An online community can be defined as a group of individuals unified by common interests, opinions, and goals who meet in a virtual space. The best online communities are thriving, engaging destinations that your members, donors or customers want to return to time and time again.  

Here are some steps to consider when starting to build the foundations for your online community.   

1. Assess your organisation’s requirements   

The first step is understanding the goals and motivations behind the need for a community. Why do you want to build a community, and how will it help your organisation and your stakeholders/users? Think about:  

  • How an online community will support the delivery of your organisational goals around attracting, supporting, and engaging your users 
  • How it will benefit the work and goals of your colleagues in different departments across your organisation 
  • How to make your community indispensable and a priority to your organisation by getting buy-in  

2. Assess your users’ requirements  

When someone joins a community, what are they looking for and what will they get out of it? Maybe it’s to gain knowledge, explore a topic, or to network with similar minded peers from other organisations. Think about how your users will access the community, what content they’ll engage with, and how they’ll communicate once there. 

Anything you build needs to feel like it belongs to those using it. You’ll of course benefit from it, but your users and their requirements should come first if you want it to be a success.  

3. Build buy-in across your organisation  

Plan how you’ll demonstrate to your colleagues that an online community will support the delivery of your organisational goals. When building your case for support, consider:  

  • If there’s any history of building online communities in any shape or form at your organisation 
  • Budget, timing, and availability of resources across the organisation to deliver the project 
  • What benefits are your internal key stakeholders looking for? 
  • How you’ll demonstrate that your new community will be a valuable technology investment  

 4. Decide how you’ll structure your online community  

Before you select a platform for your online community, think through how you’ll structure the community. You may choose to have one large community, or you might look at using segments such as topics, locations, role types etc. 

As well as defining your structure, consider what you want in each group – libraries, events, blogs, discussion threads? Overall, aim to have a user-friendly layout and an intuitive navigation.  

5. Select the right platform for your requirements   

To get an engaged community, you need to build your community in the right place. Before you start making a list of potential solutions and speaking to tech partners, ensure you have a clear understanding of your requirements and what you want the platform to do.  

6. Set goals to measure success 

Consider the goals and key measures that you’ll use to demonstrate and understand the success of your new community. Don’t forget that you can also ask potential tech partners specific questions about what kinds of analytics their platform can provide. 

Metrics you might measure could include logins, number of new discussions, number of ongoing threads or new subscriber and retention rates.   

 7. Get your team in place  

Your online community will require some form of hands-on management. Even if you’re aiming for it to build organically, consider who will keep your community going, tend to it, and help to create engagement.  

Don’t forget about moderation! Being an effective online community moderator is understanding the balance between managing contributions, adding to conversations where required, and giving your users enough freedom to express their own views.   

8. Build an engagement plan to keep it going 

People typically join communities, because they want to gain knowledge, network or sometimes because they’re just curious. Like everything these days, online content is everywhere, and we have to work hard to keep people engaged, involved and ensure they don’t forget why they joined in the first place!