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Every brand and content creator wrestles with the question of how to grow an online community of loyal customers that will keep coming back and engaging with them.

To foster and grow an online community, you need to give your members a sense of ownership over the community. Ideally, hiring a team of moderators can help you make it the best possible space for all. 

With this in mind, here are our top tips for how to grow an online community and help your members feel like they belong.

Essential elements of a good online community

If you’re looking for help on how to grow an online community, it’s important to first understand what makes a good community. 

What turns a group of strangers into a close, connected network of friends and supporters? 

Here are the essential elements of an online community.

  • Communication: An online community isn’t just a bunch of people in a Facebook group. For a community to truly be called a community, there needs to be continuous communication and collaboration. The best communities are sustained by their members, for their members. They are an area of mutual respect, collaboration and discussion.
  • Cohesion: If you’re looking for how to grow an online community and foster a sense of belonging, you need to work on generating a shared identity for your community members. The cohesiveness of your online community is one of the things that will determine its longevity. Work on improving social cohesion between members through your community engagement strategy and small tricks like giving your community a name and a mission statement.
  • Safety: A top priority when you’re looking for ways to grow an online community needs to be creating a safe, inclusive space for all your community members. While this is important for your brand reputation, it’s also a key determinant of whether or not people will want to be active in your online community. 

Related: It’s Time to Tap Into Togetherness with Communities

Download The Complete Learning Communities Toolkit: Download Now

13 top tips to grow an online community

For brands looking at how to grow an online community, there are some tried and tested methods to take note of. Use these tips to boost engagement and increase feelings of connectedness and cohesion in your community group.

Let’s take it from the top.

1. Get real about goals

For any brand trying to figure out how to grow an online community, the first thing to start with is your community goals. Why are you trying to grow an online community? What are you hoping to achieve? What do you want to do for your members?

If you’re going to invest time into growing your online community, you need to make sure that it’s a worthwhile activity. Avoid wasting time and resources by outlining your goals from the start. 

Your goals should be structured around both your brand’s goals and your users’ goals. By setting goals for your community early on, you can make sure that everything you do – from promotion to posting content – is focused on advancing those aims.

2. Pick your platform

The next step for brands looking to grow their online community and get the most from their customers is platform choice.

There are different types of online community platforms depending on your needs. 

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of an online community platform might be Facebook or LinkedIn, but there are many other platforms that could be right for your brand. 

Free vs branded online community platforms

There’s a case for using both free and branded community platforms when you’re considering how to grow an online community. 

Free platforms 

Free platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Reddit are easily accessible for your community. They’re searchable so potential members can find your community just by looking for it online. At the same time, existing community members can share community content with their friends and followers, essentially acting as free advertising for your group.

While there are lots of positives, there are some downsides to free platforms. Things to watch out for include:

  • Lack of ownership: with free platforms, you don’t have ownership over your community platform which means that if the site goes down for whatever reason or your online community gets suspended, a big chunk of business is gone. You have zero control over external forces and that’s something that can keep a lot of business owners up at night. There is also a lack of ownership over how the community looks and feels – something that can weaken your brand experience. 
  • Competing content: free platforms are constantly competing for your community members’ attention with advertising and alternative content. Their revenue model is dependent on clicks so free platforms do everything they can to get your community members to click off your page and onto something that will make them money. This can be annoying and distracting while also impacting your community engagement.
  • Less exclusivity: if you’re looking to foster and grow an online community, free platforms can also impact the sense of cohesiveness that community members feel exactly because they’re free and open to everyone. While you can create private groups on free platforms, there is less exclusivity compared to branded platforms which are designed specifically for your members.

Arguably the biggest benefit of free platforms is that they’re free! They’re also accessible and easy to use but there are some drawbacks to bear in mind.

Branded platforms

On the flip side, there are branded platforms. Branded platforms give you the option to grow your online community in your own personalized community space. Branded platforms are hosted on your own platform, on your own URL. They’re tailored specifically for your community, its needs and its goals.

Branded platforms can be really effective to help you grow your online community while giving you total control. They’re exclusive and don’t suffer from the same distractions that free platforms have like ads and competing content.

Unlike free platforms, branded platforms also give you the chance to charge a subscription fee for community membership. This is an important step if you’re looking at how to grow an online community and monetize it.

Thinkific has in-built tools designed to make it easy to grow an online community on a branded platform. Users simply log in and start engaging immediately. Find out more here.

3. Choose community managers carefully

The journey for how to grow an online community starts with the individuals at the heart of your community – your community managers.

Choosing your community managers and moderators is a key step to growing your online community. Your community managers have the power to make or break your online community. They set the tone for your community and all engagement in and around it.

You can select community managers from your existing team or hire people specifically for the role. Whichever route you choose, make sure that you assess candidates based on their ability to be proactive and their interpersonal skills. Passion for your brand, niche and community goals are also important.

