How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

Learn a Powerful Plan for Online Community Growth

Understanding the Basics of Online Community Building

I don’t know about you, but 2020 changed so much about how I interact with people on the internet. Having to stay home, attend events virtually, and find connection in online spaces shifted my focus away from in-person events to finding community online. 

While I’ve been a part of online communities since middle school, the shift caused by the necessity for moving interactions online changed the landscape of how I communicate and interact with other people on the internet. 

Four years later, I talk and engage with people from all over the world in multiple communities in both my personal and professional life, and I’m not the only one. 

Pew research found that 79% of the people they surveyed had at least one online community that they stayed in regular contact with. In today’s digital era, online community building is the formula to success for getting your content in front of the people who are going to engage and keep coming back for more. 

If you already have an online community established, you already know how critical your community is for your content creation blueprint. Today, let’s discuss how to grow your online community beyond the first adopters and create an ongoing-growth strategy that will take your content to the next level. 

Establishing Community Guidelines

Establishing and effectively communicating clear community guidelines are absolutely critical to maintaining a positive and respectful environment for your members. When planning your strategy for how to build community, the guidelines you put in place are the guardrails that keep your members safe.

Most of the time, your community guidelines are the first impression that your members will get of your community. They let potential members know what to expect, and people who do not fit with the environment that you want to curate are going to naturally weed themselves out when they don’t want to abide by the guidelines you set. 

The members that you want are going to have clear expectations for how the community will be run and will hold you to them. It’s your responsibility as the community owner to make sure that all guidelines are fairly applied. 

Meta’s community guidelines are very clear and robust with specific guidelines for different kinds of online content and discussion. While you may not need your community’s guidelines to be as complex, it’s important to make sure that the guidelines you put in place align with any and all platforms that you use to build your community.

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

Facebook’s community standards list content that is not allowed, as well as content that requires additional information and context to decide if the content violates policy. Your guidelines should be flexible because what is and is not allowed by social media is constantly changing. 

For example, Meta’s policy for AI-written content changed in early April in preparation for the 2024 election and to avoid misinformation from spreading on the platform, and this isn’t the first (and likely not the last) change to occur this year. Stay up to date on policy changes that may affect how your community functions and be prepared to adjust your guidelines as needed. 

When you do change or update your guidelines, make sure to effectively communicate them with your members. Be transparent about why and offer the opportunity for community feedback. Consider using an email newsletter as a tool to build your community without the constant policy changes found on social media – more on this later.   

Defining Community Core Values

The core values of your online community guide all of the interactions with and about your content. Identifying and defining your core values is crucial for curating the members you want interacting with your community and influencing their behavior. 

Atlassian takes a very straightforward approach to their core values. When you read them, it is very clear what kind of culture the company promotes with their employees: one that is open, transparent, and human-centered.

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

Brooke LeBlanc, creator of Social Experiment, builds her online community based upon living alcohol-free in a society that considers it strange not to drink. Her sobriety journey going viral gave her the opportunity to build something that she didn’t have when starting her own journey – a support network.  

When you identify your core values, ask yourself: What are the values of the people I want to attract? Do they value respect, transparency, curiosity? 

Once you’ve identified your core values, define and communicate them in a way that aligns with your overall goals, marketing strategy, brand voice, and brand mission. It’s not necessary to rewrite the wheel. Your core values should be a natural extension of what you’ve already created for your brand. 

Spotify used an inclusive approach to define their core values by involving all of their employees. They also did not stop at a single workshop to discuss and collaborate on their core values.

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

After their core values were put in place, Spotify also took the time to meet again to reflect, discuss, and build upon their company’s understanding of the values. Consider implementing a similar strategy to really hone your community’s core values by utilizing real-time feedback and discussion on their effectiveness in practice. 

Planning Your Community Strategy

When deciding how to build an online community, planning a clear strategy is critical for your success. You want to achieve continued growth and consistently reach new milestones. Putting a plan in place to guide your actions and measure your growth makes it possible to see how far you’ve come.

Setting Achievable Community Milestones

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

When you set goals and milestones for your community, make sure that they are SMART goals: 

  • Specific: Set your goals with the specifics in mind. What is the goal, who is responsible, and how are you going to get it done? 

  • Measurable: Quantify your goals by setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), like using Click-Through Rates to measure engagement. 

  • Achievable: Break your goals into smaller chunks. While this may seem less satisfying than crushing a big goal, smaller goals are realistic and help prevent failure from taking on too much, too fast. 

  • Relevant: Make sure that your goals are relevant to what you want to achieve with your brand. 

