Developing an Online Community: Key Strategies

published on 16 March 2024

Developing a thriving online community involves creating a digital space where like-minded individuals can share knowledge, feel a sense of belonging, exchange feedback, and actively participate in discussions and activities. Whether focused on professional networking, hobbies, or supporting causes, online communities offer a platform for deep engagement beyond what social media provides. To establish and grow such a community, consider the following key strategies:

  • Define clear goals and understand your audience: Know what you aim to achieve and who your community will serve.
  • Choose the right platform: Decide between using owned software or social media networks based on control, features, and privacy considerations.
  • Engage with content and activities: Use diverse content types and interactive activities to keep members engaged.
  • Manage the community effectively: Implement best practices for moderation, encourage participation, and continuously optimize based on feedback.

By setting clear objectives, selecting an appropriate platform, fostering engaging interactions, and managing the community with care, you can build a vibrant online space where members actively contribute, share, and connect.

Differences from Social Media

Aspect Online Communities Social Media
Purpose About specific interests for close connections For all sorts of sharing with everyone
Control Run by the members Controlled by the company that owns the platform
Data Ownership Owned by the community Owned by the platform
Privacy More private, can be anonymous Everything is out there for anyone to see
Algorithms Barely any; things show up in order Uses algorithms to decide what you see

While social media is great for keeping up with friends and broad interests, online communities are where you go when you want to dive deep into something you really care about. They let you form close groups, share in-depth knowledge, and support each other in ways that are more meaningful over time.

Types of Online Communities

Online communities can look really different from one another, but here are a couple of common types you might come across:

Learning Communities

Learning communities are all about bringing people together who want to learn more about a specific topic.

  • They're places where members can talk about what they're studying, help each other with work, or just share what they know.
  • Studies have found that being part of a learning community can help students do better in online courses because it gets them more involved, helps them not feel alone, and lets them learn from each other.
  • If you're making a course, having an active learning community can mean fewer people drop out, better feedback, and more people signing up because they heard good things from others.

Brand Communities

Brand communities are all about people who really like a certain brand or product getting together.

  • It's a place for fans to connect over their love for what the brand stands for and its values.
  • Companies can use these communities to hear straight from their customers, come up with new ideas by asking the community, help customers help each other, and make people feel more connected to the brand.
  • For instance, a platform called Mighty Networks helps Thinkific's online community where people creating courses can talk about what works, solve problems together, and join in on monthly challenges.

Benefits of Building an Online Community

Building an online community can be really good for creators, businesses, and the people who join them. Here’s why it’s a smart move.

Influence and Reach

  • Having an online community means you can talk directly with the people who like what you do. This helps make them more loyal and excited about your brand.
  • Members who really get into the community can end up spreading the word about your brand just by talking about it online or with friends.
  • Sometimes, members become really popular within the community. What they say about your products can influence others.
  • Over time, your community can help more people find out about your brand through the discussions and posts that happen there.

Insights and Feedback

  • An online community lets you hear straight from your customers. You can find out what they like, what they don’t, and what new ideas they have.

  • You can ask them questions directly or set up special groups to get deeper insights.

  • By paying attention to what people talk about, you can figure out what bothers them or what they really love. This info can help you make better decisions for your business or products.

Revenue Opportunities

  • You can give community members special perks like early access to products or special deals. This makes being part of the community more exciting.
  • Your community can also open up ways to make money through things like affiliate marketing or working with influencers.
  • The feedback and ideas you get from your community can help you decide on new products or courses that could be hits.

Customer Connections

  • In the community, customers can help each other out and share advice. This makes people trust and like your brand more.

  • When customers help each other, it can also cut down on the need for customer service.

  • Customers who feel connected to each other and your brand usually stick around longer and are happier.

Case Studies and Statistics

Here are some examples and numbers that show how online communities can really help businesses:

  • The North Face talks to its community to get thoughts on new products.
  • Atlassian’s community talks about their software and has helped cut down on customer support needs by 70%.
  • 62% of people say being part of a brand’s community makes them more loyal [Source].
  • People in brand communities tend to spend 19% more over time compared to those who aren’t [Source].

Planning Your Online Community

1. Defining Your Goals and Purpose

Before you start an online community, it's important to know why you're doing it and what you hope to achieve. Ask yourself:

  • Why am I creating this community? (For example, to help people, share ideas, or get feedback)
  • Who will join, and what will they gain from being part of it?
  • What topics or activities will we focus on?
  • How many people do I want in the community?
  • How will I know if the community is successful? (Like, are people talking, staying around, or buying more?)

Your community should help reach bigger goals, like making better products, getting people to love your brand, cutting down on support costs, or finding new ways to make money.

