27 Online Community Growth Tactics That Actually Work
There are so many online community growth tactics that lead to dead ends.
Online communities are hard to grow. They seem to be getting harder and harder to grow with the rise of social media. It almost seems like having an online community isn’t worth it. Why would you want to waste even more effort on growing your community if it doesn’t work?
The problem isn’t with your online community or communities in general. The problem is with the obsolete online community growth tactics you’re using. Maybe you’re using the right ones but in the wrong way.
I’m going to help you out. I will list and explain 27 growth tactics that will work because all successful online community managers are still using them and growing big because of them.
All Online Community Growth Tactics Require Work
I don’t want to mislead you with these online community growth tactics.
Yes, they work. They actually work great. But they won’t work without work.
That means you must be willing to work at these tactics and be patient. The days of growing an online community overnight are long gone. That doesn’t exist anymore. You have to put in work, or you will fail.
Many online community owners need to know that. Don’t be one of them. Put in the work, and you’ll get positive results.
1 – Define Your Online Community Purpose
The only way you’ll actually be able to grow your community is when you understand its purpose.
No community’s purpose is to get members and make money. That’s not a purpose. That’s not a goal. That’s silly.
You need an objective or multiple ones to cover what exactly you want to get out of your community and what you want each member to get out of your community. That’s how you start to determine what your purpose is.
Of course, every community searching for its purpose should have an established niche. A niche is a topic your community focuses on. It should be something you’re extremely passionate about because then you’ll always be interested in posting about it and being active.
When you define your purpose, you’ll understand how these online community growth tactics work.
2 – Develop a Brand for Your Online Community
If you’re not developing a brand for your community, you must work harder than everyone else.
Brands are where it’s at.
Artificial intelligence and social media algorithms will make online community growth difficult as they continue to evolve. This is because companies will spend millions of dollars using them to keep people on their networks.
So, how do you beat that? How do you protect your online community?
You protect it by building a brand around your community.
A brand is something people attach to. It’s something they remember. Everyone knows what Nike is. Everyone knows what Apple iOS is. That’s because it’s a brand that people support. You must build your brand for your online community and encourage people to support it.
If you’re not taking advantage of branding in 2023 and beyond, you’re missing out on so many opportunities to keep your online community active and growing.
3 – Optimize Your Online Community
You should optimize your online community for user experience, search engines, and mobile use.
These online community growth tactics are important for search engine ranking. They’re all Google search ranking factors, or at least they’re claimed to be by most search engine optimization experts.
A user-friendly experience is more important than anything else for an online community. If your members are unhappy with the user experience, they’ll quit using your community.
This same concept applies to the mobile experience. You won’t have many members if mobile users can’t experience the community like desktop users. More than 90% of your members will use a mobile device to access and use your community. Most people no longer own computers because their phones do everything they need. Always put the mobile experience first.
Online communities are difficult to do SEO on because most content is user-generated, and not everyone knows how to do SEO. Trying to make them do SEO will simply scare them off. So, what do you do? You do the best you can do. Create great content. Encourage participation. And keep your community fast, secure, and made for mobile first.
4 – Offer Valuable Content on Your Online Community
One of the most important online community growth tactics is providing valuable content to your community members.
If you can provide content to your community that is so valuable that it improves the lives of your members, they will not only remain loyal members, but they will tell others about your community and help it grow.
Provide educational content that teaches members a new skill, answers their biggest questions, or solves the hardest problems being faced in the niche or industry.
Conduct interviews with various experts of your niche and share these interviews as content on your community in text, audio, or video form. Make sure you ask important questions your audience will want to know about.
Other content like case studies, trends, analytical reports, and success stories will also be content that members will find valuable, especially if it pertains to a product you are trying to sell with your community or one you endorse.
People also love tips, strategies, and best practices based on the topics around the niche or industry.
Ask yourself what kind of content you find valuable, and then determine how you can share that sort of content based on your community niche.
5 – Foster and Encourage Active Participation
The more you foster active participation in your community, the more it will grow.
