you’re first getting started, but once it’s live and out there and you see the group growing, meshing and thriving, you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. 

Now get out there and get your community rolling!  

Written by Ken

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