Everything You Need to Know About Online Community Building

Learn the ins and outs of online community building: What benefits you can expect and how to increase engagement to achieve your business objectives.

In today’s market, where user experience and relationships are key to acquiring and retaining customers, online communities can play a critical role in your marketing strategy.

76% of global internet users are involved with online communities. 66% of companies say that their branded communities help improve customer retention, 68% say that these communities help generate new leads, and 55% indicate that online communities help increase sales.

Now the secret is out, and everybody is talking about community-led growth, consumers are more discerning about which communities to join. You need the right tools and strategies to build engagement, deliver value and retain members.

Let’s explore the what, why, and how of online community building.

Why Should You Build an Online Community?

An online community is a group of people with shared goals or common interests who communicate with each other via a digital platform. A branded online community is one created by an organization to bring customers, employees, members, partners, etc., together to support collaboration and growth.

Online communities come in many shapes and forms. They can be free communities or paid ones. They may be evergreen groups or created to achieve a specific purpose within a time frame. There are different types of online communities — some offer support or drive discussions while others enable learning or coordinate actions.

While groups on social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn are considered online communities, they’re different from branded ones.

Unlike social networks, branded online communities give you more opportunities to deliver an on-brand experience while keeping members on your online properties instead of being distracted by everything else in their feeds.

They give you more control over the member experience while protecting members’ privacy and your business information. Additionally, you can collect first-party data on a branded community forum to understand your users and improve the customer experience.

The Benefits of Building an Online Community

A healthy and engaged community doesn’t happen on its own. You need to invest time and resources to build and maintain it. You must also invest in the right tools to deliver an on-brand experience. So why should you invest in an online community?

Here’s how building an online community can do for your brand:

  • Lower ad spends: You can attract your ideal audience and build relationships with them without the high cost of online advertising and retargeting.
  • Increase customer loyalty: Engagement with your brand builds customer trust and loyalty. Users are more likely to buy from you and tell others about your brand.
  • Get audience insights: Through interacting with members, you can gain in-depth insights about potential customers to inform content creation and product development.
  • Improve customer experience: The insights can also help you deliver an outstanding brand experience that drives sales and conversions.
  • Boost your SEO: You can share content with community members and drive traffic to your website to increase your domain authority and boost your search engine ranking.
  • Reduce customer support costs: A mature online community often has many members who are knowledgeable about your brand and eager to answer questions from others.
  • Encourage social collaboration: Members can interact with each other around the clock to co-create and crowdsource ideas, increasing the value they get from your brand.
  • Leverage user-generated content (UGC): You can get direct access to the content that members create, which you can repurpose on ads, landing pages, blog posts, etc.

So, What Does a Successful Online Community Look Like?

What should you focus on when building an online community to reap these benefits? Here are some characteristics of an effective online community:

Community Management and Engagement

An effective online community brings people together under a shared interest or goal. It encourages members to support and communicate with each other around the topic of interest.

Your community should support easy, secure, and meaningful interactions among members.  Develop a community management strategy to build engagement, manage conversations, and keep members engaged.

Diverse and Inclusive

A vibrant online community enables people from different backgrounds to participate in discussions. It taps into various points of view and allows members to share their knowledge and expertise to help each other advance their purposes.

Your community should provide an environment where people can share their opinions candidly and develop a sense of belonging as they support each other to grow and learn.

Thoughtful Content Moderation

A successful online community provides a safe place where members can express themselves. Effective online community management must strike a balance between monitoring conversations and allowing members to feel free to speak up.

Your community should have a set of guidelines and a dedicated community manager to ensure that everyone involved feels comfortable without being stifled.

How To Launch an Online Community

It can be overwhelming if you’re building a new community from scratch. Where to start?

Define Your Objectives

Having a clear purpose for your online community will help you identify the right structure, tools, and support mechanism to ensure its long-term success.

Do you want to gain rich consumer insights, attract more potential customers, access a stream of UGC, or develop deeper relationships with your audience? Or, maybe you want to leverage the group’s input to validate new product ideas or marketing messaging.

Identify Your Audience

After the “why,” you need to know the “who” to attract the right people to your community. Consider your ideal participants’ demographic and psychographic profiles, why they want to join the community, the pain point you can help them solve, and the topics they’re interested in.

Then, research the market to see how your competitors implement online communities and what strategies they use to attract the target audience. The insights can also help you define what features to include and how to market your community.

Choose a Community Platform

You can create a group on social media (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn) or collaboration platforms (e.g., Slack) with just a few clicks. However, you can’t get the level of control, security, and data collection capabilities that you could with a branded community.

Already have a mobile app? You can integrate community features and hit the ground running. You can also consider a community platform, such as Circle, or an integration that allows members to comment on your site’s content (e.g., Cove.)

