25 Experts Drop Wisdom on How to Grow a Vibrant Online Community
Want to grow a passionate community online?
On Facebook?… on Twitter?… on your blog?
Well you’re in luck! Because today ANYONE can build a loyal following on social media.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an individual, small business or a brand.
Okay, but how?
I asked 25 community-building experts to share their secrets for building & nurturing a healthy online community.
These folks come from all walks of life & are running businesses in many different industries.
Here’s their best advice for growing a vibrant online community:
25 Experts Drop Wisdom on How to Grow a Vibrant Online Community
1. Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Media
Building a community requires providing a lot of value, and being responsive to that community.
At Likeable we’ve tried to always provide help to marketers in our community, giving them articles, webinars and ebooks. Not everyone has hired us, but more than enough have to make it worth our efforts.
2. Mark Schaefer, Founder of Businesses Grow
Too often we forget that there is an amazing person behind every little avatar … a person who may be experiencing joy, pain, or frustration.
They are giving you a gift of their precious time by leaving a blog comment. Isn’t that awesome? Tear down the digital divide and treat each commenter as a special person.
Acknowledge the amazing gift they have provided to you through their comment, and look for opportunities to help them, support them, and engage with them at every opportunity.
That’s what builds loyalty and trust. That’s what builds a community.
3. Peg Fitzpatrick, Head of Social Strategy at Canva
My advice for community building is to be giving, supportive and helpful without the expectation of a return. I feel if you are kind and giving that people will remember it and do the same for you when the time comes.
People who spend a lot of time asking other people to share their content via direct message have failed in their community building and could be damaging their future community.
This is especially true of those who DM things to share that don’t even interact with the person they are asking. Respect and reciprocation are earned bonuses from your community.
4. Emeric Ernoult, CEO & Founder of Agora Pulse
First things first, in order to create an amazing community on social media, you first need to have an amazing product (or service).
If no one cares about what you do or sell, chances that they will engage with you on social networks are close to none.
When you’re just starting your business, your product or service will probably not be awesome at the beginning, you’ll probably have to be patient to reach the point where it’s good enough to start getting a really engaged community.
Second, the key to a healthy community is to consistently provide them with great content. Post Planner does a great job at that! But as they would probably confirm, this is a tough job. It takes time and resources, but this is key.
We probably invest around $50,000 a year in our content, and that’s just a rough estimate that does not take my own time into account. But our content strategy is what has delivered the best result for us.
Finally, be there for your community! Respond timely, be helpful and make sure they get a friendly response every time they take the time to engage with you.
As a CEO, I do a lot of this myself, and you have no idea how people feel when they get a personal message from the CEO on Twitter or Facebook. It certainly doesn’t scale, but in the early days, it will make a difference!
5. . CamMi Pham, Digital Strategist at Kwin Media
To build a community, you will need to learn to become a digital shrink. Building a community is like running a company. The best way to make sure everything is running smoothly is solving other people’s problems, not yours.
Always be there and listen and show everyone you care. Reach out to everyone and ask them how you can help them. There are a million companies out there doing great things — what is going to make you different?
Here is the ugly truth, it is not your brilliant concept.
Random acts of kindness can make a big difference. All you need to do is be there, listen, don’t judge and offer a hand. You have 2 hands: one to help yourself, the other is to help others.
Start investing in people.
6. Calvin Lee, Founder of Mayhem Studios
Helping others and expecting nothing in return has always been my motto. I like helping by sharing useful resources on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and on other social networks.
If there are links and blog posts that have good info, I will re-share them. It doesn’t matter if they are friends, brands or strangers. If the content is good, it will spread.
Most of the time I share from a trusted list I have complied over the years. You will make new friends when you share others content, because people are grateful and feel you’re an expert in your field.
They want to return the favor. That’s how friendships develop.
The more you share, the bigger a community you will build. Why do you think I have so many friends on Twitter? That’s my little secret I used in my early days of Twitter to get popular people’s attention.
7. Christel Quek, Regional Content Lead at Twitter
A community is defined as a social group with common interests or imbibed with a common culture. As we know it, culture is an act — a manifestation of a belief system, a result of the values the members of the social group believe in.
