10 Unique Ways to Build Your Online Community

February 10, 2015

One of the best long-term business strategies for success is to build an online community. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done: you need great content, member interaction and engagement features, an aggressive marketing plan (at least to start), and, of course, a compelling reason to join and participate in your community. Most attempts to build online communities fail; often because their founders appear focused more on their business goals than their community members’ goals or because they don’t know where or how to reach potential members.

With a bit of research, you can learn the basics of building a great – and active – online community. You’ll quickly learn it all starts with your purpose and content, and you need to funnel members in via social media and search rankings. Once you have the basics covered, consider trying the following ten unique ways to build your online community.

1. Conduct interviews

If you can arrange interviews with well-known industry leaders, you’ll attract attention from people who are interested in your topic. Interviews are often shared and can expose your business to thousands of potential members over a short timeframe.

You can interview your subjects over the phone or via email and post the text of your conversation; or, you can arrange for an in-person meeting and film your interviews. Even better, do both! Make sure your interviews cover tough topics, your questions lend themselves to unique and insightful answers, and you include visually-compelling media that supports your interview themes.

2. Attend trade shows

Industry trade shows can be excellent venues for attracting community members. Get a booth at the best trade shows, then develop a cool gimmick or incentive to attract attendees to your booth. Feel free to push your membership; but, more importantly, try to develop relationships with the people who stop. Ask them pertinent questions to gain insight into your community and so you can find a connection that makes it easy to segue into the benefits of membership.

3. Send a postcard

Direct-mail marketing is all-too-often ignored by entrepreneurs in the digital space. This presents an excellent opportunity for you to reach your community via a channel your competitors aren’t using. Postcards are proven to be highly effective tools for promoting web traffic; you could send postcards with a free trial membership to a well-targeted mailing list comprised of people who fit your membership demographics.

4. Feature your members

Featuring members in your content is a great way to come across as authentic and involved with your community. Moreover, when members are featured they’re likely to share your content with other like-minded people who will want to join your community. There are a lot opportunities for featuring your members: guest posts, interviews, achievements, photos, artwork and videos, to name a few.

5. Print helpful booklets

Print can be a great way to bring members to the digital environment. You can print booklets centered on an intriguing aspect of your topic and send them to a well-targeted mailing list, hand them out at trade shows, or otherwise distribute them to your audience.

Let’s say, for example, your community focuses on antique collectibles. You could print a booklet that explains step-by-step how to accurately determine the value of any given antique. The booklet would be send to likely members, and makes your community seem authoritative. Those who read your booklet will want more insight and will, accordingly, want to join your community.

6. Don’t try to game the system

It’s good to have a well-designed web structure that search engines can readily read; however, trying to earn better rankings by stuffing keywords and other tricks will end up costing you in the long run. Whenever Google updates its algorithm, we always hear horror stories of entire websites slipping dozens of rankings. Why? Most likely because they tried to game the system. Great content will always be the best SEO strategy and, in reality, the only one you truly need.

7. Give stuff away

It’s easy to get people to line up for freebies, but you have to make sure you’re giving the right things away in order to build your online community. You can give away reports, product samples, limited-time access, and other freebies to drive traffic to your community; but if you want to convert membership your freebies need to be helpful, authoritative, relevant, and offer an incentive for taking the next step.

8. Stickers

If you have a proud community, stickers can be a great way to promote your brand. Distribute stickers to current members who are likely to place them in prominent areas others will see; those “others” are likely within your target audience as well, and the more they see your brand the more they’ll trust it.

9. Participate in relevant communities

Rather than thinking of similar communities as pure competitors and avoiding them at all costs, instead engage potential members in communities they already participate in. Don’t bombard them with constant pitches to join you; rather, be a helpful and authoritative voice and they’ll want to learn more about you and the benefits of your community.

10. Give your community a voice

Last but not least, always remember that you’re promoting a community and not strictly your own content. Offer plenty of opportunities for community members to be heard, from post comments and forums to guest posts and more. If you want your members to participate, you have to give them the tools and freedom to do so.

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