How to Create an Online Community

Many authors have grown their reach by creating vibrant online communities. Author John Green has found great success on YouTube with his popular Vlogbrothers channel. Neil Gaiman has well over a million Twitter followers. Author Orson Scott Card has his popular Hatrack forum and author Verla Kay has “Blue Board.” Many authors leverage an online community to get the word out about their books.

The major platforms authors use include social media sites such as Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook, and various types of blogs or websites with Blogspot, Wordpress, and Tumblr. All of these are fairly simple to use and are great places to start growing your online communities.

An online community can be a powerful force behind an author’s books. It’s what connects readers to you, your book, and your readers, and hopefully what keeps them coming back. So how do you create this irresistible community?

Choose a platform

Before anything else, you need to choose a platform to host your community. Most authors choose one main approach and then link into all the other major platforms. This makes it much easier to keep track of what you’re doing and avoid overwhelm, especially if social media and online communities are new to you. If you’re starting from scratch, it may be best to start with a platform that is already filled with people that fit within your target audience. That way, you can draw them in on a platform they are already familiar with rather than trying to drive them to your own website or blog.

Be aware that no matter which platform you choose, you must be unique to stand out. Aimless tweets, Facebooking, and blogging are not necessarily going to attract an audience. Especially in today’s crowded marketplace, it can be tough to come up with interesting and unique ways to engage with people. But don’t worry: everyone has to start somewhere. As long as you focus on your readers, have clear objectives, and don’t give up, your online community will begin to grow.

Make it personal, valuable, and welcoming

Once you’ve chosen a platform and figured out what makes you unique, it’s time to think about what type of content you will post. Ideally, your community will be full of vibrant conversation and insight, however, this won’t likely occur immediately. At first, you will likely have to facilitate conversation and drive interest that won’t immediately receive much return.

Keep in mind: the best online communities offer meaningful content to participants. No matter what, you must make your community valuable, personal, and welcoming. Make sure you have a picture, share things about yourself, and remain authentic with your audience. All of your posts to this online community must have a voice and focus that your participants can trust.

Make sure to welcome all newcomers to your community and avoid any hard-sell statements that turn readers off. If they enjoy you and your community, you don’t need to sell to them. They’ll want to buy your book anyway. Encourage engagement and foster conversation between the group members. Comment on as many posts as makes sense, but don’t always jump in first. Allow members to converse, too. Remember: this community is not all about you. It’s about bringing people together under a common interest that may just so happen to like your book.

Reward engagement

Recognizing active individuals is also important for building a strong online community. Take time to highlight your most influential members and make them feel appreciated for being active. Members—and fans—like to be recognized. Not to mention, they set a good example for others to engage, as well.

You can also create some community exclusiveness by offering premium content available to members based on activity or other means. Often authors will have crowd-funding campaigns or sponsorships that give premium content to readers who donate. You can also host giveaways to reward members who comment on a certain post or encourage other members to join. All of this will help your community continue to grow, as well as your reader base!

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