Pixel by Pixel: How to Build an Online Community

Learn what it takes to build an online community. It’s sure to be a wild ride, and we’d love to have you on it!

Imagine a place where like-minded individuals come together to get inspired, share ideas, and be a part of building something great together. Like an artist collective or slam poetry night at your local coffee shop. Now imagine that place without any time or space barriers in its way. That, my friend, is the power of the online community.

Online communities come in all shapes and sizes and serve many different purposes. They can be:

  • Hubs for knowledge sharing and professional development
  • Virtual intersections between brands and consumers
  • Places of belonging for those with shared interests
  • A crossroads between activists and change

There are online communities for everything under the sun. Think you’re a vampire? There’s a website to help you find out. Like reviewing airport carpets? Then Carpets for Airports is the place for you. No matter how bizarre the group’s purpose may seem, one common thread ties all virtual communities together: they bring people with common interests together.

The Power of the Online Community

Whether you’re a hyper-specialized expert or a Fortune 500 company, the benefits of building an online community are vast. They include:

  • Gaining key insights into your product experience or consumer demands
  • Decreasing negative public reviews
  • Improving customer retention
  • Fostering brand trust and loyalty
  • Creating raving fans and brand ambassadors

Wouldn’t It Be Cool If…

Online communities start with just the seed of an idea. Someone thinks, “wouldn’t it be cool if…”. Then, the idea germinates into something beautiful. Here are a few online communities we’re inspired by:

  • Primitivkollektiv founder Siobhán O’Callaghan thought, “Wouldn’t the world be a better place if people were more deeply connected to nature?” And so, her virtual nature collective was born. Primitivkollektiv is a hub for people seeking to forge deeper connections with themselves and the world around them. Members participate in guided practices and community groups facilitated by experienced practitioners in ecology, nature therapy, art, and permaculture.
  • You know that feeling when you finish a good book and you just don’t want it to end? Thankfully, there is a cure to your book hangover. Goodreads is a place where bookworms converge to discuss and review books, join virtual book clubs, and find recommended reads. And with more than 90 million members, there’s an endless supply of discussions on any literary topic.
  • If you’re ever hitting a creative roadblock, head on over to DeviantArt for a little pick-me-up. DeviantArt is a community united by art and self-expression. Get lost in the unapologetically addictive experience where more than 35 million creatives share and discuss their original works of art.

The Blueprint to Building Your Online Community

One of our first tasks at Wonder – after creating a superb product experience, of course – was to bring people together in an online community. This community is a place for Wonderers to share fresh ideas, form human connections, and even sculpt the future of our product.

Trust us, it ain’t easy; but with a little concerted effort and some great advice (you’re welcome!), building an online community can do WONDERs for your brand. Here are a few lessons we learned along the way:

  • Provide something valuable. Most of the value users derive from online communities is intangible: knowledge, belonging, identification, emotional connection, empowerment, or influence. Keep this in mind as you’re concepting your community.
  • Lay down the ground rules. Start off with some baseline rules and moderation guidelines to keep processes running smoothly, expectations clear, and user behaviors in check. At Wonder, we outlined a few simple community norms our participants must adhere to. Basically, just don’t be a jerk, and we’ll get along just fine.
  • Set up your community platform. Now that you have the foundational ideas and processes in place, it’s time to find a home for your online community. Building micro-communities on social media platforms (like Facebook or LinkedIn groups) or third-party community websites (like Reddit) are easiest but fall short if you’re looking for more ownership and control over your community’s features. Building your own community website from scratch or using a community engagement software, like Insided (our chosen platform), gives you more flexibility, but can be expensive to build and maintain.
  • Assemble your tech toolkit. Consider sprinkling in engaging visual experiences for the visual learners in your community. For example, supplement online forums, FAQs, blogs, and other static resources with live video tutorials and online events.
  • Assign your roles. If quality conversation is the key ingredient to an engaged community, a good community manager is its secret sauce. If you’re a solopreneur, congratulations! You’ve just been hired. If you’re a larger organization, consider hiring or assigning a dedicated community manager to the task.
  • Learn, rinse, and repeat. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, learn from your community. Analyze key insights, community trends, and even those member complaints to better understand your community’s needs. Recalibrate, as needed, to evolve into an even better version of what you had before. There is no such thing as perfection, only progression.

We love sharing what we’ve learned during our own online community-building process, and we’re continuing to learn new things every day. Join us as we grow and build this community together – blunders ‘n’ all. It’s sure to be a wild ride, and we’d love to have you on it!

Pixel by Pixel: How to Build an Online Community