Social media has shown us all how important it is to build an engaged community on your site. Having an active community behind you can increase sales, build your brand, and serve as your very own volunteer promotional army to help get your word out. But how do you go about creating one? How do you jump start that feeling of community on your site so that you’re able to leverage it?
Here are some starting points.
Give users something to rally behind
It’s pretty simple, really. Before you can create a community on your site, you need to give users something that’s worth rallying around. Something that will unite them and that is worth the investment. Most often your community is going to form around either the product you’re selling or the content (via a blog, forum, etc) that you’re producing on your site. Whatever that “thing” is, it needs to be strong and compelling enough to bring people together. There’s an endless amount of noise fighting for people’s attention these days. You need to create something that you won’t be able to stop people from congregating around. Think ICanHasCheezBurger. Arguably one of the most ridiculous sites on the Web – and yet, you can’t keep people away.
Promote users, not yourself
You are not what makes your community cool; your users are. So stop promoting yourself and start shining a light on them. Talk about their accomplishments and give them the floor to be a star. Create an environment where they can get in, share and show everyone how smart they are. No one really cares about you (sorry). You’re just hosting the conversation. If you take a look at the thriving communities in your niche, it’s very likely they’ve already adopted this stance. The best communities, on the Web and off, are the ones that are focused on promoting their members, not the logo that’s on the site. Make your community about your customers. Ask them questions. Ask for their help in running things. Get feedback. Find out what they’re doing. You’ll learn a lot about how to market to them and you’ll strengthen your community by making them feel important.
Make it easy for people to contribute, share
The harder you make it for people to join your community, the less likely it is that they will. Stop throwing unnecessary barriers in their path. If you want people to leave blog comments, don’t force them to register in order to do so. If you want them to sign up for your newsletter, don’t create a 10-step sign up process. If you want them to tweet your blog posts, then put a button right in the post that lets them do it in one click. If you want them to subscribe to your blog, then constantly show them how. Whatever it is you want them to do, make it super easy for them to do so. Otherwise, they won’t. People are lazy and there are plenty of communities willing to cater to that.
Reward people who contribute
Highlight the users who are most vocal and active on your site. These people ARE your site. The more invested you can make them in what you’re doing, the more they’re going to want to help you promote it and support you. Give back to them by creating a leader board that shows off their contributions, give them a chance to guest post, to moderate comments, get a sneak peak at new products or make them part of a special “focus group” that can get into new areas of the site before anyone else. Find little ways to “thank them” for being so supportive and helping to build a thriving community on your site. The top contributors on your site hold a tremendous amount of power. Respect that and show them you value them. Otherwise, they’ll take their value and contributions and host them somewhere else.
This can be really hard, but you need to be the one who will stand up and lay order in your community when it’s necessary. It’s okay for community members to be critical of you, but they need to be respectful of one another. If you create an environment where people are allowed to attack one another and be vicious, then no one is going to want to hang out there. Make your members feel safe. The best way to encourage them to go to bat for you is for you to first go to bat for them. If someone is getting picked on, say something. If someone is taking advantage of the home you’ve created, lay out some ground rules to stop it. Being the “adult” in the room isn’t fun, but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to create a healthy community where people feel safe.
How are some ways you’ve been able to create a community on your site?