3 Things to Consider Before Starting an Online Community

Our recent post, “3 Reasons You Should Start an Online Community” hopefully got you fired up and ready to start one. But wait before you do because there is a must read, Mercer’s “Three Things to Consider Before Starting an Online Community.” Mercer Smith-Looper, a current support superstar at Trello, was one of the main pioneers of Wistia’s wildly successful online community. While at Wistia, Mercer helped with the launch and moderation of the community and has loads of experience on how to make a successful community happen. Read on to glean some of her invaluable wisdom.


Online communities are burgeoning nowadays. It feels like you can’t throw a stone without hitting several brand new options for talking about your favorite hobbies or professional interests. That being said, how many of these communities are actually thriving? A community that exists just for the sake of its existence is beneficial to neither the company nor the consumer. Instead of just making a community and letting it take on a life of its own, considering a few key facts before its creation can help with adoption rate and involvement right from the get go.

Here are three things to consider before you even start conceptualizing your community.

Who do you want to serve?

Is the community meant to serve long-time users of your product or service, or draw in new interest? Will the conversation skew to the advanced side, or also be good for people just looking to dip their toes in the water. Understanding who your ideal user is will allow you to design the best experience to draw them in and get them involved. You may be thinking Well, what if designing an experience for one set of customers alienates the others? The fact of the matter is that this is a very likely occurrence, but isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It is unlikely that you’ll be able to design an experience that will make all users comfortable, just like that old saying goes: it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Define who your core audience is going to be and build your community towards that. Despite limiting the number of people that will likely continue to engage with your community after their initial sign up, having a key audience in mind will increase engagement for those who do keep coming back.

Do you already have an active conversation going?

Do you already have a community that is actively going on elsewhere? For example, do you have a defined and active company hashtag on Twitter, or is your Facebook page alive with people talking to each other? If so: awesome; it sounds like a community would be a good fit for your user base. If not: why not? Have you actively tried to encourage interaction in those spaces without any real success? If people aren’t engaging with you already, you should first figure out why before embarking on building a community.

One of the largest aspects of a successful community is having people who are already keen to engage, you don’t want to have to put effort into building the space and then also trying to drag people to populate it. Instead, use a pre-built space (like Twitter, or other social media sites), and start to build community there to see if there’s a need for it before putting in effort and building your own.

What is your goal?

Having a community is hip! Everyone is doing it. But, is that your only reason for wanting one? What is the end goal of building a community for your company? The best way to figure this out is to first define what it is that you would achieve with the community in an ideal world. For example: are you trying to drive sign ups for an event, or glean insights for your product team? Knowing these right off the bat can help you build certain features and analytics into the community ahead of time, and determine whether the community is a success. Contrary to popular belief, a community is not successful just because people are using it—unless that’s what you were going for!

Define your metrics and set goals. Do you want to have 75% engagement for first time users, or is there a certain point in the sign up flow that you feel is absolutely integral to the experience? Know these things before you start doing anything with community, and it will help you in the long run: both by making the community even better, and helping you determine what might have missed the mark.

Communities are amazing tools for engaging with customers and driving behavior, but they are only as effective as you make them. Using the three tips above, you can start to outline the most important aspects of your community and make sure that your customers have a great experience from the get go and keep on coming back for more.