How to Build an Online Community For Your Side Business
If you ever wondered how to sustain a successful side business, the answer lies in building a community around it.
A supportive and engaged customer base can help you stay connected to your market, ensure profitability and keep you motivated as an entrepreneur.
Fortunately, creating and nurturing a community around your business doesn’t have to be hard or expensive.
You just need to know how to get started.
At UsersWp, we understand how important it is for entrepreneurs to build their own communities around their businesses in order to maximize success.
And in this blog post, we’ll explore the steps and tips necessary for creating a thriving online community around your side business with WordPress.
Let’s get started!
What is an online community?
An online community is a platform where members share common interests and goals.
Generally, it’s made up of people who support each other in achieving their business objectives.
It’s also essential for businesses to have an engaged customer base, as this helps them stay connected to the market, ensure profitability and create brand loyalty.
What can I do with an online community?
Depending on your business goals, it can be anything from a private group sharing fitness program learnings and transformation stories to an open forum where thousands gather for videography tips.
Either way, you can connect meaningfully with your followers through online communities and empower them to:
- Talk about what they like
- Engage with a brand, an instructor, or a community leader
- Having fun learning
- Get things done together
- Give advice and share news
Why build an online community for your side hustle?
- It can spread your brand name like wildfire. With the right strategies, your community can help get your name out there, build a strong reputation, and position you as an expert in your field. Plus, members of the community will be more likely to spread word-of-mouth referrals (whether good or bad) about your business.
- Helps you refine your product or service. An online community arms you with an easy and cost-effective avenue for valuable customer feedback on how to improve your products and services. This will help you stay competitive and give you a better understanding of what kind of solutions your target audience needs.
- You have more loyal customers. 66% of branded communities say that the community has had an impact on customer retention. When you have a place where customers can discuss their experiences and find support & advice, they’re more likely to stick around and become loyal customers. That means a steady stream of income that helps your side business stay afloat.
- Reduces the need for customer support. This is an understated benefit of having an online community. When your customers can help each other out, you don’t have to spend as much time and resources doing customer support yourself.
- It’s simply better for business ($$$). From the powerful word-of-mouth marketing an online community generates to the social proof it organically provides, these trust factors can help your business acquire more leads, customers, and profits. In fact, in the same eBook we sourced earlier from Vanilla Forums,
- 68% of branded communities say that the community has helped create new leads,
- And 55% of branded communities say that the community has contributed to an increase in sales.
Types of online communities: Choose what applies best for your side business
Your online community can be as big or small, private or public as you want it to be. But it’s usually centered around a specific concept or theme.
Here’s a list of some of the most common types of online communities out there:
- Support Communities – A place where people can get help from product experts, customer service reps, or even fellow customers to make the most out of a product or service. For example, Apple has an online support community called the Apple Support Communities.
- Brand Communities – When you create a sense of unity and purpose through your brand, it brings people together to champion an inspiring mission or lifestyle. For example, GymShark (fitness, bodybuilding, and gym life) and Manscaped (men’s hygiene) are two brands that do this on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok.
- Special Interest/Niche Communities – A place for people to congregate and discuss topics of shared interest. If you’re selling a product or service that targets a certain demographic, this is the perfect place for you to build your community. For example, Apple has a r/AppleWatch community for smartwatch lifestyle enthusiasts.
- Hobbyist Community – Similar to special interest communities, hobbyist communities are often created around a specific hobby (e.g. gaming, gardening, photography) and focused on helping members improve their skills.
Think about how your side business plays into any of these types of online communities and start to build from there.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to stick to one type—you can create a blend of several communities to bring in more members.
1. Identify your target audience: Who will fill up this community of yours?
If you already have a side business, then this step isn’t rocket science – since you probably already have an idea of who’s your ideal customer.
Think about what kind of people buy your products or services, and try to brainstorm different target audiences you can appeal to in order to expand your customer base.
Once you’ve identified who these potential community members are, create a persona for them (or personas if there’s more than one).
A persona is basically a representation of your ideal customer or community member – their interests, goals, problems they’re looking to solve, etc.
Ask important questions like:
- What do you want them to do?
- What are their interests and aspirations?
- Where do they hang out online?
- What topics are they most likely to engage in?
- What is the best way to communicate with them?
2. Find your content pillars: What will be discussed in your community?
Content plays a major role in building an engaged and active online community.
Think about what kind of content you can create that will be interesting, valuable, and educational for your target audience.
You’ll want to create content pillars – topics or themes that are related to your business and will help attract new members to the community.
These could range from tutorials, expert Q&As, product reviews, interviews with industry experts/influencers, and more.
If you’re a fitness apparel company, your online community is centered around health and wellness and discusses topics such as proper nutrition, exercises to do at home, how to build muscle, and tips on staying healthy while working out.
The content pillars you can use include interviews with influencers in the fitness industry, nutrition-related topics, video tutorials about exercises, and more.
Remember, the content will be what keeps your community alive so it’s important to create content that is relevant to both your business and audience.
Once you identify the types of content that are popular with your target audience, you can create a content calendar to stay organized and on top of your content creation.
3. Set up your community: Where will people meet?
Now that you know who your target audience is and what kind of content you’ll create for them, it’s time to set up your community.
You’ll need to decide where your community will live – whether it be:
- An online forum – best for specialized topics with a lot of discussions
- Social media groups/pages – best for visually-driven content
- Chat rooms (e.g., discord) and private messaging apps (e.g., UsersWp lets community members send each other messages in a Facebook-like chat on your site) – best for real-time, one-on-one communications
- Comment sections on blog posts – best for community engagement
Each of these platforms offers different features and can attract different kinds of members, so think about which one is the right fit for your community.