Here are some skills to look out for:

  • Experience with brand communications, forums and social media
  • Detailed knowledge of your chosen platform
  • Passion for writing and content creation
  • An adaptable mindset to handle multiple tasks and priorities
  • Independent, self-starter who works well under pressure
  • Good communication skills
  • Enthusiasm for helping people
  • Familiarity with performance tracking and reporting
  • Belief in your brand vision and values

The best community managers will be experienced in the role and able to work independently without too much input from you or other members of your team. They will also be able to carry your brand values through everything they do, making them the best advocates for your brand.

4. Set up a community engagement strategy

The trick to growing an online community is to create a community that’s self-sustaining. That means getting to the point where members are asking and answering questions, starting discussions and sharing content with minimal input from you or your community managers. 

To get to this level, you need a community engagement strategy that will encourage members to be more active in your online community. 

Some community engagement ideas include:

  • Setting weekly challenges and themes
  • Running polls, surveys and quizzes
  • Offering giveaways
  • Enlisting industry experts and influencers for guest posts
  • Rewarding top contributors

If you’re looking for more inspiration on how to grow an online community with a community engagement strategy, find 30+ community engagement ideas here.

5. Keep it cool with community guidelines

One of the essential elements to grow an online community is creating a safe, inclusive environment for all members. You can get off to a strong start by creating community guidelines.

Community guidelines help to keep your online community cool and conflict-free. Members know what to expect from your online community and what they can and can’t post. 

Clear community guidelines are also important for community managers so they can monitor posts and engagement and take action if there are any violations of the rules.

Here are some ideas for community guidelines you can use to grow the online community:

  • Treat others with respect
  • Be kind
  • Share your knowledge
  • See if others have posted the same question before posting
  • Avoid changing the thread topic
  • Don’t post personal information
  • Zero tolerance for offensive or abusive behavior

Community guidelines are an important step in how to grow an online community and create a space that’s inviting. Unfortunately, any online community can quickly become a hostile space if it’s not moderated correctly. Community guidelines are a good way to avoid this kind of negative behavior and improve the overall experience for your members.

Read More: How to Create Community Guidelines (Examples + Template)

6. Never miss new member onboarding

If you’re looking for more help with how to grow an online community and foster a sense of belonging, try to focus on your customer journey from the very first moment they join your community.

The onboarding process for new community members is an ideal opportunity to show them what being a part of your community means. Help them to feel welcome while instilling your community values from day one.

Video onboarding is an extra effective way to help members feel supported and valued. With personalized videos, you can give new members an immediate sense of your community culture and values.

Your community onboarding could also include:

  • Formally introducing members to the group with a welcome post
  • Helping them create their first connections by assigning mentors 
  • Creating a clear call to action for new members to introduce themselves to the community
  • Encourage members to create their own profiles, making it easier for emembers to get to know each other
  • Making members aware of the community guidelines
  • Sharing helpful resources relevant to newcomers
  • Providing a quick tutorial on how to use community tools

Onboarding is your chance to welcome new members to your online community. Help members feel like they’re joining a close-knit family of like-minded individuals – and let this guide your communications.

Thinkific course creator Mike Nelson agrees: “This is the most important part of the process […] When people join, I want them to feel like they’re immediately receiving support.” Read the full case study of how he worked to grow his online community here.

7. Spoil members with personalized support

If you’re trying to grow an online community, you need to infuse community into everything you do.

This is especially important when it comes to support. Be friendly, be personal and be genuine and show that you really care about helping your members with any issues or problems.

Whenever you’re writing communications for your brand, keep in mind that you and your team are real people, talking to real people. No one likes to receive pre-packaged messages and set responses. Add personality and personalization wherever you can to help members feel more connected to your brand. 

Try these simple tricks in your messages:

  • Always use your members’ names
  • Sign off with your name 
  • Add personal details related to their preferences and needs
  • Refer back to past communication
  • Go above and beyond with thoughtful gestures 

Implementing these small changes in your communication strategy can make a huge difference to their sense of community – and help you with the problem of how to grow an online community!

8. Give it a name

A simple step for any brand wanting to grow an online community is to give their community a name!

Choose a fun, catchy name for your community and start using it in your communications to help it catch on. If all goes well, your community members will adopt the name and start using it themselves.

For some online communities, this will happen organically. Members will start to call themselves nicknames or give the whole community a group name – think Beliebers or the BeyHive. The trick is the notice this and adopt it in your formal communications too.

If you’re trying to choose a name for your community, make sure it’s: 

  • Short and easy to use
  • Related to your brand, niche or products
  • Inclusive
  • Positive
  • Descriptive of your members

If you can give your online community a name and a shared identity, you can foster a closer connection between members and your brand. This is an easy method to grow an online community little by little while also helping your customers feel like a tribe.

