Building an online community can be an exciting journey. It gives you the opportunity to cultivate a sense of belonging among members, stir engaging conversations, facilitate invaluable connections, and foster engagement and long-term customer loyalty to your business.
The satisfaction that comes from these things makes all of the work worthwhile—but it’s important to be aware of the challenges that new community owners often deal with.
In this post, we’ll explore the five common obstacles you may encounter while building an online community, and talk about some strategies you can use to overcome them.
Table of contents
- Obstacle 1: Finding the Right Platform
- Obstacle 2: Building an Initial User Base
- Obstacle 3: Encouraging Active Participation
- Obstacle 4: Moderation Challenges
- Obstacle 5: Maintaining User Interest Over Time
- Online Communities Bring Challenges and Rewards
- Own the Land You Build On
Obstacle 1: Finding the Right Platform
Choosing the right platform is a critical first step, whether you’re building a community for your existing membership site, or creating one from scratch. The platform should align with your community’s needs, goals, and the technological comfort level of your audience.
- Variety of options. There are numerous online community platforms available, each with their own set of features, advantages, and disadvantages. The sheer number of options can be overwhelming.
- Different needs. Every community is unique, with its own specific needs and goals. A platform that works well for one community might not work as well for another.
- Technical considerations. Some platforms require more technical knowledge to set up and manage than others. If a community owner is not tech-savvy, they might struggle to evaluate the technical aspects of different platforms.
- Budget constraints. Some platforms might be out of reach for community owners with a tight budget, while others might lack important features in the lower price range.
- Scalability. A platform that works well for a small community might struggle as the community grows. Community owners need to consider not just their current needs, but also their potential future needs.
- Integration with existing tools. Community owners often need to integrate the community platform with other tools they’re already using, such as email marketing software, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, or payment processors. Not all platforms will integrate seamlessly with all tools.
- User experience. The platform needs to be easy and enjoyable for community members to use. If it’s not, members might not engage as much, which can affect the success of the community.
- Long-term commitment. Once a platform is chosen and the community is set up, it can be difficult and disruptive to switch to a different platform. This adds pressure to make the right choice from the start.
With these challenges, it’s crucial for community owners to take the time to thoroughly research and evaluate different platforms before making a decision.
- Define your needs and goals. What are your community’s goals? What features are must-haves, and what are nice-to-haves? This will help you narrow down your options.
- Do your research. Spend time researching different platforms. Look at their features, pricing, and reviews. Try to find case studies or examples of similar communities using the platform.
- Test drive platforms. Many platforms offer free trials. You can take advantage of this and get a hands-on feel for how the platform works and whether it suits your needs.
- Consider scalability. Your community might start small, but it’s important to choose a platform that can scale as your community grows. This means the platform should be able to handle a large user base and increased traffic without compromising performance. For example, Paid Memberships Pro is 100% free and grows along with your community.
- Consult with others. Talk to other community managers or experts in your field. They can provide insights based on their experiences and might be able to recommend platforms that worked well for them.
- Evaluate support and resources. Good customer support can be crucial, especially if you’re not very tech-savvy. Also, check if the platform provides resources like tutorials, guides, and community forums to help you navigate and resolve any issues.
- Check integration capabilities. If you’re using other tools or systems (like email marketing software, a CRM, or specific payment gateways), make sure the platform you choose can integrate smoothly with them.
- Prioritize user experience. The platform should not only be easy for you to manage but also intuitive and engaging for your community members. A platform that offers a great user experience can help boost member engagement and retention.
Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to choosing a community platform. It’s about finding the platform that best fits your community’s unique needs and goals. Be patient, do your due diligence, and don’t be afraid to switch platforms if your first choice doesn’t work out.
In our post How to Choose the Right Online Community Platform for Your Business we talk about how your community’s purpose will guide you in choosing a primary channel. We also cover the different types of platforms you might consider, and the pros and cons of each of them.
Obstacle 2: Building an Initial User Base
Attracting the initial members can be a daunting task. It often involves leveraging existing networks, investing in targeted advertising, or offering incentives for early membership.
- Visibility. When you’re just starting out building an online community, you likely won’t have much visibility yet. It can be difficult to attract members when people don’t know your community exists.
- Value proposition. Convincing people to join a new community can be tough. You need to clearly communicate the value of joining your community, which can be challenging, especially when the community is still empty or small.
- Trust building. People are more likely to join and participate in communities where they see trustworthy information and interactions. Building this trust takes time.
- Critical mass. Online communities typically need to reach a certain size, often referred to as a ‘critical mass,’ to become self-sustaining. Before reaching this point, it can be challenging to keep conversations going and to provide enough value to attract and retain members.