If you’re building a community around a virtual or hybrid event, you can use Sequel’s Networking Hub to create a space where participants can connect before, during, and after the event.

Plan Your Resources

Many online communities start with great ambition but fizzle out because they don’t have the resources to sustain the momentum. You need a dedicated budget and an experienced team to ensure the ongoing success of your online community.

Besides the initial setup costs and fees for paid tools, set aside a budget for ongoing tasks such as marketing, content creation, member support, and community moderation to sustain a vibrant community.

Deliver Value

What will your members consider valuable in the context of your online community? Whether it’s accessing helpful content, having meaningful conversions, or networking with like-minded individuals, you must have a plan to keep delivering on the promise.

Also, organize your group (e.g., setting up channels, rooms, etc.,) create a content calendar (e.g., blog posts, videos, podcasts, online courses,) and schedule activities (e.g., polls, challenges, contests, webinars) to keep members engaged.

Onboard New Members

Recruiting new users is critical to an online community’s success. But more importantly, you need to retain them and ensure they participate in the group’s activities.

Send out a series of welcome emails to show new members around the community and encourage them to introduce themselves. Create an onboarding sequence where members follow prompts to achieve specific tasks (e.g., share a post.) You can also keep users engaged by sending notifications on new activities.

Promote Your Community

Ongoing engagement from members is key to the success of any online community. Involve early adopters, brand enthusiasts, and VIP customers and ask for testimonials. Invite your email list and offer an incentive (e.g., a discount) to entice recipients to join.

Promote the community to your target audience post-launch to keep it growing. For example, you can design a referral program to encourage existing users to share your community or use content marketing to get in front of new audiences. 

Track Your Success

Like any business and marketing initiative, you need to track how well your community is achieving your objectives. Besides specific metrics associated with your goals, here are some KPIs for gauging the health of your community and identifying trends:

  • The number of members and active members
  • Engagement (e.g., comments, shares, discussions, etc.)
  • Referral traffic from the community
  • New member participation
  • Number of questions asked and answered (for support communities)
  • Number of leads generated
  • Cost per lead
  • Conversion rates and customer lifetime value

Additionally, evaluate which channels are most effective in bringing active and high-value members into your community and analyze the conversations to understand customer sentiments.

Engagement is the Name of the Game

Member engagement is the key to success for any online community. One of the most critical components of any online community manager’s responsibilities is to foster ongoing engagement and interactions among members.

Run contests that require members to create UGC, post exclusive content for the community, host an “ask me anything” (AMA) with an influencer, share members’ success stories, and create a scoring system to gamify participation.

You can also encourage employees to participate in the community. For example, if you have a software product, ask a developer to share a behind the scene look at how a new feature is developed.

Moreover, identify the most active members and acknowledge their contributions. Feature them in monthly spotlights, give them a reward, or invite them to become your brand ambassador to ensure their ongoing participation.

Drive Community Engagement with Virtual Events

Virtual events and online communities are a match made in heaven. An online community can add value to a virtual event by enabling attendees to interact with each other. On the other hand, a virtual event can improve the engagement metrics of an online community.

A virtual event makes your content and community more accessible and in a format that encourages two-way conversations. You can invite industry leaders and influencers to share their expertise, further building trust and solidifying your brand’s credibility while delivering more value to your members.

For example, Girls in Marketing is an e-learning platform and community that uses virtual events to deliver valuable content and encourage interactions among its members. Meanwhile, the Sephora’s Beauty Insider Community uses virtual events to connect members. The size of the community speaks for itself: it has over 25 million members.

When you add a networking component to your virtual event, you enable participants to interact with each other and build lasting relationships — giving people a reason to return and increasing the stickiness of your community.

Whether you want to use a virtual or hybrid event to deliver more value to your online community or add a community component to your event, Sequel has all the tools you need to increase audience engagement.

You can use Sequel’s virtual and hybrid stage to add reactions, chat, Q&A, and polls to your event. Need to drive sales and conversions? You can add calls to action to the screen and direct participants to any URL.

Our Networking Hub enables you to organize networking circles, one-on-one chats, or small-group discussions before, during, and after the event to extend its value for community members and your brand.

Plus, you can embed Sequel live stages to your website without writing a single line of code to keep participants on your site where you can deliver an on-brand experience while gathering first-party data to drive in-depth audience insights.

Book a demo to see how Sequel can help you engage your online community with virtual events and experiences.

Embed Sequel and make it your own

Book a demo, take the modules out for a spin, and host your first live sessions free. We know you’ll love it.

Get started today

Create your free developer account and get started with our APIs. We can't wait to see what you create.

Create developer account