Building an online community is a powerful way to connect with your audience, support your customers, grow your brand, and generate more recurring revenue in your business.
In fact, here at SPI, we’ve changed our entire business model to center around community, and it’s the best decision we’ve ever made.
Starting a community from scratch, however, can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to begin.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through the entire process of creating a successful online community, step by step. Along the way, I’ll address common concerns and share practical tips and strategies to help you achieve your community-building goals.
Let’s get to it!
Part 1: Understanding the Value of an Online Community
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of starting your online community, it’s essential to understand the value that a well-run community can bring to your business or organization. An online community can:
- Foster connection and engagement among your audience or customers
- Establish your authority in your niche
- Provide valuable insights and feedback to help you improve your products or services
- Generate additional revenue through membership fees or other monetization methods (optional)
When you realize just how valuable a community can be for your business and brand, you’ll take the extra care necessary to make sure it’s awesome for your people and integrates well into your brand.
Part 2: Laying the Foundation for an Online Community
Step 1: Determine Your “Why”
Your “why” is the driving force behind your community. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of the purpose and value your community will provide, which will help guide your decisions as you build and grow your community.
Consider the following questions:
- What problem are you trying to solve for your audience?
- How will your community support your audience in achieving their goals?
- What unique perspective or expertise do you bring to the table?
Always remember: your earnings are a byproduct of how well you serve your audience. Start with your people in mind first and the revenue will become the reward.
If money is your primary driver, this isn’t going to work.
Step 2: Identify Your Target Audience
To create a thriving community, you need to know who your ideal members are. Think about the characteristics that define your target audience, such as demographics, interests, and needs.
Also think about the struggles and challenges they’re going through, and ultimately what their goals are.
It’s these common things that unite a community together. People on the outside might not really “get it” or understand, but when you’re on the inside, you feel like you’ve found your people.
This kind of critical thinking will help you tailor your community’s content, structure, and engagement strategies to attract and retain the right members.
Step 3: Define Your Community’s Core Values
Your online community’s core values serve as guiding principles for how members interact with one another and what they can expect from your community. Examples of core values might include mutual respect, continuous learning, or collaboration.
Our community’s core values are shared during the onboarding process, as soon as a person joins one of our communities. If you’re curious, or are seeking support for your online business journey, click here to see what we have to offer!
It’s important to clearly communicate your core values to your members: they help set the tone for your online community and encourage positive behavior.
Part 3: Choosing the Right Platform and Technology
When it comes to hosting your online community, there are numerous platforms and technologies to choose from. Some popular options include forums, social media groups, and custom-built platforms.
Facebook Groups used to be the top choice, but Groups (and Facebook in general) has been losing users for a while now.
I highly recommend using Circle, a modern, user-friendly platform designed specifically for building and managing online communities — one that you own and can control (instead of playing in someone else’s sandbox).
Circle offers a wide range of features, including customizable branding, member management tools, and seamless integration with popular tools like Zapier, WordPress, and Slack. It’s the community platform we use for SPI Pro and our All-Access Pass, too.
If you’d like to learn more about Circle, click here.*
*(Please note that this is an affiliate link and we do earn a small commission if you choose to eventually get on a paid plan — all this at no extra cost to you, we just want to be up front about that.)
Part 4: Designing Your Online Community’s Structure and Engagement Strategy
1. Determine the Type of Community
There are three main types of online communities: communities of interest, communities of learning, and communities of support. Each type serves a different purpose and requires a unique approach to engagement and content creation.
Consider your “why” and your target audience when choosing the type of community that’s right for you.
2. Start Simple
It’s crucial to begin with a simple, sustainable community structure that offers the right amount of value for your goals.
Avoid committing to long-term programming or overly complex schedules before you’ve launched your community. This is extremely important, especially at the start. Trust us, we know this from our own experience.
Instead of getting too complicated, focus on creating a basic framework that you can build on and adapt based on member feedback and engagement.
