Establishing a sense of Community

What do we mean by community, when we talk about socialising your business and setting up an online community, either internally or externally?

A sense of belonging
People want to feel like they belong to something when joining a community. When you move into a new neighbourhood, what is it that makes you feel a part of the local community? What do the people that already live there do that makes you feel like you belong and that this is home? What follows are my top 5 tips for creating a sense of that neighbourhood-style community for your online version.

Make them feel welcome
Welcoming people is such an important part of establishing a sense of community. It doesn’t take long, is pretty much labour-free and is a great ice-breaker and relationship starter. When you see someone new joining your online community there are a couple of ways you can do this. If you’re using a platform where a status is automatically posted saying “Johnny Newbie has joined your awesome community”, then why not post a reply to that status welcoming them to the site. It doesn’t need much more and don’t be tempted to post anything that puts pressure, albeit virtual, on them to commit to posting, maybe just a reminder to shout up if they need anything. Another way to do this is to welcome them with a private message. Here you can give a little bit more info about yourself perhaps along with some starter tips, but again, don’t attempt to push them into participating, let them do that organically by seeing what unfolds. If you’re a Community Manager then you need to be doing this for every new user to your community. Put it on your daily and weekly checklist.

Share and share alike
Like the age old welcoming party, with a brew and some home baked biscuits, (this happens outside TV shows doesn’t it, surely), it’s important to share within your community. Whether it’s sharing your knowledge on a particular subject, or your work practices, a la Working Out Loud, or whether it’s sharing an inspiring or interesting article you found online, by posting these things it; a) encourages others to do the same; b) helps the community grow by expanding members’ knowledge and learning; and c) opens you up to others by revealing a bit more about yourself with each post you make.

Answer the door
The good thing about online communities is that there are lots of doors to knock on when you need to find something out and as such it’s important that when somebody knocks on your door, you respond and open it. This could be in a number of ways on your site. Maybe someone posts a question that you know the answer to. Say so and respond with the answer. Maybe someone knocks on the wrong door, by posting in the wrong group. Politely let them know and point them in the right direction, or perhaps bring the post to the attention of someone behind the right door by @mentioning them.

Keep it down
Nobody likes a noisy neighbour, or a nosy one and similarly on your online community it’s important to not be the only voice that everyone hears. It’s good to let someone else answer the questions first for a change. Doing so encourages the community to grow from within and become self-sufficient and self-serving. Obviously as a community manager you’re still expected to play a big part and post plenty of interesting and relevant posts, keeping things on track and point people to the right doors, but a sense of satisfaction can definitely be gleaned from helping the community become it’s own thing, growing organically to the point where the line between your members and champions is increasingly blurred and everyone becomes a super user.

Be there
No one wants to live in a ghost town and for that reason it’s important your online community doesn’t become one. Harness the knowledge and experience of your advocates and early adopters to post and share things as often as they care to, with as few limits and restrictions as possible. What can often happen, for communities that don’t work, is that a user visits and sees no content or interaction. This leads to them not really seeing the point, or how it’s relevant to them, or how it’s going to add value to their life, online and off. They inevitably leave, never to return. Don’t let this happen to your community. Be there. post interesting articles and commentary. Reply to others posts and let them know your reading. Encourage others to do the same and be open and responsive to changes and trends.

A new housing estate is built in the hope that people will buy the homes available.
A new community is built by collaboration, co-operation and a little TLC.
Don’t let the lack of community turn your new estate into a ghost town.

Do you have any other tips for creating community online? How does it work with your businesses site? Let us know in the comments below.


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