Building Online Communities

Promo image - Building online communities - #TwitterSmarter chat with Liz Pittman - February 25, 2021

Communities form the core of human experience. The online world isn’t different—communities are essential for people to connect with like-minded people and share their experiences. For a business, their online community forms the foundation of all online activity. That’s why we invited digital communications specialist Liz Pittman to discuss the role of online communities and the importance of nurturing them. Here’s a summary of our chat.

Guest: Liz Pittman
Topic: Building online communities
Format: Eight questions directed at the guest. Everyone’s welcome to share.

Q1: Why is community important in online spaces?

Communities make life meaningful. They’re especially important in an online space because they are your biggest source of support. Everyone wants to be heard and appreciated, and a community only magnifies that feeling.

As Theodora so rightly pointed out, a community welcomes you into a common safe space. That’s why it’s also a great confidence booster—a strong community helps you be your best self.

Q2: What makes a strong online community?

Strength comes with confidence. As we said in our previous question, a strong community is where everyone feels like they can be themselves without feeling pressure. A community is strong when it’s accessible and welcoming of all people. This means, even the content shared within the community, among other things, should represent the vast variety of people belonging to that community.

Justin said it well—a community is strong when there are no strict hierarchies and everyone has a sense of ownership. That’s also a powerful motivator for people to engage in more community activities.

Elana shared a nice graphic to illustrate a powerful community. If you’re a business, the strongest part of your community is the intersection between your capabilities, your members’ needs, and your business objectives.

Q3: What are some ways to build communities online?

Consistency is essential for social media and building communities online. As our guest explained, our #TwitterSmarter community is a perfect example of this. Madalyn’s been running the chat for over 5 years, and over time, people have become accustomed to our weekly chats. To complement consistency, you also need to instill strong community-based values such as posting relevant and inclusive content, listening to the audience’s needs, and always being open to experiment and learn new things. Add all these tactics in your everyday activities, and you’ll see your online community flourish.

Another great tip to remember is not to shy away from conversations. As Rachel from Express Writers pointed out, you should put yourself out there and initiate discussions with people. It’s a great way to meet new members and also to find people you resonate with the most. When you talk to a hundred people, chances are, at least 30 percent of them will be your ideal audience.

Q4: How can you ensure that you’re building an inclusive online community?

It’s important to understand why you need to make your online communities inclusive. In a previous chat, we spoke about this exact topic. Make sure that your content is accessible to all types of people—not just people scrolling through the feed during their commute but also people who use assistive technology to comprehend your content.

Use the CamelCase for hashtags. For example, write #TwitterSmarter instead of #twittersmarter. It may seem like a small change, but it can make a world of difference to someone. Similarly, use alternative text for your images and avoid special text and characters.

Liz even shared a tweet to illustrate how hard it is for people using voice technology to access special characters on Twitter. Check it out.

On a different note, Azad pointed out that to ensure you have diversity in your content, just observe what you’re posting on a regular basis. For example, if all of your banner images have photos of people from a specific geographic location or skin tone, it’s time to diversify your images—just like in real life.

Lance shared another great perspective. As important as external representation is, so is internal representation. If you have highly-diverse images on your social posts but have a not-so-diverse internal team, then you’re not being as inclusive as you can. Consciously embrace a variety of ideas and opinions—that’s what nourishes your community as a whole.

Q5: Does having an offline community help with online community building?

Absolutely. Even the smallest of things can make a big impact. For example, as our guest said, make sure that you communicate your social presence to your offline audience. This means including your social handles in your business cards or putting up posters in your physical storefront to encourage your audience to join you online.

As our friends from Propel reminded us, an offline community doesn’t necessarily have to meet as regularly as your online community. Even if you’re only hosting a real-life event once a year, you can still use that to motivate and engage your online communities.

It’s important to remember, however, that online and offline communities can be entirely standalone. This means as Jennifer told us from her example, that you can have a highly-engaged online community even if you don’t have one offline.

Q6: Should your online and offline communities be the same?

It’s not necessary, but depending on the nature of your business, you should have an overlap. For instance, if you’re a retailer with a physical storefront, a majority of your regular customers should be part of your online community as well. At the same time, you can also generate a bigger online following who are not directly customers in your store. Take Wendy’s, for example. The fast-food chain has a massive online community even in countries that don’t have a physical Wendy’s store. At the same time, their regular customers also engage with the brand online.

Samantha shared another good example. As an entrepreneur offering writing services, her online communities are her target audience, whereas her offline audience are her supporters. While there’s still a lot of similarities between the two, they also function separately.

Q7: What can you do offline to support your online community activities?

Actively tell your audience to join your online communities. Whether you’re at an event or selling something at a physical store, you need to inform and encourage your offline communities about your online presence.

Most people would be happy to engage with you online. Here’s an example from our guest’s own experience:

Another good tactic is, as Kelly explained in her case, to motivate your offline customers to meet others and engage with them online. Networking is a great way to ensure everyone has a benefit. This gives them a strong reason to join your online communities because they also get massive value by following you on social media. That way, they’re not just doing you a favor, but also doing it for themselves.

On the flip side, as our friends from GiveWP said, if you run an online business, encourage your community members and employees to meet up in real life and continue conversations. Of course, don’t forget to follow COVID-safe practices.

Q8: What are your go-to resources about online community building?

Always be learning. As our guest suggested, observe successful communities, engage with them, and learn from what they’re doing well. You can also talk to those community managers. If you have a genuine interest to learn, they’ll be happy to help you. Then practice as you learn. Don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes—that’s how you identify what works and what doesn’t.

Jim recommended learning from successful community managers like Deb from Agorapulse and Bella Vasta.

As Matt also added, look at communities you’re part of and think why you like being involved in them. That’s how you want your community to feel about you. So what do they do that you can do too? Look beyond Twitter as well—Facebook and LinkedIn have great communities as well. Learn from everywhere.

Well, folks. That’s all from me this week. Thanks a lot for reading, and for more insights from our community chat about Twitter Spaces, have a look at this Twitter Moment that Joana put together.  We’d love for you to join our #TwitterSmarter community if you haven’t already. We meet every Thursday at 1pm ET, and we’re super consistent—just as any strong community should be. Hope to see you there!

About me, Narmadhaa:

I write all the things—technical and marketing copy to fill the pocket; haiku and short stories to fill the soul. A social media enthusiast, I’m a member of the #TwitterSmarter chat crew, and always happy to take on writing gigs.

Say hello: Personal blog | LinkedIn | Twitter