2. Comparing Platform Options

Choosing where to build your community is a big deal. Here's a quick look at the differences between using your own software versus social media:

Factor Owned Software Social Media Networks
Features You decide everything Limited choices
Data & Analytics You see all the data The platform sees the data
Privacy You set the rules Mostly public
Algorithms You control what people see The platform decides

Owned platforms let you make all the decisions but starting from scratch. Social networks already have lots of people but less control. Think about what's best for your community.

3. Understanding Your Target Audience

Get to know the people you want in your community. Use surveys or talk to them to figure out what they like, what they need, and why they'd join your community.

Imagine your perfect community member. What do they like? What do they expect? How will they take part? What does a good time in the community look like for them?

This idea helps you choose topics, features, and rules that will make these members happy and keep them around.


Launching Your Online Community

Community Design Best Practices

When setting up your online community, aim to make it welcoming, easy to use, and fun for members. Here are some tips:

Make It Easy to Get Around

  • Arrange topics and menus so they make sense to users
  • Help people find important discussions and pages quickly
  • Use clear labels for categories
  • Include a search feature and a map of the site

Works Well on Phones

  • Make sure the site looks good on mobile devices
  • Use big buttons and don't pack in too much stuff
  • Check that it works on various phones and tablets

Show Off Your Brand

  • Use your brand's colors, logo, and style
  • Customize the look to fit your brand
  • Make it clear what your brand is all about

Add Fun Features

  • Let people like posts, follow discussions, and get alerts
  • Use pictures and videos to keep things interesting
  • Add things like badges and leaderboards to encourage participation

By focusing on making the site user-friendly and enjoyable, you'll create an online community that people love to visit and take part in.

Crafting Engaging Content

Good content is key to keeping your online community lively. Here's how to create content that sparks interest:

Use Different Types of Content

  • Posts, ebooks, and blogs
  • Chat threads for talking
  • Graphics, videos, and audio
  • Live videos, webinars, or podcasts
  • Surveys and polls for opinions

Let Members Create Content

  • Allow members to post their own blogs
  • Have contests for art, videos, or stories
  • Show off great stuff members make

Keep Up with Hot Topics

  • Pay attention to what's popular and talk more about it
  • Ask members what they want to see
  • Use holidays and events to start conversations

Bring in Different Views

  • Invite guests to write or talk
  • Interview members who are well-known
  • Share stories showing different ways to use your product or service

Mixing up your content to get people talking and participating is important for growing your community. Find out what works best for your members.

Soft Launch vs Full Launch

It's a good idea to start with a small group before you open your online community to everyone. This small start can help you make sure everything works well.

Why a Soft Launch is Good

  • Fix problems before the big launch
  • Get feedback to make things better
  • Get a small group excited and supportive
  • Set up a way to measure success

Who Should Test Your Community

  • People who already follow you on social media
  • Current customers or members
  • Experts or influencers in your area
  • Friends and family who can give honest feedback

What to Look for During Testing

  • Places where people get stuck or confused
  • Any technical glitches
  • Topics or discussions that are missing
  • Overall thoughts on how the site looks and feels

Try to get at least 100 people to test your community. Look for problems, fix them, and keep testing until you're happy. This will help make sure your community starts off on the right foot.

Sustaining and Growing Your Community

Community Management Best Practices

Good community management keeps everyone active, solves problems fast, and makes the community better over time. Here's how to do it well:

Encourage participation

  • Have live events like Q&As, workshops, or group discussions regularly.
  • Send out a weekly email with the most talked-about discussions.
  • Run contests or set challenges with rewards or shout-outs.
  • Highlight great posts or stories from members.

Moderate effectively

  • Make sure there are clear rules and stick to them.
  • Deal with any bad content quickly, try for within a day.
  • Have enough moderators for the size of your group.

Listen and gather feedback

  • Ask members every few months if they're happy and what could be better.
  • Look at how people use the community and what they talk about the most.
  • Have a place where members can suggest new ideas.

Recognize top members

  • Give special badges or roles to very active members.
  • Put a spotlight on those who contribute a lot.
  • Celebrate when members hit big participation goals.

Continuously optimize

  • Use what you learn from feedback and data to add new things or change up content.
  • Try out different layouts or ways of discussing to see what people like best.
  • Always look for ways to make the community better based on member feedback.

Keeping your community managed well and listening to feedback can make your members more loyal, reduce people leaving, and help your community grow.

Gathering Feedback and Analytics

It's important to know how your community is doing and what you can do better. Here's how to keep track:

Quantitative data

  • Track how many new members and posts you get each week.
  • See how long people stay when they visit.
  • Check which emails or posts people are clicking on the most.
  • Find out what discussions or topics are the most popular.

Qualitative feedback

  • Ask members every few months how they feel about the community.
  • Have a place for members to suggest new ideas.
  • Get reports from moderators on what's happening in discussions.

