CREATING A SUCCESSFUL AND SUPPORTIVE ONLINE COMMUNITY – PART 3: Branding and Growth

You’ve probably joined a community you were excited about, only to see it stall because the community was not very active, and no one was seeking to grow the community. If you’re lucky, your community might just magically grow on its own, but growth is a very intentional process most of the time.

Perfecting Your Branding

It may not feel intuitive at first, but branding and growth go hand in hand. This comes back to vision and community philosophies. Be specific and think carefully about how you word community descriptions, advertisements, and invites.

In terms of branding, I think carefully about names and descriptions when creating communities or helping clients develop communities. You want to keep things catchy but straightforward when it comes to titles. It may feel like you’re treating your community like a business, but overall, it can be a beneficial strategy and keep your stress levels low because it will ensure you keep things organized.

I often start by creating a color palette that I intend to use for community logos and graphics. There are tons of resources online to find different color palettes, try to pick something that matches your community’s vibe.

For one of my past communities, I picked a muted purple/grey/black palette. Early on, I got some push back from a few male members who felt like I should shift the colors to be more neutral or masculine. To my eye, it was already a neutral color scheme. A lot of women like purple, but it isn’t a gendered color like pink or blue. I was glad I stood my ground in the end. My community wasn’t the right fit for those guys who nitpicked the color scheme, and I had several male members over the years complimented the choice in color. 

All in all, reading up on intention branding and marketing is a great way to create a community that has “curb” appeal.

Growing Your Community

Start By Looking At Communities Like Yours

Take a look at communities like the one you have created and see if you can discern some of their growth strategies. Where do you see them advertise? What do graphics for the community look like? On places like Facebook Groups, a community with a good avatar, an excellent “About” section, and a clean/clear group banner may attract more members.. For Discord, because the use of graphics is less prominent, you might see if other servers have affiliates or advertise on spaces like Disboard (Disboard can help your community grow, but also watch out for bots/trolls/griefers, who frequently use the platform to join servers and start problems).

See what other community leaders do to grow their space and make it your own. You never want to copy another group/community, but it’s okay to look at well-run communities and use their strategies to inspire you to improve your own space.

Where to advertise?

Social media can be a fantastic tool to advertise your new community if you already have a following. If you have several followers on Twitter or Tiktok, put your community in your bio and promote it now and then.

Some social media communities also allow you to promote your community. I’ve seen this in some Facebook groups, where they have a day or a post where they allow others to promote/grow their community. Always read the rules of any group you join carefully before advertising your community. If you choose to promote when it is against the group rules, it’s a one-way ticket to being banned in most communities, and it’s not likely to help your growth much.

Affiliations with other communities like yours may also be an excellent way to go. Community owners may allow you to cross-promote your community if you have an official affiliation or one where you’ve developed a relationship with the community owners/staff. If you’re using a platform like Discord, you could do multi-server game nights or movie nights, which will invite people from an affiliated community to join and check out your space while keeping their entrance low-pressure and fun.

Affiliations will also help you learn a lot about your community and communities similar to yours. Working with other community leaders helped me learn about different tools and tricks to I could use improve my community. It can be tempting to feel like people with similar communities are your competitors, but I’d stay away from that mindset. Even if you serve the same audience, you’ll have different things to offer your members. Some people will choose one or the other, some will choose to join both. As long as you create a welcoming and productive space, people will join.

Giveaways are one growth strategy I tend to veer away from for community growth. Yes, they might cause people to join in the short term, but they’re joining for the wrong reasons. They’re joining to win a product, so once the giveaway is over, they’re not super likely to stay invested in your community.

Open Vs. Closed Invites – Pros and Cons

Open invites are when anyone can join at any time, and there’s little to no barrier for them to do so – Perhaps just a sign-up sheet or clicking a “join” button. Open invites can lead to faster growth, but it can cause people who aren’t very invested in your community to join. Outside of that, it can lead to spammers joining, especially on platforms like Discord. If you choose to do an open invite, remember, if people join and leave quickly, that’s okay. It’s more about keeping the quality members that join, rather than quantity.

Closed invites can cause slower growth, but having a barrier of some kind (questions to join, rules that a member has to agree to, etc.) can help ensure the members that join are the audience you want to serve.

In one of the Discord communities I’m in, for the pop culture website Soda and Telepaths, the owner has found an excellent growth strategy that rewards active members. Once a member has a certain amount of interaction with the Discord community, they are given a role with the ability to invite their friends to the server. This is a perfect way to reward people who engage with your community and get growth because the people who are inviting their friends are already active community members. Their friends will enter and likely already have people to socialize and interact with.

Check Out the Full Community Creation Series!

I’ve mapped three parts for this walkthrough, you can them check out here:

Part 1 – Rules, Philosophies, and Platforms

Part 2 – Moderation and Community Management

Part 3 – Community Growth and Branding

I plan to do blog posts on building a Discord community as well, including how to use bots, invites, and more! Subscribe for updates!

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Aubrey Lyn Jeppson is a Freelance Writer. Who really wants to live in reality all the time? Writing affords her a much needed escape from the mundane into the fantastical. She's always looking for other writers and artists to collaborate with. Email her at aubrey.l.jeppson@gmail.com.

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