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September 7, 2021

Community Building Online: A Guide For Aspiring Leaders

Being a leader is tough, we know. So here's a comprehensive guide we've thrown together to help you build the best community online. From leadership skills and qualities to actions and insights; we walk you through what we think are the best ways to build lasting online communities.

Throughout human history, great leaders have signposted many significant points in time that have changed the course of history (for both good and bad). Whether you're leading a nation down a new path, or leading a small community toward a common goal, the leadership skills and qualities required to carry out the task are, in essence, the same. We'll focus on the latter of those circumstances as we know a lot more about online community building than leading a nation (obviously), but feel free to take what you need from this article to help you on your journey to world domination.

But, what even is leadership?

There are many misconceptions about what qualities make a true leader. On the surface, it would seem that leadership is defined by "popularity, power, showmanship, or wisdom in long-range planning." However, though some leaders may possess these qualities, they are in no way required.

Despite popular belief, leadership also has nothing to do with seniority, title, or even personal attributes (such as those outlined above). Many definitions have been floated, however they often lack some crucial element or other. Leaders don't simply give orders, nor do they necessarily have to be above you in station. They can be charismatic, or even domineering, but this is by no means a pre-requisite. So when your superior attributes their controlling nature to leadership, you can quite happily tell them that they are categorically wrong.

Forbes outlined the definition of leadership as "a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal." Leaders do not simply achieve a goal, they motivate their followers to achieve said goal efficiently and effectively. In online community building, this can be an incredibly powerful tool — to understand, empower, and mobilise your members toward any common goal. Even if your goal is simply to have fun, your ability as a leader could become a driving force for unity.

Now, let's get building

The first step to building an online community is to choose your topic. Shocking, right? First off, it helps if you're passionate, so choose something that you're interested in — authenticity attracts. If you want your community to grow, make sure you centre around a topic people are interested in to keep the conversation fresh.

Try to not limit your community — start with broad, engaging topics, and get down to the niches once you've built up a small following. The trick is not to let things snowball and overrun you. If your community grows too fast, you might lose the very essence of it, and all that makes it 'special'.

That said, if you don't tell anyone about your party, you can't expect any guests — so make sure to publicise your community on social media. Write a blog post, or gather up member emails to start a newsletter — hell, we might even feature your community if you ask us nicely.

Always set yourself achievable goals for the growth of your community, but bear in mind that "only about 10% of the members will be active". Try contacting well-connected individuals to post on on your behalf, and never underestimate 'influencer culture'.

Get cosy with your members

People are, without question, inherently complex. There is no one single way to engage every individual, and understanding this is a significant step to becoming a great community leader. Human beings are motivated by a plethora of emotions, thoughts and incentives. As the Harvard Business Review outlined, we respond not only to the "traditional carrot and stick used by the driver of a donkey but also to ambition, patriotism, love of the good and the beautiful, boredom, self-doubt, and many more dimensions and patterns of thought and feeling". The importance of these motivators varies wildly from person to person, and the task of identifying these patterns falls to leaders. Not managers, superiors, captains, or officers, but leaders.

When you understand your followers' wants and needs, you gain insight into what motivates them. So, get cosy. If there are too many for you to know personally, then it's time to start trusting others to lead smaller groups. The better you are at understanding those around you, the better equipped you'll be to lead them. Many 'would be' leaders fail "because it never occurred to them that others had tastes or emotional requirements different from their own." This lesson is one to be recounted in all walks of life.

The best way to get to know your followers is to engage, so post in the community, and get others on board to do the same. Start the discussion, and let others follow — but remember to respond as quickly as possible to posts, before people lose interest. Leading a community isn't like dating, so you shouldn't be waiting 3 days to respond just to 'play it cool'. Stimulate conversation by injecting thought-provoking topics into the mix, but don't stifle any veering — let it flow.

What your community needs from you

So, you've built your community; you understand your followers; you're engaging in discourse; and, things are starting to take off. Cool. Time for some maintenance — and why not start with yourself. It's a long road to becoming a great community leader, and there are a myriad of things that could work for you, but here's our top three in summary to help you on your way:

  1. Don't get bogged down by minor details. You're here to see the bigger picture, and unify all facets of the community. If you concern yourself too often with the little things, your community could feel micro-managed, and potentially stifled. You don't want to smother the flame, so give your members some breathing room, and even some autonomy. You'll never be as smart as your community members collectively, so be sure to loosen the reigns, dish out responsibilities, and let things grow organically.
  2. Don't be afraid to try something different. Try a group-wide creative endeavour to stimulate engagement and bring your community together. Whether you make videos, blog posts, music, or even podcasts — creativity can help your members connect, and, let's be honest, it's fun too. A willingness to collaborate, listen, and try new ideas on your part will go a long way in helping your members feel worthwhile. What's more, don't be disheartened if your plans come to nothing. Pick yourself back up and try a new idea.
  3. Finally, make sure to host events whenever you can. Try out themed calls; host speakers; or even just use the event to share information, tips, and tricks in an interactive way. The end goal in cohesion and engagement, so the more you host, the more natural they'll feel for newcomers.

Now you've got the insight, it's time to start building your community. And, what's more, Tevent has many features to stimulate conversation if you ever get stuck for ideas. Each Space can have an unlimited number of Tables to separate topics and ensure that your members don't got lost in a wall of text. Get started today by making your Space — invite as many people as you can, and watch the good times roll. Or, if you need some more assistance building your community from the ground up, head over to our Community Leader's Club for help and advice. What? You didn't expect us not to mention ourselves, did you?

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