Running an online community

Everyone has a problem they are struggling with. Most (if not all) problems can be solved with specific knowledge. You have some knowledge. Whom can you help with it?

If you were to take this up a notch, you could help many people simultaneously by forming a community around your area of expertise and attracting other professionals to help you, help others.

Here are some guidelines to get you started:

  1. You are the facilitator of engagement in your community. To get people talking, you have to seed the place with amazing, engaging content. Soon enough people will start responding and eventually start talking to each other. Then you can support the debates from the sidelines and make sure things are going in the right direction.
  1. Know your audience. Tailor your communication to the people you are addressing.
    • Think hard about who they are and what would get them to respond.
    • Appeal to qualified people that know and care about the topic.
  1. Is your content engagement-worthy? Give people a reason to engage. 
    • Think about the questions and answers you are seeding. How can you formulate the info so as to maximize the likelihood of people responding? They should feel the need to reply.
    • Hard/demanding questions discourage participation. Ideally, the barrier to entry would be set by what others have covered so far. Start with simple answers, then let them grow progressively more complex with each new contribution. 
  1. Make the call to action a part of your contributions. Tell people how you would like them to respond. Should they comment, contribute, give feedback? Ask nicely and directly. Make it simple.
  1. Reply to everyone with the highest possible quality of contribution.
    • When appropriate, aim to keep the conversation going but don’t waste people’s time. Frame your replies so that they invite further engagement from the reader.
    • Don’t be lazy with the reply. If you have to force it then maybe don’t do it at all.
    • You might not be able to respond to everyone, but when you do, help a single person with your full dedication. It will make a difference to them and the information will remain online for others to find and benefit from. Your reply will influence other visitor’s desire to be a part of the community. Make it count.
    • If there is nothing to reply to, acknowledge the comment by liking it (unless it’s really unlikeable).
  1. Find a way to have fun in the conversation. Be contagiously positive.
  1. Show people that you have a genuine interest in their world (point of view, insight, knowledge). Ask open-ended questions. Go deeper into sub-questions.
    • Show people, you remember them. At a future time, reference something from the previous conversation and show them that they didn’t waste their time on you.
  1. Bring something of value for people to engage with.
    • Be mindful of what your audience is interested in.
    • People will appreciate being educated, inspired, and entertained.
    • People generally have a need to feel understood. They like to talk about themselves, their families, their work, hobbies, future plans. Help them open up and feel understood.
  1. Show people that you are safe to engage with. Responding to you feels like reaching out to shake your hand. Don’t leave them hanging.
    • Acknowledge what they are saying.
    • Encourage people and find a way to make them feel good for engaging in the conversation.
  1. Be brief. “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.” – Unknown
  1. Show that you’re human.
    • If you don’t know, it’s ok to say so. You are not expected to know everything.
    • Own your flaws, admit to weaknesses (less flattering situations, emotions, etc).
  1. Keep your community clean and on target.
    • Make sure everyone knows the rules right from the start.
    • Detect spam/abuse and deal with it swiftly.
  1. Deliver consistently. Show up every day and dedicate your time to the community. People need to know when they can expect to hear from you.

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