Setting up an online community is an exciting endeavor. While uploading your logo and importing content you envision the end result: a thriving community with active discussions, important connections and enthusiastic participants.
But…how do you go from set up to thriving? How do you make your community a growing success? This question and lack of a concrete answers is what prevents many communities from “making it.” But, there is an answer—a solution: early “founding” members.
Founding community members understand your vision for the site and are eager to participate. This is important as visitors from search engines and other organic origins are less likely to join a community that isn’t already active. Founding members provide the activity that proves your community is real.
Because your early members understand your vision, they will participate publicly. They’ll start discussions and add to your content. Because of this, you don’t need hundreds to get your community started. Your goal should be 25-40 active, regularly participating members to get things started.
How do you find these members? It will take some work on your part, but it isn’t hard. Try a few of the ideas below or get creative. They’re out there and with them, your thriving online community is a soon-to-be reality.
Use Your Connections
Growing an online community is similar to growing an actual business. Start with people you know. Those you surround yourself with are likely to believe in where you’re going. They understand your vision and they’re on board.
Think of your business connections, friends, online followers or maybe even your employees. First, invite or import them into your community. Next, ask them to share with and invite or import their connections. Repeat. Repeat…Think of how many connections the average person has online. The potential for growth is literally exponential.
Branch Out, Ask Questions
Chances are that for success, you’ll need to reach out beyond your own network. That’s okay and is actually a good thing. It means your community will grow with depth.
Think of LinkedIn connections or bloggers you regularly follow. The insight these individuals may be able to provide could prove more valuable than anything. Think of questions you have about your community, industry and/or brand. Reach out to them for input. Ask them genuine questions.
Once you’ve gained some insight and built a connection with these experts, invite them! Coming from someone they’ve interacted with individually and whose vision they understand, they’re more likely to catch your vision and join. Most of all, these individuals understand how to interact online, may provide valuable discussions for your community and have followers they can invite themselves. This provides your community with growth and these experts with a reason to join.
I’ve touched on this one time and time again. I realize this…it’s because it’s absolutely critical for the success of any online community. In order for any member of your community to make the choice to join and participate (this is especially important as it pertains to founding community members), you must provide regular, valuable content.
Keep it new, keep it fresh, keep it relevant. Make sure your content is different from what’s already out there. Offer a perspective that can’t be found elsewhere. Provide your founding members with real value. You need them for long-term, sustainable community growth.
Again, just like in a physical business, incentives are often required to garner interest in your community.
A few ideas?
- Give your founding members publishing privileges. Having a forum to publish to gives them the chance to get their message out there and provides your new community with much-needed activity.
- Offer surveys with results. This builds your member list and gives members a way to easily participate.
- Giveaways for sharing your community? Hey they work more-often than not.
- Host free webinars. Many of your potential members may be looking for an educational break from their work days.
Whatever you decide to do, remember, your first focus must be on gaining and engaging founding members. They’re important building blocks to your online community and will lay a foundation for future growth.