But you have to start by setting the community’s tone to foster this sort of activity. New and old members should feel like they’re visiting a community that encourages them to be active. If that isn’t the feeling members get upon logging into your community, it isn’t going to help it grow.
Be the example of an active community by being the leader and always encouraging an active community. People also typically join because they want to be closer to you. So, you should give them what they want – an active you.
Send every new member a Direct Message and invite them to introduce themselves to your community. Make sure you provide an area for members to introduce themselves to the rest of the community. Sometimes people need a little push to start being active.
Always try to highlight member contributions. If you have a mailing list for your community, for example, highlight a resource or an article that one of your members contributed and make sure you credit them.
If no one is starting a new discussion, then you should start them. In fact, you should post a really interesting new topic every single day. Give your members something to look forward to logging onto the community daily to see.
And lastly, try to share interesting things within your community. You don’t have to create everything. As long as you have the right to share stuff, go ahead and share interesting things. This can include interesting YouTube videos, other media, website links, and related content.
6 – Be a Responsive Online Community Manager
As I’ve previously mentioned in this article on other online community growth tactics, you must be an active community manager to keep an active community.
Most people join an online community to be close to the community manager or the person who owns the community. If that person isn’t active, it’s a turn-off for members, who will also become inactive as a result. They want to see you. They want to talk to you. They want to engage with you. They joined for you, not for a community.
So, with that being said, you need to be active, engage with all members, and be responsive to those who have questions and need help.
And while it can be difficult due to time zones and your need to sleep and have a life, try to be responsive to people as quickly as possible. At least within 24 hours after they have contacted you, joined the community, or contributed something to the community.
And if you’re going to be away, try to inform everyone so that they know you’ll be away.
7 – Use Social Media to Promote Your Online Community
Social media is one of the best online community growth tactics available.
But many community managers fail to be successful with social media marketing strategies. That’s because they just use the channels to post external links to their community, and that’s it.
The problem with that strategy is the algorithms the social network employs on its website.
Those algorithms will rank external link content lower than content that doesn’t provide external links and media. There is a reason for that, and it’s a pretty good reason that’s understandable.
External links posted on social media take social media members away from the social media platform. That means the ads on the platform are no longer being seen by those members. That means they don’t make money because those people have left the platform.
So, social media networks create algorithms that help combat that by stopping that content from being seen by many different people on the network. They need their ads seen to earn a profit and pay the bills and their employees. It’s not evil; it’s business. You would do the same thing to keep members of your community.
So, how do you effectively use social media to grow your online community?
The answer is going to hurt some of you.
ANSWER: You must build a separate community on each social media channel to get that community to your online community.
Don’t run me out of town. Don’t lynch me. Don’t hate me. I know that solution isn’t favorable to most community managers. But it’s the best answer, aside from spending a lot of money buying social media ads to promote your community, which is another option.
If you build a community on social media and a brand, your followers will come to you regardless of the algorithm because they want to be close to you. It’s just like building your own online community away from social media.
If you build it (community), they will come (followers). And then, it will be simple to post an invite to your external online community, and your followers will see it because they go directly to your channel page to see your content. You’ll also be able to DM them invites as you get to know them more.
Because of how many people use social media and the competition, it is a challenge to successfully use it to grow your online community. But once you get to that point, it will be one of your most successful online community growth tactics.
8 – Do Guest Blog Posts to Promote Your Online Community
You should build your own personal brand, expertise, and authority in your niche to get more online community members.
You can do this in several different ways.
One of the best ways to become more known is to become a guest blogger on websites and blogs that are related to your community’s niche.
The problem with most guest bloggers is that they create generic content to gain a backlink. Most logical bloggers know this little tactic and don’t accept these generic guest posts.
So, you must create the best content possible as a guest blogger. Because you’re trying to build a reputation for yourself and your community, but if your content is junk, why should anyone trust you or your community? You need to create content as a guest blogger as if the website is your website and you’re trying to bring readers to it.
Once you start making awesome guest posts, other bloggers will take notice and do what they can to get you to post on their blogs.
