21 ways to grow an online community in 2024

21 ways to grow an online community in 2024

While it might seem strange to those of us who remember how it used to be a decade or two ago, right now, most social interactions take place online.

And this isn’t just about social media—all sorts of online communities serve as gathering places where people share thoughts, give feedback, and promote (intentionally or inadvertently) various products.

This is a big deal for any business because it’s not just about selling products anymore. It’s about connecting with people, building trust, and creating a space where everyone feels like they’re part of something bigger.

For anyone running a business, getting a handle on these online communities can unlock a treasure trove in terms of both engagement and growth. To do that successfully, you have to understand these online communities—and once we’ve explained them, we’ll move on to quite a few practical tips that you can put into play to start making use of this untapped resource.

Understanding virtual communities vs traditional communities

Virtual communities differ significantly from traditional communities in their form and interaction dynamics. Existing primarily online, virtual communities, in particular favored by the ever-increasing demographic of Gen Z, allow members to engage through digital platforms like social media, forums, or chat groups.

This online nature provides global accessibility, enabling members to participate from any location with internet access.

In contrast, traditional communities are rooted in physical locations and rely on face-to-face interactions. They are often defined by geographical proximity, with members sharing a local or regional connection.

These communities are shaped by direct personal relationships and are influenced by local cultures and social norms. The communication in traditional communities is more personal and immediate, but less diverse in terms of global perspectives.

Virtual communities offer flexibility and a wide reach, while traditional communities provide a sense of physical belonging and direct, personal communication. Understanding this distinction is vital for anyone looking to build, manage, or participate effectively in either type of community.

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What a thriving online community can do for your business

A thriving online community can be a game-changer for your business. Here’s what it can do:

  • Keep your customers involved and interested in what your business offers — with that engagement translating into growth.
  • Help members of your community answer each others’ questions or assist each other with issues — thereby reducing the strain on your customer support team and fostering a sense of belonging.
  • Give you a direct line as to what your customers are feeling, what works and what does not, and what their grievances are. A thriving community is a first-rate source of insight when it comes to your business.
  • Spark new ideas for products and services or improvements to your existing offerings via customer feedback and discussions.
  • Advertise your product in a passive, organic way — satisfied customers and thriving communities serve as effective brand ambassadors, upping your outreach potential without additional expenses
  • Serve as a force-multiplier for targeted marketing campaigns or product launches, as well as a source of testimonials

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What the right online community platform can do for your business

Choosing the right online community platform is critical for your business. It’s not just about providing a space for discussions. The right platform can:

  • Offer an intuitive interface and easy navigation, making it more likely that users will engage, stay, and contribute.
  • Integrate with your CRM, marketing tools, or analytics to aid in managing customer relationships and tracking engagement metrics.
  • Accommodate growth in terms of being able to easily handle more users, content, and interactions without lag or glitches.
  • Support features like notifications, personalized feeds, and interactive elements to keep users coming back to the community. Active participation leads to a more vibrant community, fosters discussion and engagement, and ultimately drives growth.

Here are 21 ways to grow your online community

Growing an online community is crucial for fostering engagement and building a loyal audience. Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to expand an existing group, there are numerous strategies you can add to your arsenal.

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1. Send personalized greetings to new members to make them feel valued

This is one of the proven tips for growing an online community. When someone joins, sending them a personalized greeting can create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. This approach shows that you value each member as an individual, rather than just another number in the community.

It can be as simple as a direct message or email that addresses the new member by name and expresses genuine happiness at their joining. This personal touch can significantly enhance their initial experience, encouraging them to become active, engaged participants in the community.

2. Share specific examples of how your course has impacted members positively

Sharing specific examples of how your course has positively impacted members can help create a compelling narrative. These stories could include members who achieved their goals, improved their skills, or even made important life changes thanks to your course.

Sharing these stories not only provides tangible proof of the value of your course but also inspires potential and current members. It shows the practical benefits and real-world applications of your content, making it more relatable and motivational for your community.

3. Host regular live Q&A sessions addressing members’ specific questions and needs

Hosting regular live Q&A sessions gives you a chance to directly address the specific questions and needs of your members.

This approach fosters a sense of engagement and personal connection. Members get the opportunity to interact with you or experts in real time, which not only provides them with immediate answers but also makes them feel heard and valued.

4. Offer exclusive webinars on advanced topics for community members

Exclusives make people feel important and valued. Offering exclusive webinars on advanced topics is a great way to provide value that is accessible only to your community members.

These webinars can cover in-depth subjects, industry insights, or specialized knowledge that isn’t readily available elsewhere.

This exclusivity not only makes your community more attractive but also rewards members for their participation and loyalty. Additionally, such webinars encourage active involvement and learning within the community, fostering a sense of belonging and expertise among members.

