If you currently have a large social presence on social media platforms, you might have thought about ways you can capitalise on that and create a community.

Once you have an awesome idea for a community, where and how do you get started on community building? How can you build community online by yourself?

Well, firstly, just remember that a lot of huge communities started with just one person. The internet. Facebook. Pokémon. Big things often start small, so don’t be daunted if it’s just you at this point. Just get out there and give it a go.

Plus, you’re not alone. You’ve got us. We’re here to help.

1. Start somewhere.

The best thing is to start somewhere. Get your ideas out there and see how people respond. Your best research resource is already there around you. Your friends and family. If you already have a social presence, speak with your social community to find out what they feel about your proposed ideas. You could even create a discussion board where people can input their own ideas for how they want the community to develop.

Talk to them about your ideas for the community building. Post your ideas on social media sites. Ask people on Quora.com. The more people you talk to, the more responses you’ll get and the more you’ll know about which of your ideas might actually work as a community.

Look at blog posts within your niche to see what type of content resonates best with your community members. At the end of the day, your aim is to build a community that encourages interactivity between not only your community members and your content, but with each other too.

Keep track of these responses and use this as a measurement for which of your ideas get the best responses. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Just write down each of your ideas in a sheet using Excel or Google Sheets and, next to each of your ideas, tally up the number of positive and negative responses for each of your ideas. You’ll then have a simple, but useful, yardstick to give you an initial understanding of which of your ideas are most likely to succeed when you try to build community online.

You can also use this sheet to keep track of which interests, passions, experiences and issues are most important to people. This will be really useful for the next step…

2. Find purpose in shared interests, passions and experiences.

So, you’ve bounced your ideas around. You have a better understanding of what you and the people you’ve spoken to have in common. You can now use this common ground to find the purpose to build community online.

It may not seem like much, but any shared interest or experience is enough to build a community, provided it’s something that you and other people care about. So, think carefully. What do you and the people around you care about?

Once you’ve found this, you’ve found the purpose for your community. The central topic, interest, issue or experience that you all have in common. This will be the basis of your conversations and interactions, as well as the foundation for your community building. At least to start with.

So try to tap into a feeling, an experience, a current issue or future hope that your network has in common.

It may be an issue affecting your local area. It may be a concert or festival you’re going to together. It may be that you all want to learn how to do something new. Like painting, for example. Or, it could even be that you all enjoy eating soup with a fork… OK, so it’s probably not that last one.

But, you get our point. You can build community online around any shared interest, passion, experience or issue. So find that shared interest and use it to build a community.

3. Find a home for your community.

This one’s completely up to you. Do you want your community to meet online or in person? Is social media the right forum to build community online? Or, do you want it to be different from all the other Events, Pages and Groups on social media sites? Do you want to have a community website or a community app or both?

There’s no one-size-fits-all for this question. Your community is unique and you need to decide where and how you want to interact with one another. You can always start on social media and ask your first members what they think.

Social media is becoming an increasingly difficult place to really get through to people though and make meaningful connections with them. Plus there is currently a big shift in the way we think of social media as we understand more about the potential dangers of spending too much time online and handing over too much personal information to social media giants.

As a first point, many people opt for Facebook to build and house their community. After all, most people are already on Facebook so it seems like a much easier way to gather initial interest. But the issue with that is even though there is a strong social presence already on Facebook, people are quickly becoming disillusioned with these social platforms. Facebook also has ongoing issues with security and data. With the numerous data breaches, how can you be certain that your data (but most importantly your community member’s data is secure and safe)? When you start your online community on Facebook you should focus on building a type of community that your target audience will love – not worry about whether or not Facebook will suffer a data breach.

Likewise, you could use LinkedIn or Twitter. LinkedIn groups work well, but it’s much more tailored towards a B2B audience. Most people use LinkedIn as a work or business social network. Imagine your community was for fish enthusiasts, you’d struggle to generate enough interest if you opted for LinkedIn to build your social community.

As a result, there are a lot of interesting alternatives springing up around us. Companies, like us at Disciple, are pioneering new ways for people to engage their communities. Our mobile community platform gives people a home for their community in the form of smartphone apps for Android and iOS.

Group of people having a picnic

4. Bring people into your community.

Now we’re getting into the fun stuff. It’s time to market and promote your community. You’ve done the research. You’ve found the purpose for your community. You’ve found a home for your community. Now all you need is the people. Time to build a community online.

Start local. Get your friends and family on board. Then, get them to invite their friends and family to join your community. Post about your community on social media. Create an event and invite everyone you know to it. Just spread the word!

Word of mouth is a powerful thing, especially if your community is based around something people care about. So just go for it. People can’t join your community if they don’t know about it. Word of mouth is hard to force. It will happen organically if your target audience like the type of content and value they get from their community. It all comes down to building a learning community that gives you an authority in your niche and increases your social presence across all social networks.

