Online communities are rapidly increasing in popularity as a way to boost brand awareness and engagement. But how do you stand out? What are the most effective ways to build loyalty and trust with your member base? How do you make them feel loved rather than sold to?
These questions are discussed frequently at Catalyst, a community strategy agency that specializes in online and offline community design. Armed with a bachelor’s in neuroscience from MIT and an MPH in epidemiology from NYU, Catalyst’s founder Sara Dahan gave me her best tips on showing your online community some love.
7 Ways To Love Your Online Community | Stephanie Burns
1. Make People Feel Celebrated
“People love to be recognized and to recognize others. Do weekly or monthly member features that gives them visibility – which uplifts their careers, helps them make friends, or furthers another objective of your community – and shows off the quality of your member base.” says Dahan. Follow up on life update threads months later to let them know you care. The more you encourage members’ support of each other, the more your audience will feel that your community is special and that they are special for being part of it.
2. Show Gratitude And Exercise Humility
Besides shout-outs to individual members, you can also express gratitude to the community as a whole. How has managing the community inspired you? How are the members creating a positive impact on each other, your industry, and the world? Make them feel like they are part of something big. Be humble in your leadership: regularly acknowledge that the community is a group effort. Recognize top contributors and invite members to take on leadership roles. When members feel more ownership, they feel personally empowered by the community, which translates to greater loyalty and trust.
3. Foster Empowerment, Positivity And Authenticity
One very special way to give back to your community is to create an online space where people can be vulnerable and supportive. You can lead by example (which is a great way to relate to your members) and invite others to reciprocate. “Encourage members to take off their masks and be real – then reward their bravery with heaps of sincerity. When they share a breakthrough about their imposter syndrome, the struggles they face after a sudden loss, or an exciting reveal of a secret passion – other members feel less alone, more understood, and empowered to share.” advises Dahan.
4. Create A Balanced And Accepting Social Container
For members to feel comfortable enough to take off their masks, they first need to feel welcome, seen, and accepted. Building and maintaining a space that facilitates that is one of the most rewarding and challenging tasks you’ll face. Write guidelines and moderate with thoughtful consideration of the members’ experience. How can selfless members also voice their boundaries? How can someone share about their business without being too promotional? How do you keep debates respectful? When thinking about which language and posts aren’t okay, ask yourself if you are protecting the integrity of the group or silencing members who can provide thought diversity. Implement a feedback mechanism so that members have a safe way to voice concerns about the social container.
5. Make Participation As Straightforward As Possible
Simplicity and clarity are two of the biggest gifts you can provide as a community leader. Lay out clear guidelines for communication and operations so that members know how to interact with the group. It also makes your life easier – you can point to them when facing tricky moderation scenarios! Have a clear on-boarding process in place with an initial call to action – like giving an intro or looking into a game-changing resource – so that they don’t feel overwhelmed. You can also implement an off-boarding process, like a message of gratitude with instructions for potentially rejoining in the future.
6. Deliver The Ultimate Value: Human Connection
“The whole point of a community is connection. Serve your community by making these connections as easy and impactful as possible. Create a database so members can search for and reach out to each other.” says Dahan. Invite members to connect in real life: facilitate video calls, host meetups, and encourage coffee dates. Connect members to opportunities, new friends, and professional contacts in the outside world to show that your community’s value extends far beyond the online platform.
7. Love Your Online Community
“Simply put, to love your online community, it’s important to… love your online community! When a community leader feels humbled to be in service to members, it shows. And it’s infectious. Do regular check-ins with yourself about how you’re feeling. Brainstorm techniques for finding your way back to a loving, generous, humble mindset in more challenging times.” says Dahan. “This serves you and your members. You are doing fun and meaningful work – enjoy it!”