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Web Community Building: Making It Thrive

Posted on Jul 20th, 2009
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    web communityLast week we discussed some of the reasons subscribers are vital for an online marketing growth strategy. Those reasons included:

    • The ~11% of web users who know to use RSS include the users savvy enough to be web publishers
    • You’ll become a go-to area to link to
    • Subscribers are your sneezers
    • A base of well-connected fans could very well be the cornerstone of your social media marketing strategy
    • Community is what makes sites worth visiting
    • Subscribers will motivate you to create better content
    • A consolidated network presence is the most effective
    • Social proofing benefits
    • Subscribers and a fan base make you less reliant on push PR

    Now that we have gone through the aspects of why subscribers are vital to your brand’s digital growth, let’s get into how exactly you can foster this type of thriving community.

    Build networking into the content of your site

    It’s all about content, but you need to get people to notice it too. Merely publishing is not enough, make sure that in some way your content functions to connect with others. Work it artfully into the system and it can be an almost invisible part of the process. If everything you published were to in some way connect with externalities interested in sharing it your site will experience growth.

    Multiple subscription call to actions

    This sounds obvious except for the fact that it is so frequently missed. If the goal is community building there should exist multiple hooks to get visitors to join in addition to great content. Onlookers are fine but don’t necessarily get you to the end goal of a thriving community – conversion is key. Unmissable content is of course the real pull for people to opt in to your messages, but it should be combined with clear subscription CTAs. Utilize both areas above and below the fold. We’ve seen data from bloggers seeing twice as many subscriber conversions by applying this.

    Be conscious of the law of attraction

    The essence of the law of attraction is that people’s thoughts (both conscious and unconscious) dictate the reality of their lives. Let’s update this for web publishing to say that the content you publish (and even link to) dictates the community you will build.  Publish snarky content and you will attract a snarky audience. Publish educational content and you will build up an group of people interested in learning. Publish content specific and uniquely useful to an industry and in time you will permeate that industry. If you follow this carefully, as few as 10 people could spark an unstoppable wave of growth. Like minded people are exceedingly well connected online, making this law extra potent.

    Resist the urge to go off-topic

    Thriving niche communities exist for a reason, people come there expecting a certain type of content. When that expectation is met, the relationship is reinforced. To encourage an active following with the type of subscribers discussed previously you need to consistently meet that expectation.

    Study the existing communities

    What’s so different about what you’re doing vs. the rest of the world? Find that differentiation point and focus on it. To ensure the differentiation point is something that matters to people within that niche, simply study the existing communities. The comments, discussions and user responses will provide you great clues into what will resonate with the group. Deliver on the topics that resonate most or even go between the lines and focus on more specific, detailed issues than the current community leaders delve into. Create something existing groups can’t ignore and your web community will achieve rapidfire growth.

    Position yourself as an ally to other influencers

    Ideally you want the current group of influential community leaders to point their own following at what you’re doing. This is most likely to happen when they don’t consider your content as a replacement for their own, rather they see it as complementary. If others sense you are competition or a threat in some manner you probably won’t get endorsements from them. The way around this is to publicly align yourself as an ally of the people you want to share your material.  An easy first step to get on their radar is to start sharing their material, but there are even more subtle and effective ways to do this if you get creative.

    Create frequent opportunities to connect your community members to each other

    When you are not just forging relationships with your readers but they start to form relationships with each other, your community is reaching a mature level. As a natural part of your growth strategy you should be creating opportunities at regular intervals to connect your site visitors with each other. Web communities encourage this naturally by design, but as a leader you should also take the time to actively encourage connections in all directions, not just top down.

    Be accessible as a leader

    Several of the most popular blogs and web communities are lead by people who are ultra-accessible. This is no coincidence, we follow the ideas of those we have connected with personally closer than those who we only know their name and reputation. Additionally, this allows for a deeper layer of trust to be built and those valuable, lasting relationships to be forged.


    The common ingredient of thriving web communities is of course content. Great content then spawns community which in turn creates more interest in the content. It’s an organic process when done properly, but as marketers it is important to be cognizant of the factors at play in order to provide proper consulting to those seeking to build thriving web communities. The best way to learn is to build your own and consider it your sandbox to experiment in. As it evolves, pay attention to the growth factors and social interactions at play at all levels of the development process.

    These thoughts are just the tip of the iceberg, there is certainly much more that goes into building a thriving web community than this. What else would you add?