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How to create a community online: Build it and they will come, or will they?

Fat Mum Slim /

Today at Problogger I will be speaking about online communities. I thought I’d touch on that here today so for those that aren’t attending are able to learn a little about it too.

My community, you guys here and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Flickr, has been growing steadily over the years since my blog started in 2008. When I kicked off photo a day in January there was definitely a boom, with my followers on Instagram creeping up to 54,000 recently. To date over 6.5 million photos have been shared on Instagram alone for photo a day, and many more on other platforms.  My community is different on every platform, but always quite active {we love taking photos, right?} and quite social too.

Whether you’ve got a blog and want to have people commenting, or a Facebook page for your business that you want to have people active on, or even if you want to create a larger movement for people to take part it in, it all comes down to a few things:

1. Treat online like the real world

There used to be a great divide between the online and offline worlds, as if online wasn’t ‘real’. Now it’s an everyday part of life, and it’s not going away. These two worlds have merged and we need to think of them as one. Treat people online as you would if they were standing in front of you. This is relevant to whether you’re taking part in a community, or playing host to one. Be generous, friendly, welcoming and respectful.

2. Have a presence

It’s really no use starting a conversation and leaving others to continue and moderate the conversation. I see a lot of larger communities doing this, as if they’ve gotten too big and too busy to play anymore. Just like in real life you wouldn’t start a conversation and leave the room for others to continue it, stay and play. Be part of the conversation {in your comments, on Twitter, on Facebook etc}. Have a presence in your communities.

3. Create guidelines from the start

In my role as Social Media Editor I was a community manager for over 25,000 mums, as well as manager of a Facebook page of over 50,000 people. Imagine all those people in one room, they’re most certainly not always going to agree or get along. If you create guidelines from the beginning then you can be consistent with managing your community.

4. Moderate but try not to delete

Say someone disagrees with a post your wrote on your blog, and they were quite verbal in letting you know. It’s OK for people not to agree with you, as awful as it can sometimes feel. Most of the time people just want to be heard and validated. A simple, “Thanks for sharing your opinion. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree, but I appreciate you sharing your view” can be just what the person needs. If you leave the conversation, it can blow out to epic proportions. If you want to continue the debate, just read the comments and take a break to think over your response. If you’re trigger happy with the delete button, there are plenty of other platforms the disagreement can be taken to – Facebook or Twitter are quite a lot more public than your blog. So be mindful. Try and only delete when comments are spammy or defamatory.

5. Make it easy

If you want people to comment, use a system that’s easy for people to take part in. Quite often I’ve wanted to comment on a blog and not been able to. Try and use the simplest platform possible. If you’ve got a Facebook page, make it so people can post to your wall, as well as the comments. If you’re creating a challenge for people to take part in, don’t make them jump through hoops. Keep it simple.

6. Have a clear call to action

Have you ever seen {or perhaps you’ve done it yourself} a page post something on Facebook and they’ve asked you to like the post, leave a comment AND share it? That just makes my head explode and I quickly scroll down, past it. There’s no clear call to action, they’re asking too much. Have a clear call to action in mind when creating a post, Facebook, competition, or challenge. What do you want your community to do? Choose one thing and be clear about it.

Are you part of a great community online? What do you think makes it work?