The initial steps of creating an online community boil down to a series of pretty clear steps… Identifying your Core Topic, assessing the level of interest in your chosen topic, and picking a platform are just the first steps you have to take before you actually get into structuring your online community.
The structure or layout of your community includes any community subtopics, related discussion forums, blogs, wiki, file libraries, and live online events. Think of it as establishing a culture within your community. Here are 3 tips to help you accomplish that:
1 – Keep your audience in mind
If you’ve defined your Core Topic, you’ve identified a common thread that connects all your community members. From there, you can continue to identify common subtopics.
This is where your work with assessing the level of interest in your chosen topic comes in. What have people been saying regarding your Core Topic?
Surely some common questions and discussions were brought up. Those common ideas could translate into subtopics, forums, and potential blog posts within your online community
2 – Start from the bottom and build-up
It’s easy to get swept away by big goals and plans. Even if you’re extremely clear about your Core Topic and subtopics, do not start creating these threads all at once.
If you haven’t assessed the level of interest for your subtopics, creating these forums prematurely could result in a lack of engagement. These forums could sit in your online community unused and unattended, which could be a bad look.
3 – Use your intuition
The user experience of your online community will determine whether your members will keep returning as active participants.
As you’re starting out, it’s important to remain several steps ahead of your new members. Test out the user experience for yourself several times. Or if you want, have someone else test it out for you.
Making sure your members can get to what they need quickly and easily is key.
Is your layout organized enough? Is it easy for members to find what they need? Put yourself in a new user’s shoes to determine if new members can easily navigate through your community.
4 – Consider the features you have available
After going through the first 3 steps, it’s time to consider the features you have available and how you can use them to drive engagement within your online community.
This is especially important because you want to make sure you’re serving not just the community at large, but you’re addressing each subtopic and discussion held within your community.
Are members asking specific questions within each subtopic? Is one subtopic more active than the others and why?
Once you’ve assessed the level of engagement within your community, you can start utilizing features such as live videos, media, wiki, and libraries to help boost engagement and keep your community members happy.
Structuring your online community requires time, intuition, and innovation.
It’s hard to predict the behaviors of your community members when you’re first starting out, so start small!
While assessing the level of interest in your Core Topic, start tapping into potential subtopics and the most common questions your audience is asking you. Remember, your online community serves your audience first and foremost, so listen to them and try to remain a few steps ahead.