Community Creation

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!

Community Creation

CREATING A SUCCESSFUL AND SUPPORTIVE ONLINE COMMUNITY – PART 2: Community Management and Moderation

Community management is a balancing act at its core. You have to decide what you’re willing to deal with as a community manager, as well as what you will have zero tolerance for.

Moderation – Deciding What Is Acceptable and What Isn’t

I put up with a lot of assholes early on in my community building career. One thing I wish I had zero tolerance for from the get-go is rude or entitled people. Early on, I worried that making people mad would cause my community to fail, so I let some community members talk down to me and they were often rude or even mean. It was the wrong way to go about things and led me to feel burned out and exhausted. Cut out the crappy people as early as possible. It will make your community a better place!

Your community does not have to be for everyone! It can be tempting to try to make space for “everyone”, but it is better to have a specific audience you intend to serve. It’s okay to expect that audience to be kind and respectful to those who are doing the work of running things. If someone can’t do the bare minimum of following the community rules and being kind to staff, you should remove them. Most platforms have an option to kick/ban/remove members who fall into this category.

On the flip side, you should hold yourself and your staff to a high standard. Staff needs to be kind, respectful, and professional when interacting with the community, even if they are volunteers. They should avoid public and private fights with members and they should hold themselves to the same standards expected of members.

I’ve watched communities I enjoyed fall apart because staff constantly fought publicly with members of the community and fought with each other.

You can use all of these considerations to help write rules for your community.

Rules Should Be Clear and Enforceable

Guidelines for a community should be direct and concise. The clearer the rules are, the easier it is for members to follow them. Some rules may require a longer explanation and if this is the case, you could consider linking a document that outlines things with more detail. Usually, these documents are for folks who like to follow a rule to the very letter or for folks who want to flirt with the lines of the rules and see how far they can push things.

Also, I still make one big mistake sometimes – I put “please” a lot in sentences when I write out rules. I do it so often, that I now force myself to read through any rule I write and remove “please” from them. It makes the rule sound polite and nice in my head, but over the years I’ve noticed that people think they don’t really have to abide a rule that is asking nicely. Remove any language that might make it sound like the rules are optional. It will strengthen the language of the rules.

Here are some examples of bad vs. better rules:

Bad Rule:

Please don’t make yourself the center of attention constantly, it’s annoying!

Better Rule:

We do not allow venting, spamming, or trolling.

Bad Rule:

Please, be nice!

Better Rule:

Treat other members with respect and kindness. We do not tolerate Hate Speech, Bullying or Racism.

Transparent Moderation Procedures

It is crucial to outline what happens when someone breaks a rule in your community. Staff should be familiar with this process and, I usually include a condensed version of it in my rules so members are aware. For me, I often follow the “three strikes, you’re out” process unless someone broke a zero-tolerance rule.

  • Strike 1: A gentle reminder, public or private, that we don’t allow the behavior they participated in.
  • Strike 2: A stern but formal warning that we don’t allow the behavior the participated in.
  • Strike 3: They’re out. Ban them.

For Strike 3, sometimes I would explain to the person why we banned them from the community, but it may not always be necessary. It can take a lot of time and effort to write out “here’s why you got in trouble and can’t be apart of this community anymore” so as long as the communication in the past was strong, it’s okay to skip an explanation at that point in my book.

Taking Community Suggestions

Member suggestions can help you improve your community. I’ve had outstanding community requests over the years that helped me create new systems and programs that benefitted the community as a whole. Not all suggestions are gold, though. There will be members who make suggestions with only personal benefit in mind or suggestions that require a lot of time/effort from staff.

When you consider implementing a member suggestion, focus on what will benefit the community the most and not cause burn out for you/your staff. For instance, a massive catalog of creators in your organization would be great! BUT do you have time to put that catalog together and maintain it? Try to do a cost/benefit analysis when you consider a member’s suggestions. Here are some questions that might help:

  • How much time will it take to set this up? How much time will it take to maintain it?
  • Will 50% or more of the community benefit from this suggestion? 80% or more?
  • Is this suggestion in-line with our vision for the community?
  • Will this suggestion add clutter to our community?

The last question is one that can be tricky. The suggestion could be great and easy to maintain, but if a member asks for something that fits a gaming community and you run a writing community, it may be right to say ‘no.’ Compromising your vision/goals for the community can cause a space to become watered down and directionless, so it’s good to keep the vision in mind as you implement suggestions.

And it’s okay to start something based on a suggestion and remove it down the line if it doesn’t get used! I’ve begun programs that did well for the first few months and then took a dive. If something goes a few weeks/months without interaction, it’s okay to re-evaluate the program and remove it. You can always implement it again down the road if you want to!

Join me for Part 3 of Community Creation!

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 (Coming Soon)

The last blog in this series will be published in the next week, so be sure to subscribe for updates!

Community Creation

CREATING A SUCCESSFUL AND SUPPORTIVE ONLINE COMMUNITY – PART 1: Rules, Philosophies, and Platforms

Several years back, I fell into community management when I decided to create a resource hub for an unmoderated writing community. From there, it snowballed into managing several different community organizations that ranged from educational forums to creative spaces. After nearly seven years of community management, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned and hopefully help you avoid some of the issues I ran into along the way.