You can also be your own PR. Do you know anyone who works for a newspaper or magazine? They may well be able to help you. Even if you don’t know anyone at your local newspapers (or even national, why on earth not?), get in touch with them anyway. There are some great online guides on how to be your own PR. Like this one. You could even start blogging. Writing blog posts is a great way to spread your reach. In order to do it, have a look at your target audience and see what kind of valuable content they’d appreciate.

Once you’ve produced the blog posts, promote it either on social networks or within your own online community. Doing so will show potential community members the level of value they could receive by joining your community.

You can also join other discussion boards to post about your upcoming community. But be careful. Some discussion boards like Reddit have strict rules about self-promotion, so be sure to check those out to avoid getting a ban.

Just phone or email their offices and let them know that you’re building an online community. Tell them what kind of community you’re building. Tell them a bit about yourself. And ask them whether they’d be interested in speaking to you and writing blog posts about it.

You’d be surprised how many newspapers are on the lookout for this kind of stories. Especially if your idea for a community taps into a common interest or feeling shared by a lot of people.

5. Create a community culture

A culture will naturally find its way into your community. But there are things you can do to set it on the right track and keep it there.

The culture will depend entirely upon the type of community you’re building. It may be a completely open, relaxed community culture where everyone says whatever they’ve got on their mind. Or, it may be a more formal culture where issues are discussed and debated.

Whatever the culture, you can help get it right by setting the tone at an early stage. Just be mindful of the culture you’d like to create when welcoming new members and when you start new posts and conversations. People will naturally follow the tone you set.

Although you want to promote a healthy level of interactivity, we also recommend using a community manager to moderate some of the content to keep your culture on track. By removing inappropriate content and disruptive users, you can protect the community, its culture and keep it on the right track.

Generally speaking, if you’re having to hesitate and question whether the content belongs on your platform, it probably doesn’t.

community building preparation

6. Start inclusive conversations

You’ve gathered a community of people around a shared interest, experience, passion or problem. So, talk about it. And get everyone else talking about it too.

This is something you care about. And the rest of the community cares about it too. So be interested, inclusive, excited and enthusiastic. Invite responses from the rest of the community. Ask them questions. Find out what matters to them and respond to what they say. Make everyone feel welcome, included and of equal importance.

At first it might be difficult to know what sort of things to talk about. But, the best thing to do is to just make a start and measure the response. It’s the same idea that we spoke about in Step 1 of this guide. Measuring responses is the best thing you can do because it gives you a real-life indication of what works and what doesn’t.

So post something in your community feed and see how people react. Find quantifiable ways of measuring people’s reactions. It may be the number of Likes your post receive. Or how many comments and responses your post gets. Or the number of people that go to the debate, show or event you organise. Or the most popular response in a poll.

Just think of a way that you can benchmark your comments against one another. This will give you a good understanding of the kind of content and discussion that works well with your community.

And when people respond to you, make sure you respond back to them to start a healthy, inclusive and enthusiastic conversation. You don’t want your community members to feel like you’re preaching to them. But at the same time, if you can build a teaching presence, and a learning community, you’ll keep people coming back again and again.

The two key ingredients here are inclusivity and enthusiasm. So, get cooking!

7. Let it grow & help it along

Go you! You’ve built community online!

You’ve found a purpose for your community. You’ve found a home for your community. You’ve found a group of people who want to be part of your community. You’ve created a positive community culture and started a number of inclusive, enthusiastic and engaging conversations with all your new friends.

But your work isn’t over yet. You need to cultivate your community. The best way to do this is to find the best places to get your community noticed.

We’re not saying you need to pay thousands of bucks for billboards and TV ads. Just think carefully about people who will be interested in your community and have a bigger platform than you do to tell the world that it exists. These people are called influencers. And they can really help you expand your community.

If your community is built around health and wellness, then speak to instructors at your local gym. If your community is built around music, then speak to the up-and-coming bands and their fans. If your community is built around politics, then speak to the politicians for your area. Just speak to people and see what they have to offer.

They may have some really good suggestions of things you can do to keep growing your community. They may even want to come onboard and help you themselves. You won’t know until you’ve spoken to them about it.

This will help you build awareness of your community and, if you get influencers talking about you, you’ll raise the profile of your community in no time.

So get out there and get chattin’!

People watching sunrise in the mountains

So, there you have it. Those are our 7 easy steps to community building. You’re now well on your way to creating a community to be proud of. And the sky really is the limit from here. The more active you are in talking about and promoting your community, the faster it will grow.

If you remember one thing from this article, make it this:

Everything has to start somewhere. Think of all the things you know that started with one person. You can build community online. You just need to start somewhere.

How to build community online – 7 simple steps:

  1. Get your ideas out there.
  2. Find common interests and shared experiences.
  3. Choose a home to build community online.
  4. Promote your community and bring in your first members.
  5. Create a community culture by setting the tone.
  6. Bring the learning community together with open and inclusive conversations.
  7. Grow your community. The right way.

Disciple community management platform helps people build independent, valuable and trusted communities in a safe space that they own and control. Build community online with your own community app today.