A lot of work goes into building an online community. Content must be created, members must be found, and engagement must be retained. However, another aspect of an online community is sometimes overlooked but is just as important — developing community culture.
A good community culture can help retain members, increase engagement, and make a creator’s life easier. A community culture that’s not ideal can lead to an exodus of members and slowly chip away at everything you’ve built.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of practical steps anyone can take to help ensure they’re building a place where members feel welcome and willing to engage.
Why It’s Important To Develop The Right Culture
A community’s culture is the glue that holds it together, but you don’t have to take our word for it. You’ve probably noticed toxic community cultures without being aware of it.
For example, we’re sure you’ve seen comments on sites like Facebook that are usually nothing more than personal attacks. These types of comments often have nothing to do with whatever is being presented and are instead people being rude, inconsiderate, or just trolling.
Researchers have found that the platform has a lot to do with the types of comments written. For example, commenters are more likely to be supportive of a TED talk on TED’s own platform than they are on a platform like YouTube.
A toxic community culture also influences how you view these platforms. That’s why starting out on the right foot is important when building your online community. The last thing you want is for a few bad apples to ruin the community for everyone.
Tips For Developing Community Culture
We’ve brought together some practical tips to help ensure your community culture is the best that it can be. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but these are tips just about any community can implement to make sure their members feel included and free to speak their minds.
Charge for memberships
Charging for memberships is the first thing you can do to make sure you’re developing the right community culture. Think of it as a gatekeeping measure to ensure that only dedicated people sign up for your community.
Online trolls are much less likely to join and wreak havoc if they see that they have to pay a fee to join.
It also helps encourage members who do sign up to get the most out of the community. These members will be more likely to contribute to discussions, offer advice, and ask for help if they’re paying for it.
That said, you don’t have to charge a hefty fee to help keep out the trolls, especially when you’re just starting out. But, do make sure that you set a price you feel fairly compensates you for your work.
Post and repost rules and guidelines
Writing clear rules and guidelines for your community should be one of your first steps as a host. They don’t have to look like a terms of service agreement, but they should cover the basics.
You want to have a clear framework to refer back to in case you ever run into a troublesome member. This will also reassure new members that they’re stepping into an inclusive space that doesn’t tolerate some of the nasty comments you see on traditional social media platforms.
Some useful points to include might cover:
- Not tolerating hateful comments based on race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
- Spamming chats with ads or irrelevant links.
- Not putting down other members for their ideas or projects.
- Giving everyone equal room to contribute to a conversation.
These are just some suggestions to get started, and you might find that you want to include more in your own rules and guidelines. However, remember that they shouldn’t be so long that no one will read them. A simple list of 10 to 15 items should do.
It’s also important to pin and repost the rules and guidelines every so often, just to remind members that they’re there.
Give new members everything they need to get started
Your newer members will be some of the most enthusiastic that you have, so be sure to give them everything they need to get started. Many online communities do this by sending them a warm welcome with things like guidelines and suggestions on where to get started and by encouraging them to introduce themselves to the community.
The more you can encourage and have new members carry over their enthusiasm after joining, the better your community culture will be. It’ll also help keep engagement up.
Reward your best members
An online community, or any community for that matter, is nothing without its members. And your most active members will usually be your most supportive. So, try rewarding them for making your community and its culture what it is.
Depending on what kind of online community you’re running, this could be as simple as featuring them on a member of the month post. Or it could involve bringing them on to help co-host a live stream or for an interview.
Some traditional platforms, like Yelp, host live meet and greets for their best members where they pay for alcohol and food. However, you don’t have to pick up the bar tab in order to host a meet and greet. You could just throw a live event and invite your best members.
However you choose to reward your best members, it’ll ensure your community is retaining the people that help develop your community culture. It’ll also show your members that you care.
This might sound easy, but for many, issuing their first warning to a member can be difficult. Still, it’s a vital step to ensuring your community culture is where it needs to be.
You’re also very unlikely to run into anyone who’s being purposely hateful or just trolling. Instead, you’re more likely to have to step in whenever members are just having a friendly debate and things look like they might get too heated or another similar situation. Most of your members are probably going to be great and well-intentioned people.
Still, putting your foot down when someone breaks the rules or guidelines is essential to deter others from trying to do the same.
Important Disclaimer: We’re not saying rule your community with an iron fist. We’re just saying to make sure to address violations of your rules consistently, quickly, and fairly.
Lead by example
As a host, one of the best things you can do is to lead by example. Your community looks up to you for leadership, and the last thing you want to do is be seen arguing with a member over something best discussed politely and tactfully through direct message.
It’s also important to show up and respond to questions and comments. The more people see you’re paying attention to the discussion, the more likely they are to join in themselves.
Be real with your members
This point relates to the last, and it involves simply being authentic with your members. People can tell when someone is not themselves, and it’s off-putting. This also applies to being honest about a situation.
For example, have you ever had a boss that you felt wasn’t being real with you about a problem? Would you rather that boss have just been honest with you instead of sugar coating whatever it was you felt they had brushed aside? Well, this applies to your online community as well. Say something if you feel like a regular event or the way things have been going isn’t in the right direction. People respect honesty.
It’s also important to remember that your members signed up because they trusted you, not some alternate version of you. So, just be yourself, and people will respond.
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask your members for feedback. Nothing is perfect, and it never will be. There’s always going to be room for improvement. Asking your members about possible avenues of improvement is a great way to show them that you take their concerns seriously and that you’re always working to make things better.
This doesn’t have to just apply to a new event or to content. You could make it a regular activity to ask your members how things are going even if they’re going great.
Asking for feedback is great for developing community culture because it allows you to take advantage of a ton of different opinions, and it might even lead to discovering some issues you were oblivious to beforehand.
Making sure you develop your community’s culture is important, but it doesn’t have to be difficult, especially if you choose to make it a priority early on. Just keep in mind that you’re trying to bring together a community of like-minded people — people you would want to hang out with — and you should be fine.
And if you’re looking to upgrade to a platform that actually gives you the tools to better monitor and develop your community’s culture, then why not have a look at Nas.io?
Nas.io has built a community platform from the ground up with creators in mind. Our platform gives you tools like custom-made resources and pdfs, a network of like-minded creators to bounce concerns and ideas off of, and a community manager to help ensure things are running smoothly if you so choose.
With Nas.io, there’s never been a better way to develop a community culture your members will be proud of.