Building a community online isn’t just about you and your organization, it’s about embracing the people who share your vision, purpose, and cause outside of your immediate organization. It should establish commonality, shared identity, and culture that seeks to address and solve problems together.
For the last two years, I’ve asked my students in the courses I teach at Columbia College and nonprofits who attend our workshops at LimeRed Studio to participate in an exercise to identify what they value or do not value the most in online communities they participate in.
I ask each of them to take 10 minutes to write either a Love Letter or a Break Up Letter to an online community or platform they are a part of and have them share their letters out loud with the rest of the class or workshop participants. Time after time, identifiable patterns emerge as different platforms are wooed or rejected through the years.
So here are 5 things I’ve learned from my community of students about what made them fall in love and what you should be doing on your online community. If you find these valuable, join me on March 26th for the NTEN webinar, Building Community Online.
Make it easy for people to join and participate in the community. Some online community sites make users jump and leap through hurdles and hoops just to get them on board. Most of the time it’s because these community sites primarily serve a marketing purpose and ask for a lot of data and information upfront. A lot of times, this is where you begin loosing people even before stepping foot inside of the community.
You really don’t need a whole lot of information just to join a community online. Perhaps an email, username and password or connect through a Facebook or Twitter API. In time, if members of your community find value in the community, they will often follow through when you energize them into action, especially if the site is trusted.
Many younger audiences of the millennial and post generations are very adept at moving from one space or community to the next. They expect the ability to share content across all of these platforms and communities with as much ease as possible. So connecting with other popular social sites or online communities is very valuable and should be a part of your overall strategy if you are looking to attract younger audiences.
Create Order, Meaning, and Identity
When asked why they were attracted to some community sites over others, many of my students talk about the feelings of belonging or the ability of the site’s brand to help them visualize their role in the community. Giving members of a community a way to be organized to get things done gives them a sense of empowerment and meaning to their own lives.
The more unique the brand identity, the better it was at attracting the right people to the community. In turn, members of the community experienced more personal connections and became more loyal to the brand, community, and other members. This process establishes the community culture, drives shared values, and provides direction and purpose for all members of the community.
An important measurement for a growing community online is also measuring how individual members grow independently on their own. When members feel they are participating in new experiences or learning something new about a cause, they sense themselves growing and changing along with the community. Your community online should create every opportunity for members to discover new things, especially at their own pace rather than pushing things on them.
Your community online should also be building the momentum around your cause by creating shared and common awareness around issues. This could be done by highlighting certain blog posts by members or writing a synthesis of various ideas around an issue or topic.
Curate Relevant Content
Connecting to the idea about creating awareness, making sure your content is relevant is just as important. It’s not just about being careful about the volume of content in its overwhelming amount, it’s also about the quality of the content created by you and members of the community. Listening to members of your community and identifying trends should give a better sense to what is relevant to them. Your messages can be strengthened by framing them within this context.
Create Solutions and Be Helpful
Many people identify that a community they can go to for help is highly valuable, not just from site moderators and leaders but from other members as well. Other than building awareness and creating relevant content, your community should be creating opportunities for members to engage with one another to solve problems and identify spaces where they can easily find information or engage with others in the community for this purpose. Community moderators should be available to address specific questions, provide solutions and point people in the right direction.
To find out what I learned from my daughter about building communities online, take a look at my previous post on the NTEN blog. You can also sign up for our upcoming webinar on Building Community Online.
Are these some things you are currently doing in your community? Do you have your own success stories or things you think people should be doing in their communities online? Let me know in the comments!