This is no different on social media platforms where digital communities can congregate and grow. It’s not enough to build sheer volume and invest in quantity when quality should be the goal. To invest in a community of quality, this should reflect a few key values:
So I present to you the Humanifesto for Community Building on Social Media:
- C — Collaboration (Collaborate, don’t control — remember that your brand story is getting shaped by your community and not just yourself)
- O — Openness (Be open and transparent in what you do)
- M — Mediation (Don’t antagonize, mediate when you run into crises)
- M — Magnetic (You need to be magnetic and charismatic to inspire your community to greater and better things)
- U — Utilitarian (Reflect useful and practical content your community can identify with)
- N — Nice (if you’re not nice, it won’t pay back)
- I — Integrity (Integrity should anchor your actions or your community will sniff you out)
- T — Tact (Be respectful, show some tact, don’t type what you will regret)
- Y — Yield (Your brand should put the yield of your community above the yield the brand might get)
8. Ahna Hendrix, Owner of Ahna Hendrix Social Media & Co-founder of Share 4 Kids Foundation
My tips for building a community through social media:
- Provide valuable content of all kinds — go for the unconventional, whether it’s video, pictures or articles. Share unique but relevant content.
- Treat people how you want to be treated. Respond to someone’s question, take the time to say hi, remember particular things about them and then use it to engage them in conversation, encourage people, offer advice and joke around.
- Be positive. One of the most important things I try to always be is positive. There have been many times when I want to be snarky or passive aggressive, but I don’t enjoy reading those updates from people. Being positive and encouraging your community, naturally draws people to you and opens the door for real friendship.
- Give. Giving is the true undercurrent of social media — it’s the circle that keeps everyone together. Give advice, assistance on a project, your opinion, your smile, your time or your attention. In whatever way is possible, taking the time to help/give to other people is crucial.
- Be yourself. No one will want to interact with you for very long if you aren’t genuine. It’s easy to look around at all the people doing really well in social media and want to imitate their personalities, thoughts or actions.
9. Erika Napoletano, Owner of Redhead Writing
When’s the last time you were able to describe yourself to someone? If you can’t do that, building a community is going to be next to impossible.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a single person, small business, or behemoth brand, either. It’s about letting your audience know who you are, why you’re different, and why the hell they should bother paying attention to you in the sea of choices swimming around online.
Sound harsh? Good. Because people do business with people. Not logos, PMS or hex colors, or snazzy websites. Those things can’t make anyone feel anything. Only people have the ability to make people feel.
So, it’s time to get hold of YOU and understand that your brand, whether it’s a single person or a collection of hundreds, has a voice — likes, dislikes, opinions. And if you’re afraid of people walking out the door because they don’t like who you are, then you’re not secure enough in who you are to have the balls to build a community.
Communities require strength, direction, purpose, and shared values. It’s not about collecting sycophants.
10. Francisco Rosales, Owner of SocialMouths
When we talk about community, we often think we “own” an established group of people when really, all we have is sporadic moments of attention from a group of individuals that have agreed, in the past, to listen to us.
Community is not built, it is “earned”.
A community is dynamic, it can grow or decrease its size and level of attention at any given moment depending on many factors. It shares its attention with other sources, it overlaps by also paying attention to other bloggers, leaders, brands. It comes and goes. Understanding how a community works and behaves online is essential.
With that said, I’ll share what I think have been my 2 key learning points in building community:
- Get to know your community: Where do they hang out? Who else are they listening to? What is their biggest pain point? etc. The biggest waste of time and talent in community building is sending the right message to the wrong crowd.
- Be humble: You should be grateful that a group of people have given you the opportunity to serve them. Solve their problems, answer their questions and always say thanks.
11. Mike Gingerich, Co-founder of TabSite
Plain and simple: BE HELPFUL!
You want to grow a community of raving fans? It’s not really rocket science that people feel valued when you respond and offer them assistance. The formula comes down to:
THEY ASK x YOU ANSWER = HAPPINESS, LOYALTY & SYNERGY!
Often businesses can get stuck on what type of content to create and they resort to being too “sales focused” in their social and blogging efforts. Instead, create content that answers the most common questions your customers and contacts have asked. Create a list of what they commonly ask, then create content that answers those questions! As you answer, be yourself. Companies need to remember that ultimately business is person-to-person. By being helpful and authentic a company can build an engaged and loyal fan base.
Lastly, being helpful means being responsive! Yes, you can have all the best answers out there to help users, but if they ask and it takes you 12-16 hours (or more) to respond, you’re not going to develop raving fans!
Social Media has ramped up the “speed expected” and brands need to find ways to monitor their social and be ready to answer. With smart phones and apps this has really gotten much easier to do, so there’s really no excuse!
So, would visitors characterize your company and people as “helpful” online?
12. Ravi Shukle, Social Media Specialist at Ravi Shukle
If you want to build a successful community on social media there are 3 key ingredients you need. Consistency building a successful community is a lot like building your ideal home.
You need to ensure your brand has a solid foundation and is working on building it on a daily basis. You want to ensure you are posting every single day with content targeted at your community and that you are there to engage.
Create content that solves a problem. One of the easiest ways you can add value for your community is to solve the problems they are facing.
There are many ways you can provide this solution, some of which include asking them directly via a status update, video, blog post, or simply being there to answer questions. By helping others, your business is able to increase trust and build a loyal community.