Related: 875+ Online Community Name Ideas for Any Niche

9. Share exclusive offers and opportunities

Building and growing a successful online community is as much about retaining members as it is about gaining them. 

If you want your community members to stick around, you need to give them incentives to do so. This is where community exclusive offers, opportunities and resources can be your secret weapon to grow your online community.

If you can demonstrate to members that being part of your online community can provide them with resources of real value, you can encourage more members to stay a part of your community and actively participate in it. 

This includes offering:

  • Resources 
  • Webinars
  • Live Q&As
  • One-to-one coaching sessions
  • Early bird offers

There’s a whole host of tricks you can use to add value to your online community, helping you to retain members and grow faster. Remember – they need to be exclusive to your community members so look for ways you can repurpose content to turn it into a premium offer for community members only.

When course creators ask us how to grow an online community, we tell them to give community members a reason to stay!

Related: Successful Online Community Examples (+What Makes Them Great)

10. Promote promising members

Your community managers and moderators are a key tool to growing an online community – but so are your most active members. 

Identify influencers within your group and empower them to help you grow your online community. Influencers are dedicated to your brand. They’re committed to being active members of the group and can be a secret weapon for brands looking for new ways to grow their online community.

Make the partnership official by creating badges for top contributors and experts in your community. You could also set up an official system for promoting members to coaches or tutors who can become advocates for your brand.

You can also enlist influencers to provide feedback on your online community. Community influencers will be able to give you insights into how to grow an online community that works for all members – they can advise on the best community engagement ideas, what members really need from moderators and more. Collect their feedback and listen to what they’ve got to say.

11. Find friends for your brand

As well as getting friendly with top community contributors, you can also look outside your community to find opportunities to grow.

No community is an island. Partnerships with other brands and communities are a great strategy to grow an online community, giving you the chance to access new knowledge and fresh followers. 

One of the secrets of how to grow an online community is finding relevant communities that you can tap into.

Look for partnerships with brands that have:

  • Similar brand philosophies
  • Community members within your niche
  • Discussions on relevant topics and ideas
  • A commitment to quality service and support

Every partnership you enter into – either as a strategy for how to grow an online community or any other aspect of your business – should be with brands who have the same values and philosophy as you. Look for brands who uphold your standards to make sure that every partnership enhances your brand rather than harms it.

12. Keep growing with KPIs

When creating a strategy for how to grow an online community, it’s a good idea to identify the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will be most useful to you. 

KPIs are a good strategy for measuring your community growth. There’s a range of different KPIs you can use to monitor the health of your online community. To choose the right ones, think about the metrics that matter most to you. 

Do you want to grow your online community by increasing the number of members? Does engagement eg. the number of posts and comments matter more to you? What about the number of conversions? Your goals for your online community will shape your community KPIs. 

By measuring and recording this data, you can keep track of the overall health and growth of your online community. This is the only way you can tell how your efforts are working to grow an online community around your brand.

13. Get friendly with feedback loops

Many brands struggle with how to grow an online community more efficiently. Creating a cycle of ongoing feedback from customers is one way to do it.

Feedback loops are a way of integrating customer feedback into everyday business, helping to make the process of adapting and improving your business as easy as possible. 

Rather than looking at overhauling your products or services periodically, feedback loops let you continually refine your brand offering and make it the best possible option in the market.

The process of creating feedback loops in your online community looks like this:

  • Identify priorities: Select the areas of your community or business that could most benefit from customer feedback, these will be the focus of your feedback loops.
  • Select feedback methods: Surveys are the most effective method for gathering feedback from your online community. You might also want to gather a select group of community contributors for one-to-one interviews to get more in-depth feedback.
  • Write and refine feedback questions: Your community feedback questions will depend on your top priorities outlined in step 1. It’s helpful to gather demographic data on your community including age, location and profession too.
  • Analyze feedback: After gathering feedback from your community, you need to analyze the data to identify patterns and themes that you can use to improve your online community, products and/or services.
  • Brainstorm solutions and implement feedback: To close the loop, you need to implement solutions to the problems identified in your customer feedback. This process allows you to continuously improve your online community and your brand by seeing it through the eyes of your customers.

Feedback loops are a great method for helping to improve and grow an online community. If you can encourage community members to provide regular feedback, you can continue to improve the community experience for all, while getting insights into how to polish your products and services too.

Now you know how to grow an online community…

For any brand or creator looking to learn how to grow an online community and start encouraging customers to connect and stay connected, these are 13 proven strategies that can really work. Now it’s time to put them into practice.

To start your own brand community and grow your community online, sign up for Thinkific today!

Download The Complete Learning Communities Toolkit: Download Now