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If you build it, they won’t come. Building a thriving online community takes a lot of effort, listening and strategy. But it’s incredibly rewarding.
More than just traffic, an online community has its own personality and dynamics. It is a place where people come to share and express their passion. Because people are so attached to the business or topic around which the community is built, it is difficult to gain buy-in and easy to alienate them along the way.
Here are some steps on a possible path to building a community that people are proud to be a part of and in which they are willing to invest their time and energy.
Truly know who you are serving
If you are considering starting an online community, you are probably already part of the community you will be serving, or at least next to it. You might think that you know a lot about your target users and that no further research is needed. You are wrong.
Even though this community is already an integral part of your life and you are looking to bring it online, your perspective is limited. You need a range of perspectives to build an online community with broad appeal.
Long, detailed interactions, where you ask lots of questions and don’t say much, are the best way to really understand how future members of your community think. It’s a big demand, so you’ll probably have to pay people for their time.
Related: 5 Tips for Building an Online Community for Your Business
At the very beginning of The Dyrt, we took REI gift cards to campgrounds and had long conversations about how people decide where to camp. We also did some background surveys where we went to campers’ homes and watched, or even filmed, as they searched for campgrounds online.
It was a tedious and time consuming job that took place alongside the technological development of The Dyrt during our early years. But the information we got was invaluable. We confirmed what we suspected: not all campers approached camping the same way we did. And we had to create a community for all the campers.
Adopt early adopters
Hands-on research continues once your online community is up and running. I’ll never forget the thrill when the first person I didn’t know wrote a campground review on The Dyrt. Who were they? How did they find us? What did they like and dislike about the product so far?
I called them and asked them these questions and many more. I personally reached out to many of the first people who posted reviews that weren’t our friends and family. Many of these users have remained leading figures in the community as it has grown exponentially.
This type of one-on-one communication may not come naturally to young, digital native entrepreneurs. There is going to be a push to automate everything using surveys or tracking tools. This information is very useful. But as you build your community, personal interaction is key. This leads to creativity and ideas that you just can’t get from form and tool submissions alone.
Related: 7 Strategies For Achieving Phenomenal Growth In The Online Community
Know the 1: 9: 90 rule
When user-generated content began to flood the internet in the mid-decade, the 1: 9: 90 rule (also known as 90/9/1 or other variations) began to emerge, and it continues to emerge. to apply to online communities today. The rule states that on average 1% of users will create content, 9% of users will engage with that content (such as likes or upvotes), and 90% of users will post the content without contributing.
Chances are, your community will abide by this rule as it grows. Sometimes entrepreneurs are frustrated with the number of lurkers on their platform. Set realistic expectations for yourself. The lurkers are great. Having a lot of lurkers is healthy growth.
However, if they can represent the vast majority of users, don’t give in to the temptation to design for lurkers. A strong community designs for the 1% of super users. Make them happy and the rest will follow.
Related: Tips for Building an Awesome “Harley Davidson Style” Online Community
Growing with the community
To maintain sustained growth and morale in your online community, you need to let go of some control over time.
At first, the community was just your vision. You’ve processed your research information and created something people love. Now these people have an interest in it too, and in order to keep them and their extremely valuable contributions in the community, you need to avoid disrupting their experience too much.
Your features become a part of people’s lives. Although you may need to remove features, do so with tact and take care to protect what people have created on your platform. While it’s more difficult for you and your team to manage, it’s normal for new features to temporarily overlap with old ones if it creates a smoother transition for your users.
Because without your users, you are nothing.