Often the most overlooked aspect of running a Facebook page — having fun is a great way to show your brand’s personality.
We know people do business with those they know, like and trust, and showing that sense of humor can be a great way for you to connect with your community. After all, your fans are on Facebook to engage with their friends, so showcasing this friendly nature can help build that same association with your business if done correctly.
13. Ian Cleary, Founder of Razor Social
Here are 3 tips that will help build your community and increase your open rate!
- Be friendly — Every time someone subscribes to our mailing list our team sends a personal email welcoming the person. This personal email is a significant reason why the open rates are higher. You are starting to form a relationship with that person with this initial email. Yes, this takes time and effort, but it’s extremely important.
- Deliver content they want — Target the right audience and then deliver the content they are looking for. As part of our initial email exchange, we ask what content they are looking for. This research helps us deliver what they want!
- Be personal – In our weekly emails, we always share a bit about us and our life. We got the most responses to our weekly email when we mentioned it was our birthday. It helps build the relationship and shows you are human!
14. Sarah Robinson, Author of Fierce Loyalty
Many business owners just getting started on social media know they want to build a community but are at a loss for how to go about making it happen. If this is you, here is my very best tip for getting started: engage.
I know that sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many business owners don’t do this. Instead, they use social media as just another way to push their message out.
Social media is called “social” for a reason. Think of it as a cocktail party. You know that guy at the party who can only talk about himself, who uses every conversation to sell his widget?
Don’t be that guy!
Be the person who attracts a crowd because they are so intently focused on other people. Ask questions, help others spread their messages, participate in conversations that are already happening. Talk with others about 98% of the time. Talk about your business about 2% of the time. So next time you’re stuck on how to best use social media to build your community, just remember one word: engage.
15. Zsuzsi Szabo, Co-founder of Antavo
We see Antavo’s customers achieving great successes every day with their sweepstakes and contests.
One of them is The Entertainer toy shop. Their draw app pulled in 4,500 new fans and grew their email list by 12,000+.
You can run Facebook contests within a post and in an app. This latter one is a bit more complex, but it can capture email leads so you can engage in email and advertise targetedly.
Go for quality over quantity so your contest won’t go wrong. These tips might help:
- Give away multiple, lower value and relevant prizes: instead of giving away an iPhone (unless you are Apple) you should give away prizes that attract the real customers instead of prize-hunters. More people go for multiple prizes as the chance of winning is higher.
- Allow public voting: let fans choose winners, but have a jury round too, so entrants with fewer votes will stay motivated till the end.
- Promote it! A contest without promoting is like a party without sending out the invitations. Make sure you inform your audience and use PPC ads.
16. Sarah-Jayne Gratton, Best Selling Author of Follow Me
Building an amazing community on social media begins and ends with personalities and the ability to ‘keep it real’ in a virtual world. My success is geared around connecting not only with interests but with personalities.
So many people dive into social media wanting to be heard above the social static, instead of sitting back, listening and absorbing the conversations going on around them.
My advice to anyone wanting to connect in a positive social way that builds community is to ‘listen first, engage second’, to never get too big for your social media boots and to continually find new ways to add value within the social sphere.
17. Carla Young, Founder of MOMeo Magazine
- Be consistent — Post consistently, and only post what is consistent with your personal brand.
- Know your audience — Find out what makes them tick (or even tickled or ticked off) and integrate that understanding into your social media messaging.
- Let them know you — Be yourself with all your quirks and faults. Creating community is about building reciprocal relationships.
18. Michael Todd, Author of The 7 Pillars Book
I have recently had the chance to find out whether or not I had built a community online. I was offline for 53 days as I was detained in Japan for suspected immigration irregularities.
I returned to find that 169 people, only 2 of whom I had ever met and 4 I had ever spoken to and about 8 I had ever even chatted to, had donated a total of $5,700 for a lawyer. Completely unrequested.
I also found that I had had literally thousands of kind and supportive messages. It was a very pleasant feeling to see all this.
The key to this I think is giving some kind of educational value. In my case, my blog I guess. It is best to brand yourself by keeping to one niche. It is also important to publicly connect and promote people and to be constantly replying to and engaging with people.
Publicly is best, as people will be drawn to you when they see you doing it. As much as I can, I focus on connecting connectors and support and promote connectors. People in their networks who resonate with you will become part of your community too.
We all have a chance to do this with the tools social media provides. Keys are to be regular and consistent and to keep studying so that you can provide more and more and more value. Being yourself also helps, as people will identify with and remember you more easily.
I had never thought that I had ‘built a community’, but I guess I have the makings of one. You can do it too.
