Tom Howlett

How to Build an Online Community

1st Nov 2012 Social Media 10 minutes to read

CommunityBuilding an online community is a great way to establish yourself or your company online. Building a successful community can mean increased business, sales and having an interested audience when promoting new products or services.

How do you go about building an online community where users actively comment, like, share and engage with your online content? How do you ensure these visitors become regular visitors and contributors to the community? This post aims to help you build that community online no matter what industry you are in.

The importance of Brand

Whether you have an established online presence or are looking to create one, it’s important that you establish a brand. As a business or individual, how do you represent yourself online and how do you think others perceive you?

It is important to have clear brand values and to carry these values across all your online presences. This will help improve the familiarity with your brand; people actively searching for you on various platforms can easily find you.

Specialise in one area

It is much easier to grow an online community if you specialise in one area, rather than trying to be the ‘Jack of all trades’. If your online contribution consistently focuses on a single subject or expertise a you will start to build on the authority within that area.

If your website regularly posts useful content on certain subjects, people interested in those topics are much more likely to become part of that community that you have created. If you put out lots of different posts that are largely unrelated, there is no focus and others are unlikely to see the value in what you create.

Become an authority

As mentioned above, becoming an authority within your field can dramatically increase the interaction with your content online. People are much more likely to follow an authority for the content they put out, especially if they are known to be industry leaders.

Off the back of this authority, you are likely to gain more Twitter followers, shares, comments a greater overall online engagement.

Establish yourself as individuals/characters

Bring some individuality into your online presence; if you run a company where employees have their own company account, make sure they inject some of their own personality into the account. Obviously there will be restrictions, more in some industries than others, but it will help make the approach to social media much more personal. People seem to interact better with individuals rather than anonymous company accounts, so having individual accounts can help maximise your following and engagement.


Blogging is a great way of creating fresh content for your site. Fresh content that encourages visits to the website, helps new visitors find your website and will gradually increase the authority of your Blog and website. Through your Blog, you can build it into a valuable resource for better engagement and brand awareness moving forward.

Working on your social presence

As a brand or individual, you are going to gain little from not having an online presence – as James mentions in this post, there are many ways nowadays that people can find your website, it is not just limited to Google search. It is therefore important to have a presence on all the main social networks as well as any that are specifically associated with your industry.

Not only can people find you on these networks, they can also find you through a variety of other platforms, providing even more visibility and brand awareness.

Interact with the community

As you are building your community, you will notice the increase in engagement on your site and on the networks you are active on. It is therefore important to interact with this community, thank people who mention you, participate in conversation that has been created from your content, reply to comments on your Blog and answer questions to help others. If you sell products or offer services, reply to questions and respond to concerns.

This all helps grow your brand online, small touches can really help improve brand loyalty and increase the number of return visitors.

Interact on external websites

On growing your online presence you want to participate within the community and position yourself in front of potential fans and followers. There is little point in going onto various online platforms shouting about your website as you are unlikely to impress anyone and you may even create a backlash.

The best way to manage your presence on other website is to join and participate within the community, answer questions and help others out. If a chance to link back to your website presents itself, perhaps you have answered someone’s question in a Blog post, then by all means link to it. Just refrain from jumping straight in and shouting about your own website, you do not want to alienate this valuable community.

Share content from other websites

Don’t be afraid to share content that has been created by others, unless the external party is a direct competitor. This can show that you are a valuable asset within the community and this can go far in improving your reputation. As long as you continue to create valuable content, it is very unlikely to send visitors elsewhere to never see their return.

Guest post

Guest posting can be a valuable way of gaining new visitors/fans/followers. The aim of this is to get a post on a popular Blog within your industry, create a good quality post to go live on that site and in return request a link to your website within the ‘About the Author’ section.

You are not looking to receive a keyword optimised anchor text link here; you want to highlight your website/company to the followers of this Blog and if they choose to visit your site, they should be interested in what your site offers them – a good way of gaining new followers and raising your reputation within the industry. A branded link that goes to your Home page should be sufficient, some Blogs even allow you to link to your Twitter profile.