Tools and reports

  • Use your platform's tools to see how the community is doing.
  • Google Analytics can show you how many people visit.
  • Polls and voting can tell you what interests your members.
  • Use NPS surveys to see how loyal your members are.

Analyzing and applying data

  • Look at your data regularly to see what's changing.
  • Use what members tell you to decide what to do next.
  • Try new things with a small group before everyone else.
  • Share how the community is doing with your members to keep them interested.

Keeping an eye on both what your members say and how they use the community lets you see trends, solve problems early, and make choices that make your community better.

Case Studies

Here are some simple examples of online communities that have done a great job bringing people together around what they love:

MasterClass Community

MasterClass is a website where you can take classes taught by famous people. They've made a really active community where people love to learn.

Key Strategies

  • They have Q&A sessions and online meetups so members can talk and connect.
  • They spotlight members and have contests to get everyone involved.
  • Members can share their own reviews and projects.
  • Every week, they send an email with the most talked-about discussions and new classes.


  • More than 100,000 members join in on discussions each month.
  • People now spend 15 minutes engaged, up from just 5 minutes before.
  • 20% of what happens on the site comes from members themselves.

Dribbble Community

Dribbble is for graphic designers and illustrators to show their work, get feedback, and find inspiration.

Key Strategies

  • Made it easy for members to share their work and comment on others'.
  • They have weekly design challenges with prizes.
  • Top contributors get badges, trophies, and special status.
  • You can look around using design tags and categories.


  • Projects get seen over 3 million times each week.
  • Members hang around for about 18 minutes each time they visit.
  • 72% of members have found paid work through Dribbble.

Peloton Community

Peloton sells smart bikes and treadmills and offers live and on-demand workout classes. Their community is for anyone interested in fitness.

Key Strategies

  • Members can join live group workouts.
  • They have Q&As and interviews with instructors.
  • There are groups and challenges for people with similar fitness goals.
  • There are badges, achievements, and leaderboards for taking part.


  • Members are engaging 148% more than last year.
  • 38% of members join Peloton groups.
  • Members create over 30% of the content in the app.

These communities show that focusing on getting members to participate, recognizing their contributions, and letting them create content can really help an online community grow. These ideas work for all kinds of groups, helping them come together over shared interests.


Key Takeaways for Online Community Success

Making a good online community needs planning, a place where people like to hang out, and regular care. If you follow the steps in this guide, you can start and keep up a group where people really connect.

Here are the main points to remember:

Set Clear Goals and Pick the Right Software

  • Be clear about why you're starting this community, who it's for, what you'll talk about, and how you'll know it's working. This helps you stay on track.
  • Choose software that fits what you want to do and lets you control your data, privacy, and how the platform looks.

Make It Easy and Fun to Use

  • Your community should be simple to use on any device.

  • Use fun features like profiles, badges, chat, and live events.

  • Show off what members do and give shout-outs to those who help a lot.

Keep Content Fresh and Interesting

  • Mix up the kinds of things you share, like articles, chats, votes, and videos.

  • Keep up with what people like and ask them to share their stories.

  • Always look for ways to make things better based on what people do and say in the community.

Take Care of Your Community

  • Keep things friendly, get people talking, listen to what they say, celebrate the helpers, and always look for ways to improve.
  • Look at numbers and what people tell you to figure out how to make the community better.

Starting with a small group, paying attention to the numbers, and taking good care of your members can help your community grow and last. The work is worth it because it brings people together and helps you reach your goals.

What is the best way to build an online community?

To build a strong online community, start by figuring out what you want to achieve and who you want to join. Learn about your audience, set up a system to keep things organized, add rewards to get people involved, and put together a team to manage the community. It's crucial to offer something valuable to your members and to keep them engaged.

What are the key decisions when creating or improving an online community?

When starting or making your online community better, think about:

  • What you want the community to do
  • Learning about who will join
  • Picking the best online place for it
  • Making content that people will like
  • Getting members to talk and join in by using contests and rewards
  • Having rules and moderating chats
  • Always looking for ways to do better based on what members say

How do you facilitate an online community?

To run an online community well:

  • Make it welcoming and include everyone
  • Have clear rules for everyone to follow
  • Keep an eye on chats to stay on topic
  • Ask questions that make people want to respond
  • Handle any disagreements quickly and nicely
  • Summarize important points from discussions regularly

What are five ways you can engage your online community?

Here are five ways to keep your online community active:

  • Show your brand's real side to make things feel more personal
  • Use questions that make people think and want to answer
  • Make polls and quizzes for fun interaction
  • Have live events like Q&As for direct talks
  • Start fun challenges to encourage participation

Also, think about giving rewards, asking for feedback, and making content just for your community.

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