September 9, 2016
14 Tips to Grow Your Online Community (From an Inbound.org Insider)
What does it take to build a thriving community? How do you get people to come back on a regular basis? And what mishaps are there you can learn from? Perhaps my time as community manager with Inbound.org will give you some insight. I took the role of Inbound.org’s Content & Community Manager in October 2014. I stayed with the company for 18 long, hard, fast, and fun months. Looking back at my time on the team, I like to say that I got paid to talk to people. All day long I conversed on the site, in comments, through email, through support, and on the Inbound.org Slack channel. But I wasn’t just talking to people, I was helping build an online community. Here are my top tips for peeps looking to get their community off the ground.
1) Curate damn good content
Communities need content to talk about, and Inbound.org was no different. Use social media, Feedly, and BuzzSumo to find the best stuff out there. Comb through the data to discover the topics your members are interested in. For us, the hot topics were content and blogging, SEO, inbound marketing, email, and growth. So we focused on curating content around these areas. With a constant stream of new and relevant content, members will return to your site again and again.
2) Host AMAs with industry influencers
AMAs were the one thing that always attracted a crowd for us. We got big names in marketing, SaaS, startups, SEO, and more to answer our member’s burning questions. The same could also work for your community. Win over the influencers in your space to share their expertise. Schedule the AMA session during your peak traffic times, vary the topics covered, and evaluate how you can thoughtfully introduce the influencer’s audience to your community.
3) Show your top content at the top of your homepage
When we thought an article would do particularly well with the community, we boosted it to the top of the homepage. Boosted content almost always received more views, comments, and upvotes. And since great content gets shared, boosting the right stuff brings more traffic back to your community.
4) Mention influencers in comment threads
Every community has its influencers. When a discussion pops up that is relevant to the big names in your community, mention them in the comments so they receive an email notification. We did this at Inbound.org with marketing influencers like Rand Fishkin and Noah Kagan, and they would usually (and graciously) log in to participate in the conversation.
5) Keep an ace in the hole
When it’s the end of the month, and you have five days left to meet your traffic goals, you need a no-fail option. Here were some of ours:
Get an influencer to start a controversial discussion
Advertise on Facebook
Host an AMA with a surprise influencer
Email users about a lively thread
The point is to think: What can I do to boost my traffic in the short term, that will have a huge impact?
6) Don’t attend an event, host the event
During the INBOUND15 conference, we ran a CRO day, SEO day, and content day. We packed the week with AMA’s anyone could answer, while also featuring select experts and their content. The takeaway? Host events that drive new members to your online community. It’s the offline and online one-two punch.
7) Set up community alerts
For the first year or so we featured “alerts” above site content. The feature was perfect for giving a thread an extra push, such as events, AMAs, or hot discussions. Moving this function to the sidebar and giving it a “prettier” design with images killed its effectiveness, because it gave off the “I’m an ad” vibe. Whether you put them above your content or on your sidebar, community alerts are another option worth trying to boost discussion engagement.
8) Create original content members can’t resist
Work with industry experts to create original content for your community. Most influencers will promote the piece through their email lists and social media accounts. On your end, you could send emails to your community, put up alerts, and feature the content at the top of your homepage. We put a ton of work into original Inbound.org content, but one article in particular absolutely crushed the rest… Jeff Deutsch’s Confessions of a Google Spammer. At the time of this writing, it has 289,074 views, 944 upvotes, and 215 comments.
9) Optimize your content for search
SEO is one of the big reasons we started creating our own content. Before that, we brought in tons of duplicate, curated content that didn’t get much Google love. So we made some technical SEO adjustments, keyword-optimized our original articles, and asked users to contribute unique stuff of their own. We watched search traffic climb steadily, though it was only a fraction of what it could have been if we only focused on original content.
10) Experiment with your tweeting frequency
We used Twitter _all the time _to share interesting content from the site. Some simple strategies to implement:
Mention the user who submitted the content, as well as the author and their site
Add an image from the post to make it stand out from the crowd
Try different tweeting frequencies
At one point, we tweeted up to four times an hour. We received about 20-30 clicks per tweet, and saw no difference in followers lost when we increased frequency, just exponentially more visits. In fact, I once accidentally sent the same tweet 15 minutes later and got more clicks the second time than the first.
11) Send personal and relevant emails to active users
Honestly from the time I joined Inbound.org, our onboarding, retention, and email marketing were largely overlooked. Obviously they were important, but we had other goals to achieve first. In the last few months of my reign as community manager, we started sending personal emails to small segments of active users. We took a discussion that looked promising and found other related topics from the past two months. We then took the URL from that and used it to segment members who had visited that URL. We also made sure we only contacted those active in the last two weeks, who liked the overall topic, and hadn’t received a personal email like this in the last five days. These emails went out to a few hundred people at a time, compared to our overall list of 150,000 people. The results were amazing. We increased our flat metric of 400 contributors a week to over 700 in less than a few months. Over time, we increased the effectiveness of the emails by shortening them, adding personal touches, and further segmenting who received what.
12) Boost content on Facebook to drive member signups
Facebook advertising was a low-cost channel for us. (Not to mention the platform’s targeting capabilities are insane.) We used the channel to boost our top discussions and original content. The clicks were cheap, and led to new signups every day. Here are some Facebook growth drivers to pay attention to as you set up your campaigns.
13) Show up day after day
Growing a community is a long-term commitment. You have to show up every day. Read comments, respond to new users, follow up on relationships, look for great content, keep an eye out for opportunities (AMAs, events, influencer mentions), and brainstorm discussion ideas. Dedicate yourself to the long game.
14) Get to know your people
The best community managers get to know their members. Talk to your people, and seek to understand why your community is important to them. It helps to have an ongoing list of people to stay in touch with. This may sound fluffy, but care for your community like you’d want to be cared for yourself.
Working in a growing community is exciting. You wear so many different hats (ideator, promoter, advertiser, curator, creator) but you learn so much about community, and yourself, in the process. Keep the above tips your back pocket and put your own spin on them as you build your own tribe. And let us know what you learn in the process. Are there any community building tips you’d add to this list? Anything you’ve tried in your own experience? Let us know in the comments.