Building an online community is one of the hardest things to do on the internet. It is a kind of magic. You ask a query or make a post and people from different part of the world share their knowledge about it.
There are only very few successful online communities in the world. In this guide, we will take you through the step-by-step process to build an online community.
By online community, we mean a platform like Reddit, Quora, Stack Overflow, etc. where a group of people requests the information and a group of people shares the information. This guide will be useful even if you want to create a FB group or an online community for your business or start a Reddit-like platform.
Making an online community is difficult but not impossible.
Our experience of building an online community
This guide is based on our experience in building India’s biggest Q&A platform for the Government and Citizens, Tesz. So, the strategies we mention here are actionable.
Most of our examples would be towards building an online Q&A or discussion platform. However, the basics required to build an online community are the same everywhere irrespective of whether you start a FB group or create your own online platform.
In this guide, we are not leaving anything to luck. We are not going to take into consideration uber-successful community platforms like Facebook or Twitter. We will only discuss things that a normal person can do with limited resources and luck.
This can be considered as “Online Community Building for Dummies“. We hope you find this guide useful.
In this guide, we will cover the following topics.
We will discuss each of these in detail below.
What is an online community?
For any community, there are two kinds of entities required to create a community. The one who asks for information and the other who shares the information.
Users who share information are part of the Supply side. Users who request the information are part of the Demand side.
Creating supply and demand in a new community is like the Chicken and Egg situation. You might be confused as to what to start with. People will not visit your community if it doesn’t have any information. When they don’t visit your community, there won’t be any new content created. Your community will become a ghost town. The Internet is littered with hundreds of ghost town forums and platforms.
So, based on our experience, you should first create supply first in your community. Then the demand will follow.
How to create Supply in your community?
For ease of understanding, we will call people who supply information on the platform as Suppliers. In the case of a Q&A platform, suppliers, are people who answer the queries. For example, StackOverflow has many coders answering queries.
Without them, the platform is not useful.
So, how to build a community of suppliers on your platform?
Learn from the history
To answer this query, you should first understand the history of how the existing platforms got started.
Stackoverflow founders have a good running blog for many years before they started the Q&A platform. This brings good traffic to their platform in the beginning.
Quora is started by the then CTO of Facebook which helps Quora to secure initial funding and onboard famous people to write on the platform in the beginning.
Now, I assume, that you neither don’t have the goodwill nor the funding to attract users to your community. So, what will you do to bring traffic to the community?
It is better to look at what Reddit has done at similar stages. Reddit started with its founders creating fake supplies in their community in the form of posts. Most of the platforms mentioned in this guide will have created some form of fake supply in the beginning.
Users won’t visit a platform if there is no content on it. So, as a first step, you can create a few posts in your community and answer them in a different account. Once your community achieves a critical mass of users, you can weed out the earlier supply.
Actively reach out to Suppliers
Once you have build a small supply of posts in your community, it is important to reach out to suppliers. So, for example , if you are running a Q&A platform on Insurance, it is important that you need to onboard Insurance experts to your platform.
For this, first of all, you need to find out about them. They might have an online blog, youtube channel or will be active in answering queries on insurance forums etc. From these places, you can find out their email address.
You can then do any of the following.
1. Send an introductory mail about your platform and request them to onboard your platform
2. Send a query to them to answer.
Based on our experience, we have found success in both ways. Most of the time, if we are onboarding a firm, it is better to use the former method. If it is an individual expert, you can try the second method as well.
How to get users to your community? (Demand side)
Here we are assuming that users come to your community through Google search. Most of the successful communities like Wikipedia, Quora, StackOverflow, Reddit, etc. still receive their lion’s share of traffic from search engines.
For users to come to your community, you should have content on your platform that people search for.
So, how to create the content people search for?
The answer is Keyword Research.
How to do Keyword Research?
There are many tools that are available to do keyword research like Ahrefs, SEMRush etc. But most of it are paid. Here are a few of the ways in which you can do it for free.
1. Use Google Keyword Planner
You can type different keywords in your sector and see whether the topic has enough keyword search volume. It is important to set the location so that you will get the keyword volume for a particular location.
You can check Quora for queries in your sector which has a follower-to-answer ratio of 7 or more. For example, if an answer is followed by 14 people and has only 2 answers, then the follower-to-answer ratio becomes 7 or more. That means, it is a highly active question that is in need of an answer.
What to do after Keyword Research?
Once you have identified a few Keywords, it is important to understand the current competition for these keywords. For this, you need to install the “Keywords Everywhere” extension on your browser.
Every website in the world has a Domain Authority (DA)/ Domain Rating (DR) associated with it. Higher the DA, the higher the chance of ranking. For example, assume your site has a DA of 1, and another site has a DA of 70. Then if you two write articles on the same topic, then the Higher DA site will rank on Google.
So, once you have identified a set of keywords, search that keyword in Google. You can see a list of results with DA in it. If the sites with DA lesser than yours is ranking, then you can write article about it. Google will keep your article on top. This will drive more users to your platform.
How to build an engaged online community?
So now, you have built an online community. You have users who visit and engage with your community. You have suppliers who answer users’ queries.
Now, how to make it more engaging?
How do you keep the suppliers from participating more in the community?
How do you retain the suppliers? (Assuming that users (demand) will be there where there are suppliers)
Here is how you can build an engaged online community.
1. Develop Gamification and Provide Social Credits
2. Build Motivation Tech
We will discuss this in detail below.
Develop Gamification and Provide Social Credits
There are different gamification techniques used by different platforms to retain their experts. Most of the gamification techniques used by the platforms are in the form of social credits. For example, Stack Overflow provides different badges to its users. Quora has upvotes. Reddit has karma points provided to users who are engaged in their community.
So, you might be thinking about whether fake internet points results in increased engagement. Yes, it works and people care about it.
You should also be aware of Mahalo which is a Q&A platform like Quora. Both of them started at the same time. Mahalo provides real money for answers to queries. Quora provides social credits in the form of upvotes for answers. Quora is still active and Mahalo is shut down. One of the major reasons is that people value internet points more than money as it is a digital status symbol.
2. Build Motivation Tech
The important point to be noted is that apart from creating a gamification system, you should also communicate this effectively to the community members. For example, if a post is performing well, an email should be sent to the post owner regarding it. Monthly Performance emails should be sent to inform users of their performance. These emails will build motivation for users to come and participate more on the platform.
Best Practices in building an Online Community
Before wrapping up, it is good to go through the best practices of building a community online. Following are a few of the best practices of online community building, we have discussed in this guide.
- Always start with the Supply-side. Demand will follow.
- Actively reach out to suppliers.
- Do Keyword Research to bring users to the community. (Demand side)
- Retain the existing suppliers on the platform by gamification and providing social credits.
Hope you get an idea about building an online community. Apart from building an online community, there are many things like moderating your community and monetizing it, which we have not covered in this guide. For the time being, let us stop here.
If you have any queries related to building an online community, you can ask here.
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Jasper Reed is the founder of heyhowtodoit.com with 8+ years of expertise in crafting tech troubleshooting guides. He has researched, tested, and written hundreds of articles ranging from social media platforms to messaging apps.
Jasper’s “How-to” guides are often referenced by experts on platforms such as JustAnswer to help answer user’s tech queries. His articles are quoted and referenced by major publications and media companies like WikiHow, Think Impact, Enterprise Apps Today, and many others.
An avid traveler and tech enthusiast, Jasper loves to explore new places and experience different cultures.