Growth Marketer Academy: Episode 21 – Build and Sustain Online Communities: An Epic Guide

An engaged social online community is the holy grail of social media management.

It’s true – people think of social media as a free pool of people to market to. But just like so much else in digital marketing, appearances are deceiving.

Paths that get you leads for “free” generally take a lot of time.

And that time can be wasted if you don’t do it right.

A social following is NOT a community. And that’s what most marketers will try to sell you – followers.

This is a key distinction. An online community requires that you create an environment that fosters relationships and organic conversations.

Lay The Groundwork

Define Your Goal

Online community development is just like any other marketing task

You must define your goal before you begin

How else will you know if your efforts were successful?

What do you hope to gain by developing your brand’s online community?

Make your goal SMART.


Your community goal is to increase engagement.

That’s too vague to build a community around.

Break this goal down the SMART way:

Ask yourself:

  1. how do you want engagement to increase?
  2. and from whom?

Let’s say you want more new members to engage in conversation on your discussion board.

How easily can you collect data to measure progress towards your goal?

You should have at least one strategy in mind to achieve your goal.



Your goal needs to be relevant to what you’re trying to achieve.


Your goal is to increase engagement


Your metric for success is an increase in ROI

There’s a clear mismatch in what you’re doing and hoping to achieve.

Goals should be achievable within a sensible time(weeks or months)

Setting a goal helps you identify the kind of members your community needs.

Decide The Metrics You’ll Use To Measure Success

You’ll need to identify the most relevant key performance indicators (KPIs).

You use these to determine the performance of your community in relation to your goals.

It’s how you justify the time and resources you’ll devote to building a community.

On social media, it’s common to measure the following:

How do you determine which KPI matters?

Simply Measured put together this cool table

Breaks down the metric you should use based on where a community member is in their buyer’s journey.


social metrics map

If you already have an established online community, you could measure campaign success by looking at:

These will be a bit harder to measure

They are highly reliant on the campaign you’re running

Only consider these if your audience is already reasonable engaged.

Identify Your Audience And What They Care About

Figuring out the purpose of your community is just the beginning.  

Next: identify a target audience to base your community around.  

Isn’t every follower of your brand a target?


Your community needs a strong underlying theme.

Time to pull out those audience personas we talked you through way back in Episode TWO.

Quick recap – for each persona, you should know:

Sample persona:

sample persona Clark Andrews

Pick ONE persona amongst those of your customers

Whoever you feel would benefit most from your community and offer the most returns for you as a brand.

This is your core audience.

Key question: What motivates them or grabs their attention?

What motivates them or grabs their attention?

If you want to create content that your community actually engages with, you have to be able to answer this question.

For example, Someone interested in running might want to learn about the training regimen of other runners more than reviews of gear.

Running an interview series with fellow runners will be more effective than product-focused posts.

Note: there is no mention here of promoting yourself or talking about your upcoming sale!

How to find what your community members care about:

Facebook Insights


In your Facebook Ad Manager account, click on “Insights” under tools.

Facebook ads manager

The first prompt will ask you to select an audience.

No following yet? Choose “Everyone on Facebook”

Already have a significant following? Go with “People Connected To Your Page.”

Narrow this audience down further by entering the following information:

DON’T list generic interests.

For example:

You run a sports blog

Most of your content and community is tailored towards runners

Choose something like “Runner’s World” as your interest.

The results provide a good overview of who your community members are.

Facebook insights results

To find out what they care about, click on the “Page Likes” tab

Facebook insights page likes

You’re given:

This is a goldmine of content ideas for your community.

For example, let say your research shows your audience of runners shows a strong interest in diet/nutrition

Don’t waste time and resources developing content around the latest shoe

Instead, create content like “food to fuel marathon training.”

Twitter Followers Dashboard


Twitter has its own analytics tool…

If you have existing followers, you can see related topics (or related accounts) that they find most interesting.

Head over to Twitter Analytics > Audiences > Your Followers.

Sample of the Followers Dashboard:

Twitter followers dashboard

Better yet? This info updates in real-time

You monitor changes in interests as they happen.

Helps you compose tweets that will resonate with your community.

Another option = FollowerWonk.

Freemium tool

Lets you see who your competition is talking to on Twitter.

These are potential community members that you may want to try to win over to your brand.

Choose the “Compare Users”

Plug in twitter handles of users you feel share your vertical.

follower wonk compare users

It’ll give you a visual overview that shows where different accounts overlap in terms of common followers.

Here’s a sample comparison:

followerwonk sample comparison

You’ll also:

Social listening tools

Social listening is kind of like eavesdropping on your customers

You want to know what your audience is talking about.