9 – Use Email Marketing to Promote Your Online Community
If you use it correctly, email marketing is a good way to grow your online community.
I advocate email marketing for any online brand or entrepreneur, whether you’re just starting out or have been going for a while. Newsletters lead to conversions, sales, and expertise enhancements. They work. That’s why so many startups are starting their newsletters right from the get-go.
Your goal should be to create and grow a mailing list as easily as possible. Once you grow it, you can market just about anything related to your niche to your audience. It’s one platform you own because you can access your followers and their contact information.
When sending out a newsletter, include information about your community. Feature a highly reputable content post from your community in the newsletter. But just feature a snippet of the post with a link telling people to join the community to see the full post.
Don’t link to post pages on your newsletter. Link to the sign-up page or a page with copy that encourages registration. Your goal isn’t to get a reader on a post. Your goal is to get people to join your community.
Try to mention your community a few times in every newsletter every time you send one.
10 – Conduct Live Videos to Promote Your Online Community
As a YouTuber, I’ve noticed that live video is a great addition to online community growth tactics because of how active they become.
It seems that more and more people are attracted to live more so than pre-recording media.
I might get 100 to 300 views on my uploaded video in the first 24 hours. But when I go live, I’ll get hundreds of visitors during the duration of the video, and it’s not 24 hours, either. You might get hundreds to thousands of people watching simultaneously if you have a larger channel.
If you have a community that relates to your YouTube channel, imagine being able to ask all those watching to go check out your community.
People like videos. They love live videos. Take advantage of this growth factor if you have your own YouTube channel.
If you don’t have a YouTube channel, create one just to make live videos about your community’s niche. You might also create Shorts on there, too. Those can typically get thousands more views in 24 hours than on regular traditional videos.
11 – Gamify your Online Community
Keeping people interested in participating in your community will help it grow because they’ll continue to visit and engage in it.
A good way to encourage this is to gamify your online community.
Before you gamify the community, you need to set goals and objectives for what the gamification strategies will result in. How will it benefit you and your members?
Try to determine the mechanisms of how the gamification system will work. You can add point systems and use ranking structures for many online communities. But you’ll still need to choose what earns points and distinguished rank in the gamification system you have in place.
The idea of a system like this is to encourage members to be active to rank higher in the community. You might give special rewards when they reach certain levels or something of that nature.
Many online communities are adopting virtual currency and token strategies to align with the web3 concepts of digital currency. Typically, the currency can only be used in the community. It’s best to join other communities using this concept to understand how it could work or if it’s even working at all.
Gamification works when there is something a value to get out of it. That’s value for both you and your community and the members of your community.
12 – Do Giveaways on Your Online Community
Giveaways make for great online community growth tactics when they’re planned beforehand and a strategy is implemented.
Most communities go wrong with the challenge of competitions and the prizes offered. For example, requiring a specific number of weekly posts or referrals is often too challenging for community members. These competitions typically get very little participation.
The best thing to do is a giveaway that requires membership in your community. That’s it. Make it as simple as possible. Randomly choose a member using a random number generator or even pull a member’s name from a hat on a live video.
Make the prize exciting but close to your brand and niche.
If you’re building your community around a product or service you offer, give away the product or provide the service for a specific amount of time for free as a prize. Another option for a prize is merchandise with your brand name on it. That’s a fun prize, and it could be free promotion for your brand if it’s worn in public.
You should do giveaways at least once every quarter to get community members excited about it. If you can do more, try doing twice during every quarter.
Just remember to make it easy, make it fun, and give something cool away as the prize.
13 – Collaborate with Other Online Communities
Online communities should work together to share membership and participation from membership.
During the late 90s and early 2000s, many discussion forums, especially the largest ones in a niche, were aggressively competitive to the point of censoring the domain name of competing communities. I think this very act led to a decline in how many people use forum platforms today versus back then.
It was easier to move a community to social media and compete that way than to compete with a bigger forum.
I feel that sort of aggressive competition will lead to the downfall of the community that practices it. I feel that as a community manager, you should work with other communities and collaborate to help each other out and grow both communities.
