Building online communities are hard. Having built 2 successful online communities over the last two years, made me realize that is definitely a skill of its own. I see online communities built daily, only to become dormant soon after. I layout 10 tips on how to build a successful online community. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on my favorite platform to build an online community, Slack.
1. Share your community on Reddit
One of the most challenging aspects of online communities is getting members. I would say user acquisition is typically the most challenging aspect for most companies — whether you’re trying to get new customers or users for your app. The easiest and cheapest way to acquire members is to share on Reddit. I recommend creating a list of all of the subreddits for your relevant community. If you’re unfamiliar with subreddits, you can think of them as threads or categories within the Reddit website. In my case, it was subreddits for mental illness. I generated a list of every mental illness subreddit.
Once you create your list, share on the subreddits. Observe the rules for each subreddit before sharing. You can find the rules on the right-hand panel of the subreddit. When sharing, I recommend keeping it short. Explain what the community is, why you started it and then inviting them to join.
2. Share your community when attending events and conferences
Sharing your online community when attending relevant conferences and events is an easy way to gain new members. For example, if you run a Paleo Diet community and attend PaleoFX, the top Paleo conference, share your community with attendees. This scenario is ideal to acquire new members since the attendees of the conference are already interested in the topic. So let’s say you see someone on the line. You can start by saying “hello” and then asking them “what brings you here?” At some point, pop the question. “I run a Paleo Diet community, would you like to join?”
3. Have a code of conduct
Having a code of conduct is often overlooked within communities. Why is it important you may ask? Code of conducts set the behavior standard for your community. If you don’t want people to spam your community, document that out in the code of conduct. In the event you need to remove a member, you can highlight why you removed them pointing to your code of conduct.
4. Have moderators
Having engaged moderators can make or break your community. You can either pay your moderators or have them on a volunteer basis. Moderators don’t have to be subject matter experts but rather you can view the moderator as someone who makes sure your community is running smoothly and the code of conduct is being enforced when necessary.
5. Have moderator calls
Asking moderators to join your team is only the first part. You must then have to be able to keep them engaged. If you are paying them, this is much easier, but on a volunteer basis, it can become a challenge. Your moderators must see that what they are doing is providing value. One way to keep them engaged is to setup moderator calls — go through what is working and what is not working in the community. Let your mods participate and have a conversation. Your role should be to lead the call and answer questions that they may have. Moderators keep a pulse on the community. You can also encourage your moderators to add their “Moderator Role” on their LinkedIn as well as their resume. Engaged moderators are essential for your community to thrive.
6. Warn and ban when necessary
On occasion when a member breaks the code of conduct for let’s say spamming your website a warning or an immediate ban may be warranted. Make sure you’re consistent with a warning and banning to create a culture of what is okay and what is not okay to do in your community. Use your discretion when warning and banning but this should be clearly articulated to your moderators as well. Keep a warn/ban list so you can track in the event that a user had already been warned for their conduct in the past.
7. Don’t create too many channels
One mistake in many Slack communities is too many channels. Oftentimes, communities have channels for every niche. In the case of my mental health community 18percent, we keep our channels to mental illnesses as well as some other topics like funnies (to share funny posts), etc. If you create too many channels the likelihood of inactivity on channels increases. It’s always best to start with very few channels and expand based on user demand. In the event that you have a dormant channel after it’s creation, it’s okay to archive the channel for the time being. You can always reintroduce the channel at a later date when you increase membership.
8. Don’t sell to your community
If your community feels like it’s being sold to or that you have an agenda, the community will no longer engage. They may even join a similar community that has their interests in mind. In the event you are pushing your services, the members may react poorly and quickly leave. It is a fine balance between pushing services just to push/make money versus offering services because it is a true value add to your members. If you do introduce products or services to the community, ask yourself the honest question of whether your community would want this.
9. See what is working and what is not working
Like any project or company, see what is working and what is not working. As mentioned above, if your Slack community has dormant channels, archive them. If your community members are unclear on how to use Slack, create a video tutorial. Keep iterating. You will not get the perfect Slack community on the first go. It requires nurturing and seeing how your members interact in your community.
10. Listen to your members
Community is all about listening and understanding the pulse of your Slack community. Never force something unless you feel that it would enhance the community or provide more value for your members. It’s okay to try something and for it not to work. I’m not saying to not take any risk. All I am saying is to allow the community to shape itself, evolve, and grow. Sometimes your vision of what “works” is different than what your community wants. Be nimble. However, be true to why you built the community in the first place.