  • Time-Bound: Set a time limit for your goals. By what date do you want to achieve them? 

When you set and track SMART goals, you are building a roadmap for yourself to get where you want to go, and following that roadmap is an excellent way to judge the effectiveness of your community-building efforts.

Why listen to me: My career trajectory so far has taken me in so many amazing directions, including working in YouTube ad sponsorship. I’m honored to have helped to nourish numerous communities in my career, from writing for a health and wellness influencer on Instagram to editing for some of the biggest channels on YouTube. 

Community Engagement Techniques

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

The secret sauce to building an online community is keeping your community engaged. You want them to stay interested and invested so that they will keep coming back for more of your content and brand. 

Your community members want to feel like they are a part of something special, and they also want to know that they are appreciated. The best way to get engagement from your community is to engage with them, so respond to their comments and have conversations with your audience.

While working for a media agency, I evaluated YouTube channels for potential integrated ad sponsorships. A great sign of a channel that would succeed in brand sponsorship was a creator who actively engaged with their audience. 

Creators who are active in their comment section show potential sponsors that they are invested in building a relationship with their audience, and it pays off. Creators who engage with their audience and invest their time into building their community often have better engagement metrics overall. 

You can take a similar approach with your community by proactively building your community relationships. Take the time to respond to comments or emails. Let your community know that you care what they think and are as invested in them as they are in you.  

Matt Grey uses polls to keep his audience engaged in his newsletter, The Soulful Entrepreneur. He grows by an unheard of 61% consistently every month, and his audience continues to engage and answer his polls. 

Matt’s polls give him a window into what his audience is actually looking for, providing him the opportunity to custom-design his content to what his audience wants. This keeps them coming back for more because they know that their opinion matters. 

Developing a Community Mission Statement

If your community values influence your community’s behavior, your mission statement clarifies where you are going. When planning how to build an online community, your mission statement is your guiding purpose or your “why.” 

Your mission statement is also the ultimate way to convey what your brand is all about. It should concisely explain who you are and let your community know exactly what to expect. 

Mission Statement Examples

An effective mission statement gets across a high-level approach of everything you need to know about a brand, as well as what to expect from the community. 

Tesla’s mission statement shows their commitment to changing the world through sustainability. In only a few sentences, they show who they are, what they are about, and how they view their mission as their “impact” on the world.

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

Disney takes a different approach, using their mission statement as a place to point out their status as “the” entertainment brand in the world. The characters that they create and the stories that they tell are on a level that’s different from the rest of the industry, and they make sure to convey that in their mission statement.

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

Asana uses their mission statement as an opportunity to let their community of users know that they are aligned with what their community is looking for. Their mission statement is very focused on the user experience, which is in line with what Asana offers – as if the ability to toggle on “extra delight” doesn’t already tell you that!

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

Bryan Wish from Arcbound uses his mission statement to tell the world exactly what he sets out to do, and it’s effective. He creates a quality newsletter because he understands that it is his primary form of communication with his community and the best way to achieve his business’s mission.

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

What’s the Right Platform for Your Community?

The platform that you use to create an online community is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly; and if you already have a community, deciding to switch is even bigger. Look for a platform that grows with you.   

Comparing Community Platform Features

Earlier, I mentioned how building your community around an email newsletter is one solution to avoiding revolving policy changes on social media platforms. 

Policy changes and updates to Terms of Service (TOS) will still happen regardless of the platform, and you have to stay aware of best practices in order to avoid being marked as spam; therefore, an email newsletter gives you the most control over your content. 

Dakota Robertson of Ghost Growth uses social media as the top of his sales funnel, but his goal is to get his community to subscribe to his newsletter. A multi-faceted approach, such as using social media as a means to gain followers while hosting your content on another platform, gives you the best of both worlds to grow your online community. 

When looking for a platform to host your content, consider what you need to grow and continue growing. 

beehiiv is a great option for newsletter hosting, as the platform offers affordable plans with options that make sense for whichever stage of development your community is in. It also offers a free trial to try out ALL of the features, even the ones available to the highest paying subscribers. 

If you are moving an existing community to another platform, look for tools that make migration easy and seamless. Migrating your community shouldn’t mean starting from scratch. Take the steps to grow from where you are and build on your foundation. 

Platform Security Considerations

You can’t be too careful in today’s world with data protection and privacy. Your community trusts you to be proactive in keeping them and their data secure. 

Look for security measures like reCAPTCHA v2 and 2-Factor Authentication that protect your account and keep your community safe with additional precautions. 

