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Community Purpose: Intent and motivation for an online community 

Working with community hosts, business owners, and startups, the biggest mistake I see community leaders make is not clearly defining the purpose of an online community and who will be invited into the “exclusive” space. 

Due to the Global Pandemic, the entire world has had to adjust to living in a bubble and withdrawing from connecting with their neighbors.  

There has been an abundance of new online communities offering virtual events, masterminds, and networking opportunities to replace traditional local meetups.

In 2022, 76 percent of internet users participate in an online community.

According to a recent article (January 2022) by PeerBoard*, Reddit hosts over 130,000 active communities (subreddits), mostly in the US due to restrictions on communication. 

With over 2.9 Billion people reported to be active on Facebook, it is also the home to more than 10 million Facebook groups. 

Although it seems like there are more ways than ever to connect with others, users of platforms have not reported feeling that they are participating in meaningful conversations or feel like they have a voice. 

As a community builder, the most important aspect of creating an online community is establishing the purpose and reasons why it is important. 

The purpose and vision of a community concept can change over time and being flexible to the ebb and flow through the community-building process is vital to success. 

In the book The Indispensable Community: Why Some Brand Communities Thrive WHen Others Perish by Richard Millington, founder of FeverBee, he describes the importance of knowing your why and the why of your members for joining. 

“Today’s communities are less about super fandom, creating warm, fuzzy feelings, and driving lots of engagement, but are instead more about showing a clear impact.” 

Before we jump into your online community and why you are building it, let’s talk about what an online community is, and what it isn’t.

 

What is an online community?

Community for web

An online community is a group of people who gather virtually through platforms, apps, and other software with similar interests, goals, problems, or ambitions to connect, find and offer solutions, and inspiring each other virtually through video calls, interactive polls, prompting questions, and curated content. 

We define an online community hosting site as a platform off of social media and offering a private or exclusive virtual space for specific members to connect, collaborate, and cultivate a sense of belonging.  

Here are a few examples of what we believe are online communities: 

  • A single virtual event (workshop, webinar, conference) that offers members a space to connect 
  • An email with a group of people who communicate with each other occasionally, or regularly  
  • A forum or text chat that allows people to share photos, images, graphics, video, audio, or other content 
  • A platform that invites a specific kind of people into an online place for connection +conversation

What an online community isn't

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We don’t consider social media an online community as these are public, but even when private, the person, brand, organization, or company usually has a business purpose that may or may not be aligned with the members and doesn’t offer the ability for a member to truly and authentically be seen, heard, and valued. 

Social media’s entire goal is to distract and create an environment of urgency, comparison, and algorithms to serve the platform’s desires, not the business owner’s needs. 

Just consider the last time you logged into Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. The experience usually doesn’t bring calm. How many groups are you a member of? Now of these, how many are you ACTIVE as a member? Of these, what do you consider to be the most important reason WHY you participate? 

According to Hivebrite, a software company that helps organizations build and manage a community, there are fewer distractions, stricter controls, and less spam inside an online community off of social media. 

“All of this facilitates authentic self-expression and a feeling of belonging. Members are more likely to reach out to share ideas, opinions, and best practices, ask and answer questions, and take action.” 

Not only do online communities offer members to feel like they belong, it provides the community host with ownership. 

When Facebook went down for several hours in October of 2021, some business owners received a gut punch and reality check that sales took a nose-dive due to the outage. 

“While the IG outage was mildly stressful, it did reaffirm some of the concerns and thoughts I’ve been hearing from many brand founders: namely, that IG rarely rewards us for the time we invest, and that relying on a 3rd party to mediate our relationships with customers is risky business,” said Rachel Jones, founder of underwear and bralette company Jonesey to Mashable. 

What's the why? How is it intentional?

Community

Some leaders start an online community to bring together resources into one place and allow peers to offer their experiences to support each other, elevating and empowering others to feel seen, valued, and heard. 

Coaches, consultants, and leaders can benefit from scaling a business by offering group coaching in one place while also connecting their clients with each other, to offer elevated support from those who’ve benefited by working with the coach while also sharing their own life experiences. 

There are many community structures, but this is a great place to pause and start thinking about what is bringing you to want to create a space for others to gather. 

In a Forbes article about why communities matter, writer Tracy Brower says: 

“Strong communities have a significant sense of purpose. People’s roles have meaning in the bigger picture of the community and each member of the group understands how their work connects to others and adds value to the whole. As members of the community, people don’t just want to lay bricks, they want to build a cathedral.” 

From my experience, I’ve learned that a community concept is much more than who you bring together, it really comes down to what problem this community solves. 

 

An online community on social media does support diversity and brings together individuals from different cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds, fostering a sense of unity, and is listed as a benefit in the Top 7 Impacts of Social Media Advantages and Disadvantages article by Simplilearn

Questions to consider

Starting with your “why” is the most powerful step you can take to cultivate meaning and connection in your own life, that, when discovered, will help you flourish as a leader. 

What’s your “Why” for considering leading an online community? 

What’s their why for wanting to be a part of this community? 

What problem will this community solve and how does a community solve this? 

How passionate are you about this “why”? 

Would you do this for yourself? 

Do you feel others relate to the problem you want to solve? 

What do you want to feel as the leader of this community? 

How do you want members of this community to feel? 

How much time do you want to dedicate to an online community? 

How many online communities do you participate in and why? 

What are the outcomes that would make this community worth your time? 

What are the potential challenges of this community?

Why do you think this community is needed right now?

Are there other communities like this one? If so, what are they? 

Why would people want to give time and energy to the communities’ mission or purpose? 

What do you envision this looking like in two years, five years, or ten years from now? 

Launch sooner, energize members, and build your next revenue stream. This practical workbook takes you through the process, step by step.

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