19. Jessica Northey, Producer & Host at Country Music Chat
First of all, define your cause or make sure you are in the right niche, and usually this is accomplished through goal identification.
You will have to answer some questions about what you are trying to do: ‘I want to build an army of loyalists to my cause…’ can’t be done if you don’t know what you are about and what you are trying to do.
You have to know your audience, what do they eat, think, drink, what kind of car do they drive, are they women/men, teens/tweens/retirees? Where are you trying to take them or what is your ultimate goal?
More followers/fans… why and what is your selling point?
In other words, what makes you more important than all the other choices they have out there?
20. Muhammad Saad Khan, Content Advisor at Cloudways
Social media is all about relationships and when you nurture these relationships in a human way, they flourish like our friendships in our personal lives.
I am a Muslim, and my religion taught me how to build strong relationships, which can ultimately bring back empathy and invaluable friendships.
There is a very simple strategy:
- Honesty is the best policy as it will build trust
- Find people around your interests
- Find the BEST people who are flag bearers on the topic
- When you connect with leadership, it will attract all the other like-minded people to connect to you
- Learn about them before connecting — it will help you connect with them personally
- Appreciate their work, tweet their content, contribute to their lives with all your heart
- Give respect and get respect rule works the same here
- Create amazing content that can keep you intact with your relationships
- Greet people on daily basis and on occasions too, celebrate their birthdays, applaud their achievements
- You are what you say – so communicate clearly and concisely and always have an inclusive attitude
21. Shelly Kramer, CEO of V3 Integrated Marketing
Always remember that you get what you give — in life, in networking, in social media channels and in community building.
Be genuine and human, support others, show them that you care about them and their goals and initiatives, create and share content that is meaningful, entertaining, helpful, informational.
Serve your audience, not yourself. When you do those things, strong communities inevitably ensue.
22. Sharel Omer, Founder of Commun.it
If you want to build a community, the first question to ask yourself is — what is your community about?
Even if you happen to be Justin Bieber, your community is always about something greater than yourself. Around what are you connecting with people?
What matters to you and them, and what makes it worthwhile for you people to connect?
There are no right answers here, but it’s important to ask yourself these questions. Having done the preparation and knowing what the community you want to create may look like, building a passionate community is all about long-term relationships.
If you connect to people and cultivate the relationship over time, doing it from a real place — it will come back to you in a very positive way. The main challenges in building a social community is to have time to get to all the people who matter to you in a genuine way, to have the right context to communicate with each person, and to be on top of the engagements that make a difference.
Persistence over time does the trick — you need to learn to scale your human touch.
23. Misty McPadden, Co-Founder of PodJam.TV
I have two tips that have helped me build my community on social media.
Connecting people is one. Instead of just promoting myself and things I love, introducing people within my network is a great way to build relationships.
It’s really important if you want to build your community on social media. For the people who follow us, my husband and I make sure that we share inspiring stories from people that have helped us grow personally and in business through our blog and podcast.
We focus on their stories with the goal of helping others and adding value to the community in the process.
I also believe social media is not meant to be a popularity contest. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Twitter, Facebook or Google+ is a numbers game.
It is not the number of followers or fans you have that matters, it is the quality of sharing and interaction that is really important. I am not saying having a lot of followers isn’t good, it’s just not the most important priority.
The quality of your interactions and your ability to build meaningful and lasting relationships is really the key to building community through social media.
24. Ali Mostofian, CEO at Orange Marketing
How to build a community on social media… well, first it must be something you’re really interested in!
Something you understand and you care about. If it’s not, you have to learn first and do some research!
You must know about your audience and how to talk to them. Another thing is that you’ll need time and have to be patient!
I’ve built my personal connections over about 4 years over different channels like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, and this helps me to share and build new communities and win more members, readers or followers!
Another thing is the collaboration with amazing people you know and who share interests with you. Together you will have different views on things and different personalities will help to make a better job because communities are about people!
At the end, all you need is to inspire and enchant people to build an amazing community!
25. Dennis Heenan, Founder of Fat Burning Nation
Utilizing social media is one of the most important aspects to building a strong community, especially on Facebook. When trying to build a community, why send people somewhere other than where the party is already at?
If you want more engagement and a rocking community, I highly recommend running your forums and memberships right there on the Facebook platform. This is where your fans spend the majority of their time and it makes it easier for them to show support, comment, and share your content.
Facebook has been by far the best place to run a membership or forum in my business. You simply cannot beat it!
I can’t put into words how much I appreciate all the great people above who took part in this article!
Taking time out of their busy schedules to share their best tips & connecting with our community of readers here — such a gift for us!
So please share this post or forward it to a friend.
But before you do that, let me know your ideas in the comments below!
What do you think is the best way to build a community of raving fans?
Who knows, maybe I’ll write about your tips next. 🙂