Don’t forget to consider the platform’s responsiveness to issues as they arise. No one wants to wait days for a response, let alone a solution. Check out platform reviews and testimonials to get a feel for the company’s customer support offerings, like this one for beehiiv:

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

Developing Engaging Content and Activities

Keeping your audience engaged goes beyond interacting with them. You want to make your content fun and exciting. Introduce content that engages your audience with interactive elements. 

Interactive Content Ideas

Interactive content is not only engaging; it’s fun, too. Build your online community by crafting compelling content that keeps your audience engaged and participating. 

Here’s a few content options to consider: 

  • Polls

  • Live Q&A sessions

  • Trivia 

  • Challenges 

  • Community meet-ups on Zoom

Keep your content interesting and include a variety of content types. Not only will this keep your content fresh, but it also appeals to the widest group of people. The people who wouldn’t enjoy a community meet-up are much more likely to engage with a poll or trivia. 

Pay attention to what your community enjoys and use that to guide your content going forward. 

Crafting a Content Calendar

Speaking of guiding your content going forward, one of the best ways to build a community online is to craft a compelling content calendar. 

A content calendar is a great way to plan ahead and visualize your content releases. You can use your content calendar to help set your SMART goals and keep your content organized and consistent. If your community knows that you send out a newsletter every Friday, they know to look for it each week -- which grows excitement and increases their likelihood to engage. 

Use your content calendar to plan and schedule your content ahead of time. For example, you can plan your October content in July or August because you know that people will be looking for spooky Halloween content and pumpkin spice lattes. 

You can also create marketing campaigns that leverage growth for your community because you’ve thought ahead about what you want to achieve. 

Lean into planning ahead so that you can consistently give your community a great and engaging experience. 

Growing Your Community Membership

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

When planning how to grow your online community, keep in mind strategies for growing both your community itself and increasing revenue to scale your brand. 

Building Partnerships for Growth

I mentioned earlier about working for an ad agency, evaluating YouTube channels for integrated ad sponsorships. The basic principles of what a sponsor is looking for remain the same, regardless of medium. 

Building relationships with brand sponsors is an excellent way to make more revenue that translates to your ability to grow as a creator. 

You can build partnerships with great brands by doing what you already do: keeping your audience engaged. Brand sponsors are looking for audiences that want to buy their product and creators who are able to sell their product. The creators who are successful have strong relationships with their communities, and their communities trust them. 

Don’t take every opportunity that comes your way though. You want to make sure that any brand or product that you actively promote in your content is a brand that you are comfortable promoting and aligns with what your community would want to buy.

beehiiv’s ad network is a great way to monetize without going through the effort of building a partnership directly and will add a new revenue stream to help your community continue to grow.  

Leveraging Social Media for Growth

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

Social media is a great way to attract new members to your community. Like Dakota Robertson, you can use social media as the top of your funnel and create a multi-faceted approach that will drive your community to engage with your content. 

When you create social media content, craft a compelling Call to Action that will encourage your audience to engage. Consider what action you want your community to take and when you want them to take it. 

For example, engaging with a social media post may not immediately result in engagement lower on the funnel; but the more engagement you get on social media, the more your content will be put in front of other people. 

You can use paid advertising on social media to increase your community visibility. One option is Meta’s Custom Audience feature that allows you to import your existing email list and send targeted ads to users who use the same email on Facebook. This is a great way to advertise different community offerings to people who are already interested. 

Measuring Success and Scaling Your Community

If you set SMART goals, you know how you plan to measure your community’s success, but you need a way to gather, analyze, and take action on your data. 

Advanced Analytics for Community Insights

Good analytics tools are critical to being able to make improved decisions for community scaling and improvement. Most analytics tools are already built into your platform, but Google Analytics is the gold-standard (and it integrates seamlessly with beehiiv). 

beehiiv provides you with 3D Analytics that are tailored to newsletters, giving you useful insight that you can use to take action to grow and improve your community. 

How To Grow an Engaged Online Community

Implementing Feedback Loops

Establishing a feedback loop is essential for receiving and implementing community member feedback and helping your members feel like they have a voice in your community. 

The steps of a feedback loop are simple. 

  1. Ask for Feedback.

  2. Analyze the Feedback. 

  3. Take action. 

  4. Communicate the results.

The feedback that you get is an excellent opportunity to refine your community strategy and enhance your member satisfaction. If your members feel like they are heard, they are going to keep engaging with your content and driving your community growth. 

Take the Next Step

Your online community is the best way to get your content and your brand in front of people, so build your content and scale your community with a platform that has all of the features you’re looking for. Try your free trial of beehiiv today. 

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