About you.

About your competitors.

And to each other.

Tools like Mention or Google Alerts let you automate monitoring.

Just select a few keywords you want to be notified for.

Tip: don’t just put your brand name here.

Keywords should be related to your product or a problem you solve.

Or use Buzzsumo or to find stories your followers are sharing on social media.

Assess the popularity of the content being shared

Use the most popular ideas as inspiration for your next post.

Check out sites like GrowthHackers, Inbound, or Reddit.

Note topics being upvoted in your niche

This is a good indicator of what’s popular in your community.


You’ve laid the foundation

It’s time to build your community.

Follow these guidelines:

The 80/20 Rule


Nobody wants to hang out with someone who’s constantly talking about themselves.

Don’t make your page or community all about you.

Make 80% of your content something community members will appreciate or love.

The remaining 20% can be promotional.

“Wait, I thought you said not to be promotional??”

You can be promotional here

BUT I’d recommend against it.

Instead, use the 20% to deliver more value to your community.

The 80/20 ratio is not set in stone.

Adjust it until you find what works for your community.

Good news: you don’t have to create the bulk of the content.



User-generated content = pictures, videos, or testimonials created by your community members as content.

Great way to get members active while promoting your brand.

Designer brand MarcJacobs ran a competition on Instagram to find a model for their brand.

Marc Jacobs user generated content


They increased engagement in their community

People followed the brand to vote with comments.

Also gained a steady stream of content for their feed.

What if you don’t have an established, active following?

Entice followers with a prize or contest

Once you have created an environment of follower posted content, your community will require less enticement and more moderation.

Engage, Engage, and Engage


A community requires you to do more than just provide value.

Communities are about relationships

You need to actively engage with your members.

Read their comments

Join in the conversation.

Being humorous and showing your personality goes a long way.

Just look at the number of retweets this reply from Wendy’s garnered.

Wendys tweet

It’s not enough to just respond to requests and follower posts.

You have to be proactive

You have to create conversations.

Some ways start a conversation:

HootSuite regularly hosts chat sessions with their community.

You won’t make friends overnight but keep at it.

You’ll eventually capture the hearts of your community.

Engagement doesn’t always mean conversation.

Consider suggestion made a moment ago:

Follow your community members and share their content

(through shares, retweets, and repins).

Show your followers that you respect their thoughts and opinions enough to promote their posts

They’ll be more inclined to feel positive about your brand.

To encourage activity among your community members, be consistent but not overbearing.

You want to seem genuine

Patience is a virtue here.

Lay Down the Law


It’s easy for a community to be consumed by negativity.

A few bad comments or trolls can consume your community

Turn the sentiment of the community

Lead happy customers away.

Negativity breeds more negativity

Set the rules

Don’t let negative comments go unchecked.

Just make sure you stay friendly.


Establish the rules

Spell out exactly what is acceptable behavior in your community.

Here’s an example from National Wildlife Federation:

Facebook community guidelines

Provide a behavior guideline.

Include penalties for breaking the established guidelines.

Example, warn that violators could be banned.

Don’t deviate from this guideline

Don’t apply different guidelines for different community members.

What if the rules are broken?


Don’t haul out the ban hammer immediately.

Be gentle and kind to new offenders.

A person may have been having a bad day or simply didn’t know the rules.

Provide a polite warning

Make sure they know what they did wrong.

Reserve banishment for people who break the rules repeatedly despite warnings.

This will make your community better for everyone.


Listen to your community

Your community is made by its members, not you.

Pay attention to issues your members bring to light.

What if it’s negative?

Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist and delete their concern.

Respond with kindness and seek to solve the root of the issue.

Members often go back to retract, edit, or apologize for their initial negativity once their issue is resolved.

If this happens, make sure to acknowledged and thank the person.

This discourages trolls who feed off your reaction.

Getting annoyed or angry encourages trolls

Don’t feed the trolls!

Instead, respond with kindness

They’ll lose steam and look elsewhere to get their kick.

Measure, Test, And Repeat

Like most marketing activities, you need to measure the success of your efforts.

Waiting to test until after you’ve ‘finished’ building your community is risky

Monthly reporting


Create a monthly report that helps you oversee the progress of your KPIs.

Compile data that answers

If something went wrong:

Aim to understand why to avoid the same mistake in the future. (maybe the timing of your content was poor.)

Ask your members what they liked and didn’t like.

Modify your plan of attack accordingly

Before you begin the next cycle of testing.


Don’t confuse a passive audience with a community.

A community will read, watch, listen, participate and share. Its a group of individuals that are invested in your brand.

They can be champions of your success – if they’re properly nurtured.