5. Community challenges: Create specific, goal-oriented challenges that encourage active participation

These goal-oriented challenges should be clearly defined and aim towards achievable goals, like encouraging members to engage in discussions or contribute content. The key is to make these challenges engaging and enjoyable, turning participation into a fun and rewarding experience.

Implementing a system to track progress and reward participation can further incentivize members. Rewards could be in the form of badges, recognition in the community, or other incentives that foster a sense of accomplishment and belonging.

6. Regular polls and surveys: Use polls to gather opinions and tailor your content to member interests

Polls and surveys provide direct insights into what your members are thinking and what they want. For example, if you’re considering adding new content related to specific industries like contracting, you can use polls to gauge interest.

This strengthens member engagement and ensures that your community remains dynamic and responsive to changing interests and trends.

7. Offer special discounts on future courses or products

Offering special discounts on future courses, products, or services, you create a tangible benefit for being an active part of the community.

This approach not only incentivizes new members to join but also rewards existing members, enhancing their sense of value and belonging.

It’s a win-win: members appreciate the exclusive savings, and your business can boost sales and customer loyalty. Such exclusive offers reinforce the community’s importance, making members feel recognized and valued.

8. Encourage members to lead forum discussions on topics they’re passionate about

This concept revolves around encouraging members to take charge of forum discussions, focusing on topics they are passionate about. This approach empowers members, diversifies content, promotes active engagement, and makes learners feel like they’re actively impacting the content.

Allowing members to initiate discussions aligned with their interests and expertise creates a more dynamic and inclusive community. However, moderation remains crucial to maintaining a respectful and positive environment within these member-led discussions.

9. Facilitate group projects or discussions that require member collaboration

Encouraging members to initiate and guide discussions is a great way to tap into their interests and expertise, making the forum more diverse and engaging.

This approach gives members a sense of ownership and involvement in the community, leading to higher engagement levels. It also brings a variety of perspectives and topics to the community. It helps keep the community content fresh and relevant.

10. Regularly feature members or their businesses in your communications

This approach involves selecting members or businesses at regular intervals, such as weekly or monthly, and highlighting their stories, achievements, or contributions.

Showcasing individual members or businesses helps you not only acknowledge their value to the community but also encourage others to actively participate and share their experiences. This recognition can foster a sense of belonging and pride among members, making the community more vibrant and connected.

Additionally, it provides an opportunity for members to learn from each other and build professional or personal connections within the community. In this way, you’ll be utilizing your community itself as a marketing tool by showcasing its benefits.

11. Create and actively manage Facebook or LinkedIn groups for members

Utilizing social media groups, specifically on platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn, is a key strategy in expanding your online community. The process involves setting up a dedicated group where members can interact, share ideas, and stay updated.

The success of these groups hinges on active management, which includes regularly posting relevant content, fostering discussions, and responding to member interactions. Actively engaging with the group is a good way to encourage a vibrant community space that allows for ongoing participation.

This approach not only helps in retaining existing members but also attracts new ones, leveraging the vast user base of social media platforms.

12. Organize virtual networking events for members to connect

Virtual events provide members with opportunities to connect, share experiences, and build professional or personal relationships. The process involves planning and hosting online gatherings where members can meet and interact in a structured yet informal setting.

You can use various platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or specialized virtual event software to facilitate these gatherings. The key is to create an inviting and engaging environment where members feel comfortable engaging, discussing, and networking with one another.

These events can range from casual meet-and-greets to more structured sessions with specific themes or guest speakers.

13. Encourage members to create content related to your course for prizes

These contests involve members creating and submitting their own content, such as articles, videos, or graphics, that relate to your course material. Offering prizes, like course discounts or exclusive content, motivates participation and adds an element of excitement.

Showcasing the winners and their work not only acknowledges their efforts but also inspires other members to contribute. This approach not only fosters a creative environment but also deepens members’ engagement with your course material, making it an effective strategy for community growth and interaction.

14. Share updates about the community and its growth, fostering a sense of shared progress

Sharing updates about the community and its growth fosters a sense of shared progress and belonging among members.

This involves periodically communicating the developments within the community, such as milestones reached, new features or sections introduced, and highlights of member contributions or achievements. Such updates not only keep the community informed but also help in building a narrative of collective achievement and growth.

15. Actively show how member feedback is shaping the community and course

This involves regularly soliciting feedback from members, whether it’s about the course material, community features, or general suggestions for improvement. More importantly, it’s about taking this feedback seriously and implementing changes based on it.

