4 Steps To A Successful Online Community

I was thinking about this the other day as I wrote my private vs public groups post: What really goes into the success of a group?

What about the success of a whole community as a whole?


I was looking for a holistic world kind of thing, but then I started thinking about pie.

As a community manager, you’ve probably stressed about this question from the start and have never exactly stopped trying to Do More Better about ensuring it.

This is the nature of the business: Communities, both the audiences within them and the platforms that serve them, never stop evolving. Yay job security!

So I came up with these four things to start us off. In no real order:

4 Things That Will Make Your Community Thrive

  • Communication
  • Nurturing
  • Relevance
  • Ease of use

Thriving like ol’ Hyperion, here.

Let’s dig into them.


This seems like it should be obvious. It’s from the same root word as “community.” Possibly. Anyway, too many communities burst into existence where even the creators aren’t clear what the purpose is, or if they are, they don’t bother to share it with the people they want using it.

How do you get the point across? Post it! Email it! Snail mail it! Yes, it’s a form of advertising, but you ARE selling something even if no currency crosses accounts. If you want a return on your investment, you have to make it worth someone’s time.

  • Pro tip: Make sure the purpose you come up with answers WHY people want to use it, not just what for.

Everybody asks this.


Once you’ve got people in your community and starting to use it, what next?

Guide them.

Depending on your platform, this can take various forms. Yammer is pretty intuitive about some things, not so much with others, but that’s why people like me have job titles that contain “Community Manager.”


  • Seed a few questions to start conversations.
  • Pick out early adopters and coax them to pitch in with their own guidance.
  • Post periodic reminders that the search bar is their friend.
  • Run a contest!

Perhaps a different kind of nurturing is going on.



Our attention span is ridiculously short. One of my best buds wrote about how we’ve become so distracted, even a goldfish has us beat.

You may not even have gotten this far to not-click on that link (though you should, especially if you’re the poor sucker trying to get other people’s attention), but we all know it’s true:

We make plenty of time to do what we want to do, but not so much for the “should dos.”

So how do you make your awesome community a “want to do”?

It has to make sense for your audience to use it.

This goes back to communication, especially that “why” question you answered. What makes your community something they’ll love, once they give it a try? How will it help them?

Ease of Use.

As I said with Yammer, some things are intuitive, some things need a little guidance, but you get that with all communities.

At least, I haven’t found one yet that hasn’t had something that pisses people off.

But if the intuitive and awesome outweigh the WTF-ery, then you’ve got something golden.

Plus, if you make it your business to crawl inside that platform and know it as much as you can, you’ll be better able to explain it to others. There’s that guidance again!

So make sure you can deliver on at least some of the things your audience requires, and be able to work on the others.


This is supposed to invoke calm & ease, but to be honest I’m wondering how long it would take to get out there.

Here’s where I go all meta on you. Behind all this, if you have the luxury, is where YOU decide how you want to do your role.

These four steps are a good foundation to get to where you want to go. Soon your community may be running itself!

What must-haves would you add to the list?

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