Independent Thinking Blog

5 Tips for Building an Online Community

Last week’s #bufferchat was all about community.

Specifically, chat participants talked about what it means to be a community, what makes a community strong, how to pick a platform, and how to get started.

One of the questions dealt specifically with advice for building an online community. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot as I start to fill in the outline for a talk I’m giving at a conference next month.

How do you build a vibrant, online community?

You need to have patience.

Two Men Looking Our at the Bay at Sunset

It’s easy to have a big group. Heck, you can buy 500 Twitter followers for just $5. Get everyone you know (and they know) to “like” your page on Facebook. Post cat videos on YouTube.

Numbers are easy. Community takes time–and commitment. It’s an evolution that takes place one person, two people, three people at a time.

You need to be authentic.

More important, you have to know your voice–and be true to it. No one wants to talk to a logo, or a person who talks in legalese, technobabble, or a formal, stilted style better suited to a term paper than a tweet, post, or comment. Similarly, you need to be honest and open. “Be human”  is a phrase for a reason.

You need to know when to engage.

Good communities are built on conversation. In building a community, you have to know when to ask questions, spark a conversation, or jump in and add your two cents. You also have to know when to step back and let people talk among themselves. Not every comment requires your response.

You need rules.

Square Grid

This blog is called Independent Thinking for a reason. I’m a “spirit of the law” person–you need to have rules, but whether (and how) you enforce them really depends on what’s needed.

You don’t need a lot of rules, but you need common sense guidelines that give you something to point to. The rules for my Google+ baseball group say that it’s a “no wave zone,” which is a cheeky nod to an enduring controversy. But there are also rules about staying on topic, being respectful to other members, and the moderator’s right to remove inappropriate comments.

You need to be willing to be the bad guy (or gal).

The biggest complaint about a lot of LinkedIn groups is that the content is self-promotional and/or spam. There’s no intent at conversation, and little room to have one.

The best groups are moderated by people who are willing to keep the peace, call people out, and even ban people who don’t have the community’s best interests in mind.

My baseball group includes this rule:

This is not the place for sports bloggers to post their blog links. You may of course post an occasional link to your own work; just post it with a comment, a question, a way to spark conversation.

I’ve had to point to this rule a couple of time and ask people (privately) to stop posting their links. If not, the group would have devolved from a community into a bulletin board. Similarly, I’ve declined to admit people who have either a spammy profile or no information at all.

What advice for starting up an online community would you add?


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