Being part of an online community is a strange and beautiful thing. You communicate with friends who you’ve never met before on a regular basis. You create a connection that is centered around communication and similar interests. You know you have a safe space to ask questions you might otherwise be embarrassed to ask. If you’ve been part of an online community, you know what we’re talking about.
However, for community managers, one of the biggest challenges is creating this sense of belonging—especially when building an online community, and your members are, what may feel like, worlds and galaxies apart. If you’re experiencing this challenge, here a few things you can do to bring your community members together and foster that sense of belonging:
We’ve seen communities grow closer by hosting regular virtual events. These events can range from webinars to small coffee chats in the morning to AMAs with guest speakers or community members. Using the Mobilize events page, your invite can automatically sync to members’ calendars, so it’s easy to schedule virtual events for members. All they have to do is accept or decline the invite.
A Twitter chat is a great way to host an online event and spread awareness about it. It also is less committal and doesn’t require members to login to attend. The Community Manager hosts a weekly chat on Wednesdays using the #CMGRChat hashtag which has been happening on and off since 2010. Social Media Examiner is a great resource if you’re looking to learn more about hosting Twitter chats.
Many online community managers have strict rules around members promoting their own content. This is understandable. The point of a community isn’t to just spam other members with content. On the other hand, community members should be able to share their successes. The solution? Create a designated “brag” day. CMX does a great job with this by hosting a weekly “promo day.”
Are there specific holidays that are important to your community that members otherwise wouldn’t celebrate? For example, for many community managers, Community Manager Appreciation Day is a big deal. But chances are community managers aren’t celebrating this holiday with their families. If they are, that’s really cool, but if not community managers know they can celebrate with their respective community manager communities.
Mentor programs satisfy the need for an intrinsic motivation within your community. They show your communities you care about their personal and professional development. Mentor programs can be very effective within a professional community. Creating a mentor program can take time, but the first step is to get the conversation going. Identify a small group of mentors and take it from there.
A great way to create a sense of belonging within your online community is by bringing local people together. It’s likely your online community members aren’t aware where everyone is located. When you bring people together locally, you create a greater sense of connection. It will make your community feel less like only an online one.
In-person events are a great way to create a lasting sense of connection within your community. We realize it’s difficult to plan when your community is spread across the world, but with enough planning, it can successfully be done. It can be an annual conference or a smaller gathering you do every few months in different locations. Mobilize Leader, and Director of Global Community Josh Zerkel, swears by this strategy.
“At Evernote, we do global tours where we host community facing events where we invite consultants and members to speak. Face-to-face engagement is really important, it’s also super fun for me and very re-energizing,” he says.
Always, always, always make it a habit to welcome new members. Make sure that members of your community feel empowered to do this too and are able to welcome without you facilitating it.
Finally, some members may feel too shy to connect with a member they've been wanting to chat with. One way to combat this is by hosting monthly member intro requests. Create a place where members can submit requests, and as the moderator, you can connect the two and share what you think the members can learn from each other.