You don’t have to go far to find examples of how powerful both community approval and backlash can be, even outside the course world — with even established businesses like Ledger postponing or canceling features when their communities take a strong stand against it, or Apple’s infamous batterygate scandal which ended in a class-action lawsuit.

By demonstrating that member feedback leads to tangible changes, you not only improve the quality of your course and community but also empower members to feel valued and heard. They want to feel like they are empowered, and it’s your duty to accomplish this.

Additionally, it helps in fine-tuning your offerings to better meet the needs and expectations of your community, leading to a more relevant and effective learning environment. This feedback loop is essential for building trust and a sense of collaboration within the community.

16. Pair new members with more experienced ones for mentorship

Pairing new members with more experienced ones for mentorship helps facilitate a supportive learning environment.

This approach involves identifying willing and capable members who can serve as mentors and matching them with newcomers who may benefit from guidance and support. The mentors provide insights, answer questions, and help new members navigate the community, fostering a welcoming atmosphere.

This not only aids the new members in integrating into the community more effectively but also gives experienced members a sense of contribution and leadership.

17. User-generated content days: Dedicate days for members to share their own content or stories

User-generated content Days is the in-thing with online communities today. Dedicating specific days for members to share their own content or stories, you provide them with a platform to express themselves and contribute to the community.

This practice involves setting aside certain days when members are encouraged to post their creations, experiences, or insights. This could be in various forms, such as blog posts, videos, photos, or personal anecdotes.

Such initiatives not only give members a sense of ownership and involvement in the community but also lead to a rich and diverse pool of content. It fosters a more dynamic and interactive environment as members get to know each other through their shared content.

18. Recognize and award active and helpful community members

Community Awards serve as a cornerstone for nurturing a thriving online community. Their primary role is to recognize and reward active and helpful community members. This recognition is not only a gesture of appreciation but also a powerful incentive for continued engagement.

Identifying and publicly acknowledging these contributors with awards or badges not only honors their efforts but also motivates others to actively participate and contribute. This practice reinforces a culture of recognition and collaboration, fostering a strong sense of community and encouraging sustained engagement among its members.

19. Offer members incentives for referring others to the community

This simple and direct strategy involves offering incentives to members who refer new individuals to join the community.

In essence, it turns your existing members into advocates for your community, as they have a vested interest in promoting it. These incentives could be in the form of discounts, exclusive content, or even monetary rewards for successful referrals.

20. Invite experts to discuss topics relevant to your community’s interests

Invite experts to discuss topics relevant to your community’s interests. This is not only engaging but also presents a unique opportunity for marketing and integration.

Expert sessions can serve as a platform for demonstrating the app’s utility, providing hands-on experience, and gathering immediate feedback from your community. This approach not only grows your community through engaging content but also leverages it for practical product testing and promotion.

21. Involve members in creating future course content or community features

Community Co-creation involves actively involving members in the process of shaping future course content or community features.

The significance lies in member involvement, as it empowers them to influence the community and course content based on their specific needs and preferences. This engagement not only ensures that content and features closely align with the community’s values and relevance but also fosters a sense of ownership and active participation among members.

Embracing community co-creation allows your community to adapt organically to evolving dynamics and trends, ensuring its continued vitality and member-centric focus.

Challenges of growing an online community

Growing an online community is a challenging endeavor with several key obstacles. One of the primary challenges is engagement; keeping members consistently active and involved is crucial but difficult, as interest can wane without regular, meaningful interaction.

This leads to the challenge of content quality, where ensuring the community generates relevant, high-quality content consistently becomes complex.

Additionally, balancing the need for free expression while maintaining a respectful and positive environment demands constant, careful moderation. This task becomes more sensitive and time-consuming as the community grows.

Member retention is a major challenge. While attracting new community members might be straightforward, keeping them engaged and active over the long term is a different matter. This is often compounded by the need to manage diverse expectations within the community, catering to varied needs and perspectives while maintaining a unified community atmosphere.

You might also encounter a lack of funds as your community grows. If growth becomes hampered by this factor, you should consider options like government-backed small business loans, invoice financing, or options like bridging loans in order to finance server time, hire new developers or moderators, or other avenues that will help you sustain a growth trajectory.

Lastly, protecting the community from spam, trolls, and security threats is essential for maintaining a safe and trustworthy environment. This often requires continuous vigilance and significant resources.

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How Teachable can help

Teachable is great for building an online community because it’s easy to use and focuses on learning. You can quickly create courses that keep people interested and coming back for more. The platform lets you make your community look unique, which helps members feel like they belong.

Features like forums and quizzes get people talking and interacting, making the community lively. Plus, Teachable shows you what your members like and don’t like, so you can keep improving your courses.

All these things together make it easier to build a strong, active online community.

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Nahla Davies

Nahla Davies, Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.

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