Communities can be a great way to grow your audience as a writer, artist or other kind of creative person. Maintaining them can also be a considerable amount of work. My goal with this series is to help you avoid the mistakes I’ve made over the years and make community creation and management less stressful for you.

Getting Started – Community Creation

Platforms – Free Vs. Owned

If you’ve thought about creating a community, you may already have a platform in mind. There are lots of options out there and, all of them have pros and cons. I’ve done both, it comes down to how much control you want to have and how hard you want to work to build an audience/community. I’ll explain the differences between free and owned platforms below.

Free platforms may have audiences built-in and readily accessible, places like Twitter, Facebook Groups, etc. There are already people using those platforms, so all you have to do is promote yourself and help your audience find your community. That is a huge plus when you are just getting started, but it also comes with a few hurdles. Social media platforms can change their rules and your ability to promote yourself/your community can shift on a dime. They can also remove you from their platform at their discretion.

If you use one of these platforms, you may want to consider using the tools they have to build an email/newsletter list. If you’re using something like Facebook groups, consider adding a question where new members can share their email with you and join your list. You’ll want to add the email to your list before you accept, but that’s an easy way to stay in contact with your community members if anything ever happens to your platform.

Right now, Discord is one of my favorite free platforms for community building. There’s a ton of customization options, and you can use bots for things like auto-moderation, roles (titles you create for members), games, and more! You may still want to have a website or social media platform that leads your community members to your Discord.

Owned platforms come with different challenges. An owned platform is usually a website or online forum that you own outright. You may have to purchase software and maintain it to keep your community afloat. If you aren’t technically inclined, this can be a huge learning curve. BUT, it also means that you own your space and you have the freedom to customize your platform to suit your needs. You are not subject to the whims of social media algorithms or platform rules.

Building a community on an owned platform can be a bit more difficult because you have to help people find your website/community. For me, this means finding spaces where I could advertise the community. It can also just take time for your site/community to show up in Google searches. You will want to make sure your site is SEO optimized and use keywords that search engines will pick up and rank.

It can feel like a slog but once you build your base community, it will usually lead to more growth. If people find your space and see it’s active and inviting, they’ll tell their friends and invite others.

Rules, Philosophies, and Foundations

Building good rules and community philosophies can make all the difference between a chaotic community and an inviting, collaborative community. When I create rules for a new community, these are the sorts of things I consider:

  • What kind of behaviors do I want to encourage?
  • What kind of behaviors do I want to discourage?
  • What do I want my community to look like in a year?
  • What kinds of members do I want in my community?

If I want to encourage collaboration, I might write a rule that says something like: “1. Community comes first. Please remember this is a positive space for members to collaborate and create together. Keep that in mind when interacting with the community.” If I want to discourage behaviors like venting, I would write a rule that says, “We do not allow venting. Please check Disboard for communities that offer emotional support.”

Your rules will change as conflicts and issues arise, that is the nature of community guidelines. Do your best to be prompt when making these changes and inform your community of them as best you can.  Ensure that changes are either for benefit of staff or the community as a whole. I also dive deeper into rules and moderation in part 2 of this series, so don’t miss it!

Take suggestions to change your community or community rules with a grain of salt. I’ve run into many who wanted me to change rules or programs to suit their personal needs. Suggestions can be a great tool to revise your community vision and enhance interaction. Still, you always want to make sure they also add value for most members of your community and don’t add a ton of labor for staff, especially if it’s a free community.

It’s crucial to build staff philosophies early on. These philosophies will help dictate how community admins, moderators, and other prominent members interact with the community. Also, if volunteers staff your community, be KIND to them. Listen and respond to them if they contact you. They are your most valuable resource, and their time and efforts should be recognized and complimented. If you’re able, you should also give them perks and some additional ownership of the community that others may not have. For my last community, staff members created graphics and programs for the community, a perk that was not available to everyday community members.

Here are some philosophies I’ve used in the past that were VERY helpful as my community continued to grow:

  • Staff is a team. If a team member is unable to do their duties, they can step down and return at a later time if they wish to. Avoid saying staff is “family” because I’ve seen so many communities with this philosophy end up with over-bloated staffs where a few people work their butts off while others in the “family” do not contribute or put much effort in.
  • Staff members should be respectful ambassadors of the community. They have to maintain that respect, even with problematic members.
  • Staff members should not take abuse from community members. If someone is trolling or acting as if staff is customer service they can yell at or berate, the staff member should report it and you should consider removing the member.
  • Share issues/conflicts with other staff members. If everyone is aware of a problem, they can work together to solve it.

Join me for Part 2 and 3 of Community Creation!

I’ve mapped three parts for this walkthrough, the next two parts will take a more in-depth look at some of the things I’ve mentioned here: Moderation/Community Management and Community Growth/Branding. I learned so much about moderation and managing my own writing community over the last three years, I can’t wait to share with you what worked and what didn’t!

Quicklinks will be here once they are posted:

Part 1 – Rules, Philosophies, and Platforms

Part 2 – Moderation and Community Management (Coming Soon)

Part 3 – Community Growth and Branding (Coming Soon)

We will publish these blogs in the next couple of weeks, so be sure to subscribe for updates!