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?

Community Management: How to Nurture an Unsure User

So you’ve got your community up and running, and some people are taking to it like they were born with it, posting things, sharing things, in and out all day…

…while others are a bit more leisurely about adopting this function into their daily lives.

In fact, for some, you might even say they’re extremely tentative.

So tentative that you’re starting to think they may never be truly comfortable with the platform.

Helping someone get their comfort level up is part of my job. I have a whole collection of those “Aha!” moments.

What you may not expect

Sometimes, nurturing means knowing when to leave things—and people—alone.


Yoda has an answer for everything.

I feel a story coming on

I had a user in my Yammer community who was one of the aforementioned tentative souls, but she had also taken it upon herself to be a group admin.

Yammer is basically made up of groups, some big, some small. You can join a whole bunch or just keep a few on your radar.

You can also create your own group and by doing so, you become the group admin, until you abdicate, of course.

Yammer also lets you choose your group’s security level: Public or private.

Community managers like public groups. It’s in keeping with the whole Yammer philosophy of collaboration and transparency, breaking down those silos, and getting to know other people better.

As my friend and fellow Microsoft MVP Melanie Hohertz says, “You never know who knows something.”


I don’t know who these people are, but they sure look happy to see you. Found on blog.id.com.au.

The kicker

This user’s group was private.

It was great that she wanted to admin a group! And sometimes group do need to be private despite any personal wishes of community managers.

But this particular group didn’t need to be private, never needed to be private, I had all these logical reasons why it shouldn’t be private—yet that one fact seemed to be the one secure constant she had.


This hermit’s cave doesn’t look half bad as a vacation home. From http://sockthing.blogs.com.

There was only one thing to do

So I, spider-like, retreated.

I waited.

I lurked.

I offered help when asked. I offered ideas when not asked.

And finally we got to a point where she forgot to be tentative.

Instead, she was having fun!

She was actively inviting people to join. She’d chosen two other persons as co-admins. She told me periodically how much she loved seeing her group all alive and active with conversations. They even had offline meetups and took Yammer Notes.

And that’s when I swept back in and said, “You know, there are other groups JUST LIKE YOURS that would benefit from seeing this group do so well. Why don’t we make it a public group?”

And now for the grand reveal

The conversation as it actually happened (mostly):

Her: *qualms and quibbles*
Me: But nothing in your group is actually proprietary, right?
Her: Well no
Me: Let’s try it. It’s such a great example and you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. You can always switch it back!

It’s been several months now. As I’d suspected, it’s still public.


Even more happy people we don’t know, from http://articles.mercola.com.

But see, this wouldn’t have worked if…

Had I been bull-dozey and pushed her to do something she absolutely was not ready for, I never would have gotten to this point or this success.

Sometimes, even if you can clearly see the fantastic result at the end of the road, you have to remember that to the other person, there could be just a mean bunch of hills to climb.

One other thing to remember

I certainly don’t advise changing group statuses or any other details without checking over that group thoroughly. Because I knew this group didn’t have proprietary or exclusive information, I felt it would benefit from switching it to public, and that turned out to be true.

So be sure to consider both the purpose and the nature of the group you’re eyeballing before you change it up.

In what ways do you nurture YOUR community?


I really wanted to include a picture of a spider, and this little guy represents the only spider I’m not worried about: Robert Kraus’s Spider.