Building an Online Community — Better, Faster and More Enjoyably!

 In #Tribebuilding

Building an Online Community

A couple of years ago, I was visiting Toronto by myself. I was looking for a great place for dinner, where I could both indulge in live music and enjoy what Toronto has to offer. I wandered into a random restaurant by chance.

Choosing this restaurant was the best decision I made that trip — I still vividly remember the conversations I had with the manager and staff. We chatted and had a great time sharing personal stories. I felt connected, warm, and welcomed. I frequented that restaurant throughout the next couple of weeks while I was in Toronto, and visited again when I took another trip this year to Canada. I only had a day to spend in Toronto, and I instinctively chose that restaurant to dine in for lunch before hopping on my flight back to San Francisco.

As a business owner or entrepreneur, you want customers like me. I’m your loyal customer, your raving fan. I talk about your business with enthusiasm, recalling the pleasant connections and conversations I’ve had with you and your team. I enthuse about how I feel like I belong to your community, how welcome I feel when I’m there.

You must be thinking, “Well, how can I build such a loyal group of followers and grow a thriving community of super-fans?”

Before you pour your time and effort into figuring out how you could go about building your community, I’d like to emphasize the difference between building a community and building an audience  they are similar in the sense that both demand the attention of people, but differ in terms of interaction.

With an audience, it is a one-way communication. They’re often passively consuming your content and advertisements. They don’t participate actively in interactions with your brand.

A community is different. Your fans in your community are always engaged with your brand  a two-way conversation. Some of your community members are passive, but you often find your community filled with people who are constantly responding and interacting with you and your brand, sharing your stuff, and actively participating in whatever is going on within your community,

I’ve coached my clients in starting their online businesses and growing their tribe of followers, and have personally grown non-profit communities over the past two years and built one of my own. From these experiences, I’d like to share with you some suggestions on how you can build a thriving community.

Go for the “Why” — not the “What”

Think about the popular communities built around products for a second. A great example would be Coca-Cola. They represent the cool and the fun  and that’s what they sell: the image of someone drinking Coca-Cola as someone who’s cool and fun, not the carbonated beverage itself. Drinking Coca-Cola makes you feel like you belong in that tribe of people who are cool and fun. Coca-Cola sells the “Why” (… should I drink Coca-Cola? Because you want to be perceived as our bunch of cool Coca-Cola drinkers) — not the “What” (i.e., overly-sweet, carbonated drinks)

Similarly, for your community, you want to sell the “why” as in, why we should join your community what would we represent, how do we identify ourselves as part of your community, and what are we going to have to do to feel like we belong in your community?

Create and share content that your tribe speaks and understands

Acknowledge that there are vast differences between one tribe member and another. In an online community, you’re happy to welcome tribe members from all around the world, of all ages, backgrounds, cultures, careers, and work habits. But what you can leverage as a tribe leader are the similarities in goals of each of your members, and the reasons that make them feel like they belong in your tribe.

Instead of pushing out content with the intent to please the general crowd, listen closely to those needs and interests, and put up content they care about. You could publish content that educates, inspires, or entertains your niche group of fans content, that is, that they will truly value.

Finding people who share your goals

Building an online community can be a lonely affair. For someone who’s just starting out, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the vast number of resources made available to you with one quick Google search  but without peers and mentors who are experienced in tribe building, it’s an uphill battle.

In addition to that, as an entrepreneur who’s new on the block, your networks are likely to be smaller and much less influential than they would be if you had been around and known for some time. You may have fantastically written content in your arsenal, but without a good network to help share and beam that content out for you, it’s as good as useless. A great piece of content is only great when it’s being shared and read, or otherwise considered, by the right group of people  that is, your tribe, your audience, your network.

Connecting up with talented individuals who share your goals and tribe-building vision can help make this a far less painful and, in fact, far more enjoyable and rewarding process!

#CreativeTribes is a community of people who are all about tribe building. We’re not here because we want to identify ourselves as a “creative person”  we’re here because we stand for something larger: a family, a tribe, connected digitally for support of what we do in life  building our communities. The experience of being able to share your draft and final product with a core group of peers who very much want you to succeed is invaluable  not only do you gather quality feedback, but you garner support and fans who encourage and push you to do better.

Engage consistently and authentically

By committing yourself to building a tribe, you’re promising that you’re always there for them. This might not sound very feasible  you can’t possibly be there 24/7 but it is the promise that you’ll be there throughout the day, whenever possible  keeping your presence consistent. Be it replying to a couple of comments or thanking someone for liking and sharing one of your posts, you have to ensure that your presence is felt consistently.

Some ways to achieve this are to:

  • Respond within 24 hours  through liking, commenting, re-posting, or sending a personal thank you note to your tribe members
  • Leave some notice if you have to be away for a couple of days, and schedule the posting of relevant content for the period in which you’ll not be available
  • Reply to those messages that were left for you while you were away
  • Update your tribe with your travel details to remind them that you’re thinking of them!

Growing an online community is not something that happens overnight  it takes effort and planning! Don’t give up prematurely. Take time to plan out who, exactly, fits your offering, and who’s going to be your ideal client, and, then, build your outreach and growth strategies around your findings. For endless resources and support from fellow tribe builders, consider joining a community whose goals are to help you become better at growing YOUR tribe  such as #CreativeTribes! We’re a global group of entrepreneurs and creatives who rely on each other’s network and help to become better versions of ourselves and better tribe leaders.

And we’d love to get to know you within our Slack community!

Editors’ Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the values or opinions of

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