Remember, you can leverage more than one platform for the best results.
While social media networks like Instagram and Twitter are great for driving awareness of your community and discussing topics, they lack certain features such as threaded conversations or easy categorization of discussions.
If you’re looking to drive traffic directly to your website and encourage more time spent on it, consider setting up a forum or group native to your site.
In this case, you’ll want a security-focused user profile plugin (designed for WordPress) that can create user accounts to solidify your members’ place in the community and keep conversations organized.
You can manage users easier, control permissions, and create custom fields – like age, gender, or location.
4. Promote your community: How will you spread the word?
At this point, your online community should be set up and ready to go.
But it won’t do you any good if no one knows about it.
The key to a successful community is promotion and outreach.
You’ll need to spread the word about your community so that your target audience knows it exists and how they can become part of it.
Here are the most effective ways to promote your online community:
- Offer exclusive benefits and perks. Whether it’s discounts, special content, early access, or exclusive events, send out email marketing campaigns (e.g., through MailChimp) and post on social media to give people incentives to join and be active members.
- Harness the power of influencers. You can find public figures in your niche on platforms like Collabstr and ask them to shout out your platform on their social media. Or, you can create an account for them on your site and publish content around topics related to your community. UsersWp has a followers feature that lets people follow their favorite creators (who can also carry a verified badge) on your site and keep track of their content.
- Creating SEO content (e.g., blog posts, videos, podcasts) that expands on topics discussed in the community. Many successful businesses ensure regular high-quality production by hiring professional SEO content writers to save time and tap into their expertise.
- Host events, contests, webinars, & workshops: Nothing encourages participation and engagement more than live events. Whether it’s a Q&A with an industry expert, a photo contest, or a virtual networking event, you can use tools like WebinarNinja to host these activities that will get people excited about your community and bring more members on board.
- You can also leverage existing communities related to your business – like forums, subreddits, or Quora threads – to promote your own community and attract new members. Just type in your niche + ‘forum’ or ‘subreddit’ and you should find a few places to plug your community into.
If you want to build a strong online community, the key is to always put your members first.
Provide them with content they’re interested in, respond to their questions and comments, and incentivize them with rewards they can’t resist.
With the right platform and promotion strategy, you can build a vibrant community that supports your business’s growth.
5. Pro tips to keep your community alive: How to foster relationships & keep members engaged
Once you get your community off the ground, you need to make sure it stays alive.
Keeping members engaged and fostering relationships is key to a thriving online community. Here are some tips that can help:
- Put names and faces to the conversations & activities: The best way to encourage more human interconnectivity is by using real names and photos to make everyone more invested in the conversations and activities taking place.
- UsersWp makes it easy for users to add their name and profile photo to your WordPress site. Your community members can then use this profile to leave comments, participate in discussions or groups, follow people, and send friend requests! The best part is that users can sign up quicker with social logins or a simple sign-up form. Here’s what a profile page might look like:
- Reinforce a sense of belonging by encouraging people to share their stories, experiences, or interests in relevant topics. This helps create a positive space where everyone feels included and part of something special. For example, if you’re an eCommerce company selling massage devices, you may want to create a discussion thread where people can share their personal stories of their worst muscle injuries, most rigorous workouts, and tips for staying fit.
- Encourage interaction among members by regularly hosting activities like Q&A sessions, debates, polls, or group challenges. You can actually add your own Facebook-style group straight on your site with the UsersWp plugin to create a dedicated space for these events.
- Be actively involved in the conversations and provide helpful advice when you can. This shows your members that you are a part of the community and that their feedback is valued. Pro tip: Implement a real-time notifications system so your community members are notified when someone responds to their comments or mentions them in a post!
- Offer a wide variety of content to keep things interesting – from blog posts, videos, podcasts, interviews with experts, educational tutorials, interactive challenges, or downloadable content like ebooks.
Don’t forget to measure and analyze your success!
Of course, like all things, it’s important to measure the success of your community-building efforts.
Analyzing key metrics such as sign-ups, active members, engagement rates, and conversions can help you refine your strategy and get the most out of your efforts.
Here are some vitals you’ll want to pay attention to:
- Participation rates: This can include metrics such as the number of people who attend events or activities, the number of people who join online groups or forums, or the number of people who engage with content or discussions.
- Engagement levels: You can track metrics such as the number of comments, likes, or shares on social media posts or the number of replies or views on forum threads to measure the level of engagement within your community.
- Net promoter score (NPS): NPS is a measure of customer loyalty and can be a useful indicator of the strength of your community. You can survey your customers and ask them to rate their likelihood to recommend your business to others on a scale of 0-10.
- Customer satisfaction: You can use surveys or other customer feedback mechanisms to gauge the level of satisfaction among your customers. This can be a useful indicator of the overall health of your community.
- Revenue: Finally, you can track metrics such as sales or revenue over time to measure the financial success of your community-building efforts.
Additionally, UsersWP can give you an overview of all your community profiles through a Members Directory with custom sorting features, which allows you to easily monitor their activity and keep tabs on your community’s growth.
Reel in more members for your online community with UsersWp
Building an online community around your business can help you engage with customers and create a sense of belonging.
Now that you know the steps you need to take to build a thriving community, it’s time to make it happen.
If your side hustle operates on WordPress, give yourself an edge in community-building with UsersWp.
Our market-leading user profile plug-in helps you create and manage a membership system on your site with ease.
It also provides powerful tools to help you customize user profiles and build custom fields to capture additional user data.
So what are you waiting for? Start building your own online community today.