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6 Ways to Promote an Online Community

It's easy to set up an online community. Buy some hosting, pick the tool of your liking and without too much effort you should have set up a ‘community' in no time.

However, just because you call it a community (or the software vendor does!) doesn't make it a community. What you have done so far, is installed a piece of software. Have a look at my “It's about not about the Technology, it's about the Community” post for a further explanation.

Now you need to attract people to turn this piece of software into a community. Here's 6 basic tips which can help you spread the word about your community.

1. Integrate your community into your overall marketing strategy

Many off line marketing efforts are great at reaching the masses. There may be a lot of wastage, but you are guaranteed eyeballs. So make sure to promote your community via these channels, too. Got a print campaign? Just stick a link to your site/community in there at the bottom.

Make sure the community gets a prominent place on your website. Your customers are likely to visit your site, so this can be a great place to point them to your new online initiative.

Remember, a strong and active community can provide valuable feedback and advice. A community is not only great for creating engagement, but it can help you solve problems and save money!

2. The old saying goes, content is king

Writing great content is a good way to promote a community. At Talklfc we used to run a News Room. We hardly ever had any scoops, but we did put our own spin on stories. By providing our unique insight and comedic spin we ensured our stories were often picked up by other communities, blogs and news sites. This gave us attention within the wider Liverpool FC fans community.

Figuring our what is great content for your target audience can not only help you attract an audience, but it's also a good way to keep people coming back. Here's a great list of tips for creating great content.

Also, figure out what works in social media for your niche - this can help you spread the message even further and in a more targeted manner. Which brings me to the next point

3. Social Media - Go for the Viral Effect

Submitting articles to social media sites can be a great way to drive traffic. Ever heard of the ‘Digg Effect'?

It is important to keep in mind that, whilst Digg can send you a ton of traffic, not all traffic will be relevant. You need to way the pros and cons of using various social media sites to decide which ones will benefit you and which ones won't. For example, Digg users hate SEO's (search engine optimisers) as they are thought of as the sons of Satan, so submitting an article about great SEO tips on Digg is unlikely to benefit you or the Digg users.

These sites are communities of themselves, and just like in an offline community it's important to know the unwritten rules of communities to be able to participate. Don't just think about yourself, think of the benefits you can offer others.

But if you target the right sites and people and offer them quality content it's a sure fire way to help you build a community of your own.

There are plenty of sites to submit articles to, from very general sites to extreme niches - try and find the most relevant ones for your community. Here's a great list of social news sites to get you started.

4. Ask the community to do the work for you

When we just started Talklfc we asked all our (online) friends to join us at this new, great website we'd just created.

This is not as lazy as it seems. You have to work hard before you reach a point when people will actually invite their friends. But, and this is a big but (especially when it comes to brand driven communities), if you have managed to turn some of your customers (using the community) into evangelists they will gladly help you spread the word. If people love something, they'll love talking about it. It's crowdsourcing at its very best.

However, some people may love your brand but not talk about it. This isn't always a concious decision, it just may have never occured to them to talk about you or your community. So, just ask people. If you don't ask, you don't get.

Another word of caution though, this can backfire. Always be open and honest about your intentions. If people get the feeling you are just being cheap and are trying to profit off their backs it will come back to bite you in the ass!

5. Networking - Get involved

When I say get involved, I don't just mean in your own community - that's a given! But look at what other sites in your niche are doing. Start joining and getting involved other sites and within the wider community. Build your reputation elsewhere.

When you become more visual within the wider community people will soon start to notice you. And soon enough they will find out you post in other places, mainly your own community, too. If they like you, or your stuff, they are more likely to follow you into your own place.

What you want to do is starting to offer value within the community. Share knowledge, give away insight. But don't start spamming other communities.

Another great tip is to contact other community owners. Make them aware of who you are and what you do. Ask them what their policy is about promoting other sites. Some sites will allow you to carry a branded avatar or a link in your signature. This can all help attract attention. What often are seen as competitors are likely to be ‘frenemies'.

A last piece of advice on networking, build your network before you need it. People are more likely to help you if they've known you for a while and there is a mutually beneficial relationship in place. Asking someone to be your friend and buy something from you in the same sentence is unlikely to get good results!

6. Run a competition

A competition is great at doing a few things. It stimulates involvement and engagement, it helps generate awareness and interest and it helps attracting new members.

Ideally the competition will be linked to the topic of your community in any sort of way. Also, make sure the prize is noteworthy enough to get the word spread.

I do advice you have other things in place within the community before you run a competition. If you run a competition without having anything else to keep people coming back, you are likely to attract a lot of one-timers.

Think back to point 2, after having entered the competition people may be inclined to further investigate your site/community. Make sure they find something of value to them.

Do you run or own a community? Share your tips in the comments and please leave some feedback on my post. That goes for non community owners too, obviously!

Join The Conversation

  • Aug 5 Posted 8 years ago DaanJansonius I'm afraid I have no experience with Yahoo Groups. My experience comes from the various communities I have been a member of and the ones I have either run myself or have helped to run with a team of people.  As for your second question, I honestly have no idea what you mean?!
  • Aug 4 Posted 8 years ago VictoriaQuinton How do you see the inter-relationship between say yahoogroups and the idea of online community?  Whose perceptions may need changing about linking ideas of dreaming and consciousness-raising to ideas of online community?

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