- Competition. There are countless online communities out there. Potential members might already be part of other communities that meet their needs, making it harder to convince them to join yours.
- Engagement. Even if people join your community, getting them to actively participate can be another hurdle. A community with lots of members but little engagement can struggle to grow and thrive.
- Patience and persistence. Building an online community doesn’t happen overnight. It can be disheartening if growth is slow, and it’s easy to get impatient.
- Define your community’s purpose. Be clear about who your community is for and what value it provides. This will help attract members who are interested in what your community offers and will contribute meaningfully to it.
- Leverage existing networks. Start by inviting people from your existing networks who might be interested in your community. This could include personal contacts, professional connections, or followers on social media.
- Collaborate with influencers. Partner with influencers or respected figures in your niche who can endorse your community and help attract members.
- Create quality content. Regularly create and share high-quality content that is valuable to your target audience. This can attract members to your community and encourage them to participate.
- Encourage engagement. Encourage new members to introduce themselves, ask questions, and participate in discussions. This can help create a welcoming environment and foster a sense of community.
- Use social media and SEO. Promote your community on social media, and optimize your content for search engines to increase your community’s visibility.
- Host events. Hosting events, like webinars or Q&A sessions, can attract new members and provide an initial boost in engagement.
- Provide incentives. Offer incentives for joining and participating in the community. This could include access to exclusive content, discounts on products or services, or recognition for top contributors.
- Be patient and persistent. Building an online community takes time. Keep refining your strategies based on what works and what doesn’t, and be patient as your community gradually grows.
Remember, the goal is not just to attract members, but to build an engaged, vibrant community. Regardless of the marketing strategies you use, quality matters more than quantity.
Focus on attracting individuals who are genuinely interested in your cause or product, and who are likely to contribute positively to the community.
For more ideas on how to get more members into your online community, check out the video below.
Video: 5 Tips for Growing a Membership Site
Obstacle 3: Encouraging Active Participation
A successful online community is one where members are actively participating, not just passively consuming content. But how do you get people to actually start interacting with your site and each other?
- Turning lurkers into active participants. Many members of online communities tend to be lurkers—they consume content but do not actively participate. Transforming these members into active participants can be challenging.
- Lack of engagement in general. Sometimes members join a community but don’t engage in discussions or activities, possibly due to a lack of interest, time, or understanding of how to participate. Other reasons include:
- Fear of negative feedback. Some members may hesitate to participate due to fear of negative feedback or criticism from other members.
- Overwhelming information. If there’s too much content or too many discussions happening at once, members may feel overwhelmed and decide not to participate.
- Lack of personal connection. Members might not feel a personal connection to the community, making them less likely to participate actively.
- Create an environment where all members feel welcomed and valued. Encourage new members to introduce themselves, and ensure community guidelines promote respect and inclusivity.
- Encourage members to make small contributions, like liking a post or leaving a short comment. These small actions can lead to more substantial participation over time.
- Use gamification, such as badges, points, or leaderboards, to motivate members to participate. Recognize and reward active participation to encourage more of it.
- Regularly highlight quality contributions from members. This not only rewards active participants but also shows other members the type of content and interaction that’s valued in the community.
- Regularly introduce interesting topics for discussion and create opportunities for members to connect with each other. This could include Q&As, virtual meetups, or collaborative projects.
- Regularly ask for feedback from your members. This can provide valuable insights into what they’re interested in and what barriers to participation they might be facing.
- Make sure members understand how to participate in the community. Providing guides on how to post, comment, or use any community-specific features will make things clearer for members (and boost their confidence when it comes to engagement).
Remember: It takes time to build an online community that is truly engaged. Be patient, keep experimenting with different strategies, and pay close attention to what works and what doesn’t for your specific community.
You can refer to our post Extraordinary Strategies to Manage Membership Engagement to learn more about how to keep your members engaged.
Obstacle 4: Moderation Challenges
Moderation is essential to maintain a positive and respectful environment within your community. Moderators are tasked with enforcing community rules, dealing with disruptive members, and often, mediating conflicts.
This role can be demanding and requires tact, patience, and understanding, as well as good communication and conflict resolution skills. It’s easy to forget about this element of building an online community, so let’s examine some of the challenges.
- Enforcing guidelines. Ensuring all community members adhere to the community guidelines can be challenging, especially in large or very active communities.
- Dealing with negative behavior. Negative behavior like trolling and harassment can have a serious impact on your community (and can be difficult to manage).
- Staying neutral. Maintaining neutrality when dealing with disputes or contentious issues can be challenging, especially when the moderator has personal opinions on the matter.