If you can find related communities, try to collaborate with them. It could be something as simple as a couple of guest blog posts on each community. It could be a podcast interview between the two communities. It could even be a joint giveaway or competition being run by both brands.
Whatever collaboration it is, its purpose should be to provide value to membership and encourage community growth.
14 – Survey Your Members for Their Feedback
You should always seek feedback from your current membership to help determine how to grow your membership.
When you ask for it, your current membership can provide many great data types. This data can help paint a picture of what members expect from joining your community. It can tell you what they want to see and what they’re not seeing. If you implement an exit survey, it can tell you why they ended their membership. This feedback can help you significantly improve your online community and its growth.
You should routinely administer surveys in segments to different groups of members pending certain demographics, interests, membership levels, and related factors. You could even encourage survey completion with a gift card giveaway voting at the end of the survey period.
Your most loyal members who care about your community will likely take the survey and answer with serious and thoughtful descriptions. Members who are not as loyal may not always participate, which just happens.
Make sure you compile the survey data and look for trends and points that can benefit the evolution of your community.
15 – Create Member Benefits that Other Online Communities Don’t Offer
Look around at other communities in your niche. Join them and become active. Figure out what they are doing to provide benefits to their membership.
This is spying on your competitors, for sure. But it’s not a bad thing. Everyone does it, including your competitors. It isn’t meant to steal their ideas, although most communities adopt the ideas generated by other communities. It’s mainly meant to discover what significant benefits that community isn’t offering.
Try not to get benefits and features mixed up. A feature is something the community offers that not all members will enjoy. A benefit is something that adds significant value for members and makes their life better in some way.
What kind of benefits can you offer that competing communities are not offering?
The benefit often gears around problem-solving within the most challenging sectors of the niche. Can you take the toughest question, answer it, and provide the easy answer in an article that you post in your community? If you can, that would be a benefit because it answers a hard question and gives an easy solution to improve a member’s life.
Benefits will keep all members actively participating. Features are just nice for some members who enjoy those particular features. It’s good to have both features and benefits, however.
16 – Create Polls and Easy to Answer Content on Your Online Community
The best type of content to get easy engagement in your community will be content that easy to engage with.
Content like polls and question posts can get quick and easy engagement from your community members. If you make the right polls and ask the right questions, you can get great feedback and engagement each time you publish the content.
Poll your membership on things that are specific to your niche. But you can also throw in a poll that can be used to help your community grow here and there.
Ask questions related to the niche. You should especially ask questions that give the members opportunities to show off their own photos, give their own stories, and specifically feature their own things. Your community should cater to their needs.
Another easy question-based content is “this or that” type of questions. For example, “Do you like summer or winter?” would be that type of question. This gives the member a choice to answer quickly and doesn’t require them to think too hard. It’s usually an instant engagement format.
The easier you make engagement and participation, the more engagement and participation you will get in your online community.
17 – Host Events on Your Online Community
Events can help your online community grow if they cater to members’ needs.
Since the pandemic, virtual event creation has taken off. It’s cheaper, and everyone can do it. It might be what your online community needs to get a boost of growth.
Create an event around the niche of your community and virtually host it in the community. You can use live chat, streaming, and things like that. You can have multiple guest speakers and vendors to discuss products and services.
All this can be done utilizing the features that most online community platforms provide, or you can integrate other services such as Zoom or YouTube Live.
Imagine having your own virtual conference about your niche. That’s very possible today with the technological advancements of virtual services in response to the pandemic.
You could even charge for admission and earn a profit with your virtual event if you wanted to.
18 – Create Fair Guidelines and Enforce Them
All of your online community growth tactics will fail if your community becomes a toxic environment.
It’s important to create and enforce reasonable community guidelines. These guidelines are meant to ensure that all members can enjoy the community equally. They’re in place to keep the space fun, entertaining, and safe for everyone who wishes to enjoy it.
Creating guidelines is a simple task. You can be fair and flexible while promoting a community free of abuse, hate, and misconduct.
