Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing a series of articles exploring how to create, build, manage and grow your own online community. The first guide focuses on tips for creating and setting up your group.

An online community is a space to bring professionals together around a shared practice or area of expertise, to forge closer and more valuable relationships.

With content fatigue and over-saturated digital channels adding to the challenges already facing B2B marketers over the past year, community based marketing can be a way of re-energising your strategy, winning the attention, action and loyalty of your prospects and existing customers.

But where to start? Setting up an online community for the first time can be overwhelming. Having a clear vision of what you want to achieve from your group and planning ahead in stages can be helpful.

How do I start an online community?

Beginning with ‘who’ and ‘why’ gives you a clear focus for your project:

Establish a purpose – in order to be successful, as well as to effectively measure that success, everyone must be aligned on the purpose of your community. This could be about creating loyalty and advocacy amongst existing customers, or it might be more focused on exposing you to a new audience or positioning your brand as a thought leader.

It’s also important to make sure that purpose is communicated to prospective members of your community. You’re asking busy professionals to invest their time and energy into your group so be sure they know exactly what they’re signing up to.

Identify people to reach out to – once you’ve established the kind of community you want to cultivate, identify a handful of loyal ambassadors to share your plans with. These contacts can provide useful feedback on your ideas from your audience’s perspective, and you can rely on this inner circle to get conversation going once you’ve set up your group. Inviting them to play a role in your venture makes them personally invested and can be a good way to gain momentum before you cast the net wider.

When it comes to numbers, don’t feel pressured to chase huge volumes. The reason many choose to create an online community is to enable them to get closer to people and have meaningful conversations, and this can get lost as groups expand. A community of between 15-1,500 people is considered to be optimal. Too far beyond this point, and your community could risk becoming fragmented, impersonal or noisy.

Setting up an online community

Choosing the right platform and someone to lead it is pivotal to the success of your community:

Choose the right technology – naturally you’ll be working with a number of considerations, from ease of use, to the demographic of your audience. While some platforms, like LinkedIn, can quickly feel anonymous or impersonal, those in niche industries might wish to explore specialist models such as Substack for writers, or Patreon for artists.

Security will also be a consideration, ruling out platforms such as WhatsApp, which could pose risks due to data privacy laws.

Guild is ideal for professional groups and communities searching for the ease and intimacy of mobile messaging, but in need of a purpose-built platform for professionals and businesses.

Select a suitable community leader – it’s difficult to overestimate the importance of finding the right host. The success of your group, especially in the early days, really does hinge on getting the right individual at the helm of your community. This person will need to be highly regarded and influential enough to attract the right professionals to your group, as well as possessing a careful blend of personal skills. Someone perceptive enough to read people’s behaviour and understand when to step in and when to step back is as important as someone who can drum up some lively discussions.

There are no hard and fast rules for how to set up an online community, but making considered decisions about people, purpose and platforms early on can help to give you the best start.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Read the other articles in this series on creating and growing an online community:
Building your online community
How to manage your community
Growing your online community

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Contact us if you want to know more or have any questions