The basic rules of building online communities

Starting an online community is a great way to demonstrate your expertise, give your business a boost and connect with like-minded people and potential customers.

But like all things in life, the saying ‘if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ definitely applies. A half-hearted attempt to build a community that doesn’t appeal to potential members and is poorly managed won’t help you get any closer to your business goals and could even damage your professional reputation.

So if you’re a working mum starting a business and you think that an online community could be a good idea, take a look out our simple rules for starting one – and build a successful, thriving group.

Be patient

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither did Facebook acquire its one billion users overnight. It took years of careful planning and hard work to establish Facebook as the globally successful online community it is today. And while your ambitions for your online community may be more modest than Facebook, the same philosophy applies. So don’t feel disheartened if you don’t hit the numbers you want straight away. Be patient, work hard and over time you should slowly be able to grow your community into a valuable, quality group of the right people.

Think about your purpose

In order to attract members to your online community, you need to offer a clear interest or benefit that will appeal. If your subject is too niche, such as ‘digital marketing gurus living in the village of Pulborough’ you’ll struggle to find enough members to join, let alone contribute to stimulating discussions. But equally a vague, too-broad subject such as just ‘digital’ doesn’t tell anyone what the group may be offering and lacks the interest and appeal to attract members. So think carefully about what you want your group to achieve, who you want to join and what kind of topics they find interesting or meet their needs.

Try to resist self-promotion

If it’s clear that the intention of your group is simply to promote your business, you’ll put off members and interaction. People need to feel that their needs or interests are genuinely being met, not just that they’re being sold to. However great the group you build, you’ll devalue all your efforts if you mention your business or products in every post. So hold back on the self-promotion, and concentrate on building your reputation through the quality and value of your online community and posts. Keep mentions of your business in your signature, unless directly relevant to a discussion, and let people find your business organically.

Nip trouble in the bud

Just like the ‘real’ world, most people in online communities are nice and behave responsibly. But sometimes you may attract troublemakers who enjoy stirring up negative debates, or even being malicious. Left unchecked, they can put off genuine posters, and destroy your community. So it’s a good idea to nip any offensive or deliberately provocative posts and posters in the bud quickly, and keep discussions friendly and polite.

Update regularly

It’s your responsibility to keep your online community busy. And let’s face it, if you can’t be bothered to log on and post regularly, why should your members? A well-tended group with a consistent stream of interesting and relevant content will keep people coming back regularly, and help you maintain a successful, thriving online community.