Your guidelines should have bulleted rules on various subjects. Inform members about the rules of illegal activity being conducted, spamming, commercial activity, hateful behavior, the privacy of members, impersonation of others, and copyright infringement.
It’s best to take a look at what related communities have for their guidelines to get an idea of what your guidelines should consist of.
Your guidelines can be used to shape what kind of member you want in the community. If you allow profanity at all levels, for example, you’re setting a tone for your community that people who swear a lot should feel fine joining and swearing any time they please. If you don’t want members like that, then set a rule about not allowing profanity in the community.
No matter your rules or how many you’ve implemented, it’s important to enforce them. You should do this for everyone, too. If you enforce them on one member but not the other, you’ll quickly earn a hypocritical title, and your community will become toxic.
Community guidelines and enforcement are important to consider. They’ll keep your community from going toxic. A toxic community is hard to recover from.
19 – Provide Mentorship to Your Online Community Members
Many online communities are formed around a specific person or brand, which is often the community owner.
If your community is formed about you or your brand, take advantage of your mentorship capabilities to keep your online community in steady growth.
Many of your members will remain active to be close to you. You’re a born leader, and they look up to you. That’s something to be proud of and never let go to waste. You can use this to your advantage, which will also help members.
Offer your mentorship to members of the community. For example, if I started a community for the Shawn Gossman blog, I’d show others how to start their own community, blog, and newsletter one-on-one through direct messaging. I’d also show the community as a whole with articles, masterclasses, and related content.
Doing this will surely keep members around and make other people want to join to get that added feature from you.
20 – Collaborate with Influencers to Promote Your Online Community
If you can find influencers in your niche and collaborate with them, they can provide you with a powerful method of growing your online community.
In most cases, you’ll have to either pay an influencer or give them something for free such as a lifetime premium membership to your community or something like that. Most influencers will not accept collaborative projects that don’t give them a particular benefit. Why should they – they worked hard to get where they are and deserve something?
Most of the time, a collaboration between a community and an influencer will be simple. Your community will endorse the influencer and their work or upcoming projects, and the influencer will endorse your community to their followers.
It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
The best influencers to contact are those on social media. This is because their audiences are typically larger than any other audience of non-social media influencers.
And while you’re working with influencers, you should really think hard about trying to become an influencer yourself because it’ll be one more way to grow your online community.
21 – Add a Referral Program to Your Online Community
One of the best online community growth tactics out there is membership referral programs.
Since the day of bulletin board systems, online communities have used referral programs. They are still around because they still work well.
A referral program is simple enough to create. You simply track and reward members who refer others to join your community. Most of the time, referred members will input the name of the referring member or join using a custom link that the referring member provided to them. You can usually track how many new members the referring member has referred to join.
The referral program rewards members for getting others to join the community.
Offer something good as a reward. You could offer generous discounts on your products or services. You could even offer free products and services for referrals. You could pay members if you have a budget. You could send them some swag with your brand name on it. You can give them gift cards and codes for various stores. Whatever you decide to use as a reward – make sure it’s awesome and worth getting.
Referrals can take off if you create the program right and offer a cool reward.
22 – Do Offline Meetups and Events for Your Online Community Members
If you can do offline events for your community to add extra value to your membership, try and do an event every so often.
If your community is local or you can travel around to different areas where members are, consider creating offline events and meetups for community members to enjoy.
These events can be as simple as a picnic in a park. Or you could even host something as complex as a conference at a hotel. It depends on your budget and the community you have created. There is nothing wrong with a picnic in the park where members bring their own side dish.
Giving a chance for community members to meet you face-to-face is a game-changer for many people. This is especially true if you’re an influencer or have created a personal brand around yourself. People love to meet the people they look up to in person.
Doing offline meetups will surely help you sustain a healthy, growing online community.
23 – Help Members Network with Other Members that Relate to Them
One of the most valuable things you can do for your members is introducing them to other members that they relate to.