What are the most valuable components of your community? If you could only pick a few, what would they be? Start there.
3. Establish an Engagement Strategy
An effective engagement strategy is key to the success of your online community. Consider offering a mix of asynchronous (e.g. discussion posts, resources) and live (e.g. webinars, group calls) content to cater to different member preferences and schedules. Experiment with various types of programming to see what works best for your community.
Again, while there are a thousand things you can do in your community to encourage engagement, start simple and lean. From there, you can build out complexities in a more controlled and tested manner.
4. Set Expectations and Boundaries
It’s essential to set clear expectations for your community members and establish boundaries for your own time and availability. Communicate your community guidelines and moderation policies prominently to ensure a safe, welcoming environment for all members. This should be done as soon as a person joins — right in the onboarding process.
And of course, model the behavior you expect from your community to set the tone and encourage positive interactions.
Part 5: Pricing and Revenue for Online Communities
If you decide to monetize your online community (which we recommend because people value what they pay for) there are several pricing models and strategies to consider.
Some popular options include freemium-tiered memberships, one-time fees, and recurring subscriptions. When determining your pricing, take into account factors like your time investment, overhead costs, and the financial resources of your target audience.
Keep in mind that your pricing structure may evolve over time, and that’s okay. Be prepared to make adjustments based on feedback, market trends, and the needs of your community.
Additionally, see what other communities offer and what their price points are. Finally, consider what the overall value of your community is to your members. When the community and your guidance help a person, what does that mean to them? How much time and/or money will they have saved? How much better off will they be because they belong to the group?
Part 6: Launching and Growing Your Online Community
1. Start with a Small, Engaged Group
When it comes to launching your community online, it’s better to start with a small, engaged group of members who are genuinely interested in your community’s purpose and value. This will help you create a strong foundation for growth and ensure that you can effectively manage member engagement as your community expands.
How many to be exact? Even starting with five motivated members can do wonders. It’ll already feel like those people belong together, and they can help influence what the membership and community becomes and likely grow it through their personal networks as well.
2. Seek Feedback and Iterate
As you launch and grow your community, it’s essential to seek feedback from your members regularly. Use a variety of methods, such as one-on-one conversations, anonymous surveys, and open discussions to gather insights and ideas for improvement. Be prepared to iterate and adapt your community’s structure, content, and engagement strategies based on the feedback you receive.
3. Embrace Organic Growth
While it’s tempting to focus on rapid growth, it’s crucial to remember that thriving communities can be small. We can’t stress this enough, especially when you’re likely to find communities with thousands of members when you are researching other spaces within your niche.
You can be a small but powerful force!
Plus, a smaller community can often provide a more intimate, supportive environment that fosters deeper connections and engagement. Embrace organic growth and prioritize the quality of your community over the quantity of members.
4. Promote Your Online Community
To attract new members to your community, it’s essential to promote it across various channels.
Leverage your existing audience, clients, or network to generate interest, and consider offering incentives for early adopters, such as discounted membership fees or exclusive content. We advise against discounting so that you don’t “cheapen” your community just to get people in; rather, use exclusive bonuses, or language like “beta tester price” or “early bird pricing” to denote value in acting early.
Additionally, share testimonials, success stories, and other social proof to showcase the value of your online community and entice new members to join!
To Finish Off…
Starting an online community can be a rewarding endeavor that brings immense value to your business or organization. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to creating a thriving, engaged community that supports your audience’s goals and drives growth for your brand.
Remember, building a successful online community takes time, effort, and adaptability. Don’t be afraid to iterate, experiment, and learn from your members as you chart your community’s path forward. With persistence and a clear vision, you can create a vibrant, thriving community that leaves a lasting impact and even changes lives.
If you want to learn more about the thriving entrepreneurial communities we’ve built at SPI, or if you’re looking for community support in your own entrepreneurial journey, click right here. We have several different memberships for entrepreneurs of all levels and business sizes, and we have an entire team dedicated to creating an exceptional experience. Hope to see you in there soon!