- Handling complaints and criticism. Moderators often have to deal with complaints or criticism, either about their moderation decisions or about issues within the community.
- Avoiding burnout. Moderating a community can be a demanding and stressful job, especially if dealing with negativity or conflict. This can lead to burnout if not managed well.
- Set clear guidelines. Before you can enforce rules, you need to have them. Create clear, concise community guidelines outlining what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. Make sure these rules are easily accessible to all community members.
- Be consistent. Apply the rules consistently to all members. Inconsistent moderation can lead to accusations of favoritism or bias, which can undermine trust in the moderation team.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for problems to escalate. If you see a potentially troublesome situation developing, step in early.
- Foster a positive environment. Encourage positive interactions and discussions. Highlight good behavior and valuable contributions to set a positive tone for the community.
- Stay neutral. As a moderator, you should remain impartial, especially when resolving disputes. Your role is to uphold the community rules, not to take sides in disagreements.
- Communicate effectively. When you need to enforce rules, communicate clearly and respectfully. If you need to remove a post or issue a warning, let the member know why.
- Be transparent. If significant changes are being made, like updates to the rules or moderation policies, make sure to communicate these changes to the community.
- Promote engagement. Encourage members to participate in discussions, share their thoughts, and provide feedback. This not only keeps the community active but also makes members feel valued and heard.
- Learn and adapt. Keep learning and improving. Listen to feedback from community members and be willing to make changes to your approach if necessary.
- Take care of yourself. Moderating can be stressful. Make sure to take breaks, avoid engaging with trolls, and seek support from other moderators or community managers when needed.
Remember, every community is different, so what works for one might not work for another.
Run Your Online Community with WordPress and PMPro
Paid Memberships Pro is the most robust membership plugin to sell access to your online community on WordPress.
We always say, “Own the land your business is built on,” and with an online community, this could not be more relevant. With some other hosted solutions, you don’t have the same ownership.
Bring together like minds and niche groups of people while earning a reliable income through a fully customizable online business. With open source, free tools like WordPress and PMPro, you can build and grow an online community that you control.
Obstacle 5: Maintaining User Interest Over Time
Keeping content and discussions fresh and engaging can be challenging, especially as the community grows.
- Creating new and engaging content. Coming up with fresh, relevant, and engaging content on a regular basis can be demanding and time-consuming.
- Staying relevant. As time passes, the community’s focus or the interests of its members may shift, making it a challenge to stay relevant and engaging.
- Competing with other communities. There’s a lot of competition for attention on the internet, and it can be tough to keep members engaged with your community when they have so many other options.
- Avoiding repetition. Over time, discussions can start to feel repetitive, which may disengage long-term community members.
- Managing member turnover. Over time, some members will inevitably leave the community, and attracting new members who are as engaged as those who left can be difficult.
- Regularly introduce new topics. This can keep discussions fresh and encourage members to engage.
- Ask for member input. Find out what topics or activities your community members are interested in. This not only ensures your content stays relevant, but also makes members feel valued and heard.
- Foster a unique community culture. This can help your community stand out from others and create a sense of belonging that keeps members coming back.
- Encourage user-generated content (UGC). This can take some of the pressure off you to create new content, and also gives members a sense of ownership and engagement in the community.
- Implement a retention strategy. This could include recognizing long-term members, offering exclusive content or benefits, or regularly checking in with members to ensure they’re still finding value in the community. We wrote a post that talks all about how to quiz and survey your members and why you should.
- Regularly review and update your community strategy. As your community grows and evolves, the strategy that worked in the past might not be as effective. Regular reviews can help you adapt and stay relevant.
We have a variety of articles and videos centered around creating membership content that keeps members interested, including topics like repurposing content, dripping content over time, and more:
Online Communities Bring Challenges and Rewards
While the challenges that you may experience when starting out with your online community are numerous, the solutions mentioned in this post should help you overcome them. So, don’t let these common obstacles deter you from bringing your online community to life!
Remember: The journey of building an online community is a marathon, not a sprint. So, keep learning, keep iterating, and keep connecting.
Own the Land You Build On
Are you ready to build and grow an online community that you completely control?
With Paid Memberships Pro, you can sell free and paid subscriptions to your community, benefit from a wide variety of Add Ons and integrations specifically designed for community websites.
We know that a WordPress site has tons of moving parts. Choosing the right plugins, themes, hosting, third party services, design assets, and more can feel overwhelming.
Paid Memberships Pro is the most robust membership plugin to sell access to your online community on WordPress. Learn exactly what you’ll get — the plugins, the support, and the training — when you run your online community with Paid Memberships Pro.