Build relationships. Build friendships. Help people network with one another. Sometimes it takes you to get the ball rolling for networking to be possible because many people just don’t know where or how to start networking with each other.
Try to take note of the interests and passions of each member of your community. You could even create a database with the member’s name and their interests. Then try to introduce them to another member of your community who shares the same interests and passions.
Networking is a critical function in the professional world, and friendships are important in the social world. So, this benefit can essentially be used in any type of community, no matter what niche the community focuses on.
A good leader will help members network and connect with one another.
24 – Monitor Analytics on Your Online Community
Analytics are some of the best online community growth tactics and tools available for community managers.
The problem with analytics is that many people are intimidated by them. Numbers, charts, and metrics often seem very hard to understand and interpret unless you’re into that sort of thing. But they shouldn’t be in 2023 and beyond.
Learning analytics for your community is simple with the internet, AI, and YouTube. You just have to put in the time to study things and start using them in the real world.
Understanding your community analytics can show you exactly what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and what you should be doing. By not using analytics, you have so many wasted opportunities that could have resulted in more members and even more money.
Learn how to use and master analytics if you really want your online community to shine.
25 – Create an Onboarding Process for New Members
The best way to shape a community member into an outstanding member is to bring them success from their initial membership.
A simple automated welcome DM or email isn’t enough. That’s because it’s fake, and most people know it’s fake. And most people ignore them altogether and then go about their time in the community, not knowing what to do.
So, to better the new member process – I suggest implementing a new member onboarding process.
This is a process where you send a message (written by you, not automated) to each new member welcoming them to the community. Try to start a relationship with them from the start. After that, you can continue the onboarding process even if you use automated messaging after that or templates that you copy, paste, and send to the members.
Just be real from the start and really attempt to create a relationship.
If you don’t have time to create a relationship with each community member, maybe a community isn’t your thing. A community is all about dedicating time to establish relationships with members. Either you do it, or you hire a community manager to do it. Someone needs to be responsible for establishing relationships in the community.
Your member is your community lifeline. Without them, the community is nothing.
26 – Create an Ambassador Program for Your Online Community
Some members will be over the top with their loyalty to your online community and brand.
These particular types of members will support you in everything you do. They will constantly want to associate with you. When you shout them out or recognize them, they will love you even more. They’re not stans; they’re super fans.
If you get a super fan, you’ve done something right.
These types of people will provide you with marketing services that you never dreamed of at no cost because they want you to succeed.
It’s important to recognize these types of members.
You can create an ambassador program for your brand and community. Give ambassadors something that no one else gets. If you have a premium membership, give them that membership at no cost.
Create guidelines and expectations for the ambassador program. Promoting your community should be one of the expectations.
Do ambassador-only events, meetups, rewards, and virtual talks. Keep your ambassador community active, and they will remain active in promoting your online community.
Ambassadors are truly one of the best online community growth tools you’ll ever have.
27 – Continuously Improve and Evolve Your Online Community
No matter what, you should always look to improve your online community each day.
You can use all the online community growth tools out there, but continuous improvement and evolution to technological changes will be your best friend.
If there are new trends in online community growth, try them out. Don’t just stick to the things you know and are comfortable with. You have to leave your comfort zone, or you might get left behind in the process.
Try new things and always stay current on the latest trends and advancements.
And that concludes the online community growth tactics article. If you use the tactics above, you’ll surely grow your online community larger than you’d ever expected it to grow. But as I said from the start, you have to put in the work for these tactics to work and be successful. If you don’t put in the work, they will not work. Please share this article with others to support my efforts and follow me on Twitter for more online community tips and strategies.
About the Author
Shawn Gossman has created content, blogged, ran online communities, and shared a passion for digital marketing for over twenty years. Shawn believes the best way to help content creators, businesses, brands, and marketers is to give away more than you sell. The same advice is recommended for the readers that follow this blog. Shawn also offers a variety of services for extra help in the area of content creation, blogging, forums, and digital marketing. Learn more about Shawn Gossman by clicking here.
Grow your online brand with exclusive tips from me sent right to your inbox!