Build a tool or resource

Building a tool or a resource is a great way of improving your presence and reputation online. You will have created something useful that people are likely to link to and share, off the back of this they could easily follow you on the social media platforms – especially if this means they get updates related to the tool.

Here are some examples of the types of tools and resources you could create:

  • An industry related Forum
  • Whitepapers
  • Ebooks
  • An external Blog (aimed at creating useful content)
  • A tool for accomplishing a task
  • Videos
  • Games

These are just a few generic ideas; there may be a gap in the market within your industry – something that you can easily create and build a resource or tool for.

An example of this working well is on the ViperChill website. Not long ago Glen created a Forum on the site that allowed the already thriving community to exchange ideas and help each other out – something that has likely increased the visits to the site and created another channel for internal promotion (although he doesn’t do this often).

Enable comments on your Blog

Enable comments on your Blog to persuade others to comment, this gets the conversation going and people love to share their opinion. I have also found that comments can act as a popularity factor; a Blog with more comments will appear to have much more interaction and therefore appear to be much more popular. This may all be about perception, but you want visitors to feel like they’re visiting a vibrant site where people regularly engage in conversation, not just a hub of empty articles.

Highlight online popularity

You can include social buttons on your site to allow people to share your content. A benefit of doing this is that they usually have a share counter included that tells others how many times a post has been shared. This helps improve your personal authority in the eyes of a new visitors because something that has been shared many times is likely to be good quality content.

Allow people to like and share content easily

No matter how good the content is you create, there will always be a limited number of people who share this content, those who go through the effort to copy the URL themselves.

By adding social sharing buttons, you are making it easier for people to share your content and you will find that you get a lot more shares. This also acts as a way to measure success, you can start seeing what content gets more likes and shares and you can tailor future content around this information.

Create an RSS feed

There are a number of people who think RSS is a bit out of date nowadays. However, there are still plenty who choose to follow their favourite Blogs using RSS feeds, I am one of them and get quite frustrated when a Blog I’m interested in is missing this functionality.

This can be a good future source of traffic and therefore it is worth creating one for your site.

Create an Email newsletter

Email is another old resource that still has a large number of users. If a visitor was to give you their email address, they are obviously interested in the types of products/services/information you provide. This is a great resource to promote to and this can result in frequent return visits to the site and an increased overall engagement.

How to Tweet

Many businesses today are likely to have heard that Twitter is one of the places to be online. It is a useful tool if used properly, so here are some tips to help you get started with Twitter:

  • Follow others you are interested in
  • Vary the subject of your Tweets
  • Interact within the community
  • Answer questions from your followers/customers
  • Aim to post regularly, daily if you can
  • Include a combination of promotional and non-promotional Tweets
  • Avoid posting anything controversial
  • Do not get involved in online confrontations
  • Be aware at all times that each Tweet is instantly visible by all

How to Facebook

Facebook is one of the most important platforms to have a presence on due to the large user base and the ability to easily connect and interact with customers/interested parties. From experience, companies initially struggle to establish what types of information they should post using the platform and how best to manage it.

Facebook is a social platform and people therefore react better to subjects that are sharable by nature. Here are some examples of the types of update you can post on Facebook:

  • Company related news and changes
  • Post links to your Blog posts (if you have a Blog)
  • Link to other interesting resources that may interest your followers
  • Updates relating to current stories and news items (refrain from posting anything too opinionated or controversial)
  • Images (interesting, odd, humorous)
  • Promotions and discounts
  • Competitions
  • New product/service information
  • Respond to fans/customers
  • Q&A’s
  • Polls


Here are some examples of brands doing Facebook right:


Sainsbury's Facebook Page

Sainsbury’s (a British supermarket) is an example of a brand doing Facebook well. They post regular updates to try and engage their fans and encourage interaction. They post recipes, competitions, games, Q&A’s, share other companies posts and are also good in keeping current with their updates with regards to the season.

Marble Construction

Marble Construction's Facebook Page

I have seen this Facebook page mentioned around the web and thought it was a good example of a smaller (not so well known) company who were doing Facebook well. At first glance they post regular updates, have a competition going, post images of the jobs they are working on, videos and numerous other bits of information that could easily convince someone to follow, especially a potential customer.

Image Source

Large Crowd Of People via BigStock

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