how to build a thriving online community by @livlongley

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  • How to Build a Thriving Online Community by @livlongley

    When you think of a thriving online community it's hard not to use Reddit as a perfect example.Since its founding in 2005, "the front page of the internet" has accumulated some 174 million usersand has even recently launched its own podcast network dubbed "Upvoted." But, how did thiscommunity become such a phenomenon over the last decade?

    Just like any other popular digital community, Reddit utilized the following techniques inconstructing its thriving community.

    Find the Right Subject

    If you're reading this article, you probably already have a business and are merely looking for a wayto connect with your audience. So, wouldn't that mean the subject matter for your community isalready determined? Not necessarily.

    Martin Reed, founder of, informed Gwen Moran on Entrepreneur that yourcommunity doesn't want to discuss the products you're selling. Instead, they want to discuss theproblems they are facing in the real world. That's why Reed stated "Building a community aroundcar batteries isn't going to work. Instead, you should consider building a community for DIYmechanics."

    An example of a brand that has found the right subject matter is American Express. In 2007, thecompany launched OPEN Forum, which has become a widely popular service for small businessowners. With OPEN Forum, American Express isn't selling credit cards. It's helping small businessowners overcome the challenges of running their own business by letting them exchange advice witheach other.

    Know Your Audience

    This may seem obvious, but getting to know your audience is one of the main factors in anysuccessful community. But, what exactly should you know about your audience? As noted on theCommunity Roundtable, you should be aware of the likes and dislikes of community members. Youshould also know where they spend their time online, what kind of information they're looking for,and what their values are.

    When you know who your community members are, you can give them a satisfying online experiencewhere they can seek out the information they find valuable.

    One solid example of this is The Student Room. It's a simple platform for college students to interactwith each other to discuss anything from sports to current affairs, including helpful information ontopics that matter most to students (the application process, finding a job, student loans) and how tobecome a better student overall. Not only is the content geared towards students, the ads have beenselected carefully to reflect what the site represents and what college students would be interestedin - such as ads for universities or work abroad programs.

    Who's the Boss?

    Srinivas Rao stated on SEJ that, "every online community that has thrived has a clearly defined

  • leader." And, when you think about it, he has a great point. Rao points out when you hear mention ofCopyblogger, Brian Clark comes to mind. When someone discusses Social Media Examiner, MikeStelzner pops up into the conversation.

    Your community needs someone to take your members to your desired destination and to establishguidelines and rules for the entire community. Without someone to lead, organize, and keep thingsin order, you can expect your community to spiral out of control eventually.

    Embrace Everyone

    Remember that first day of college when you were in a brand new place with a bunch of strangepeople? It was a bit overwhelming, wasn't it? If you want to make community members feelwelcome, then make sure you embrace each and every member. Richard Millington from FeverBeeput together some great suggestions for welcoming new members, such as sending personalizedmessages instead of automated messages, introducing yourself, sending them a welcome pack oreven introducing them to other members by giving them a shout out in a weekly/monthly newsletter.

    A nice example of embracing everyone is Startup Grind. Not only was this community set up byentrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, it also takes several small measures to make its new members feelwelcome - for example when a new member joins there's a message that states so-and-so "has justsigned up. Say hello!"

    Place Members on a Pedestal

    Marketer Matthew Powers highlights a t-shirt company called Threadless, which has an excellentonline community where artists can submit their own designs and interact with each other. But,what makes this community stand out is how well Threadless showcases the artists. For example,the company will create blog posts, conduct interviews, or even release videos that spotlight theartists and their work.

  • By showcasing their members, Threadless has a created a loyal and dedicated fan base that theirartists appreciate because they can use the shout-outs to gain exposure.

    Help Members Connect

    One of the most important elements of any online community is the ability to make connections.What this means is you shouldn't be afraid to connect other members with each other, which couldlead to them meeting outside of your network. LinkedIn is a great example of this. Whether you'relooking for specific advice in your industry or seeking a new job, LinkedIn has made it extremelyconvenient for its members to connect to each other both inside and outside the community.

    Another example is Cowbird - which is a community of storytellers. Cowbird helps communitymembers connect with each other by allowing them to "love" other people's stories, "re-tell" storiesor even add them to their collection. One of the coolest ways Cowbird connects members is byhaving a grid containing the profile images of all the members who have loved your work. It's morepersonal than just a name, and an excellent way to connect members.

    Provide Value

    Remember, a community isn't a one-way street. After all, why would people want to join your forumor follow you on social media if you're not providing them with something of value? Whether it'seducational or entertaining, your audience is seeking out information that will better their lives insome way by solving a problem - recall how the OPEN Forum is assisting small business owners asan example of this.

    However, it's equally important that you listen to what your community members want. JoyceBrocaglia of Executive Women's Forum shared with Patricia Fletcher on Inc. that you should "studydiscussions to hear what issues you may be able to help solve through programs." Furthermore, youshould create content, programs, activities, or events based on what your community suggests.

    Creating Content is Just the Beginning

    While creating content is one of the most important aspects of building a community, that's only thebeginning. In addition to your killer content, you need to host webinars, curate a conference, or offerexclusive products.

    Take Built In Chicago, for example. This startup community hosts frequent events for its members tohelp regional entrepreneurs with getting their startup off the ground. Another example would beThe Chive. The comic site doesn't have to worry about SEO, because it's created a community ofmembers who proudly wear exclusive merchandise. These two communities rely more on justcontent. They rely on activities and physical goods to construct a sound community.

    Featured Image and Body Image: Created by author for Search Engine Journal

    Liv Longley is in charge of Marketing Communications in the United States forSearchmetrics.Working closely with Searchmetrics global teams, she provides valuable knowledgeinto the U.S. market as the company grows and expands in North America.

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