Online community management best practices and checklist

Dive into this article on online community management best practice and discover how to build a vibrant, engaged community that supports your organizational goals.

  • Whether you’re just starting out or looking to boost your existing community, these handy tips will help you enhance engagement, foster quality relationships, and drive impact.
  • Plus, grab our free checklist to help you hit the ground running! This checklist provides a structured framework to use as a starting point for evaluating your community management practices.
  • Use this checklist to identify your online community management strengths and areas for improvement—and keep scrolling for the best practices!

Download free checklist

What is online community management?

Online community management involves building, nurturing, and facilitating engagement within a digital setting. Sometimes online communities are unaffiliated with an organization, but more often than not, they are established and nurtured by an organization to support a specific goal such as generating leads, increasing sales, or building loyalty.

A critical component of community management is ensuring consistent strategic alignment between the activities and goal(s) of the online community and the goal(s) of the organization. This involves regularly communicating with stakeholders to understand organizational priorities and finding ways for the community to contribute to those priorities—this could be through gathering customer insights, enhancing member experience, or driving volunteer recruitment.

By demonstrating the community’s value to the organization, the community manager can secure resources, support, and buy-in from leadership to enhance the community’s impact and sustainability.

The role also typically includes responsibilities such as:

Types of online community management

Online community management encompasses various approaches and strategies tailored to different communities’ specific needs and goals. At Hivebrite, we categorize communities into the following categories:

Commercial communities

Commercial communities’ fundamental objective is to generate income for their owners, shareholders, and investors. This can be done in a variety of ways:

  • Customer engagement and loyalty — A community focused on driving engagement and loyalty would typically concentrate on strengthening brand presence, showcasing products and services, and building meaningful relationships.
  • Lead generation and sales conversion — Communities built for lead generation and sales conversion tend to share engaging content and testimonials to educate potential customers and drive informed business decisions.
  • Marketing insights and innovation — Communities that want to drive insights and innovation focus on engaging customers and gathering feedback. This could include ideation sessions and co-creation initiatives.

Non-profit communities

Non-profit communities’ key objective is to focus on social causes and make a positive impact. This can be done in several ways:

  • Volunteer engagement and recruitment — Communities that prioritize engaging and recruiting volunteers focus on providing meaningful opportunities for involvement with the non-profit’s cause. They aim to harness volunteers’ skills and dedication to extend the non-profit’s reach and impact.
  • Donor engagement and fundraising — Communities designed to drive donor engagement and funding concentrate on building relationships with donors and expressing gratitude for their support. Community managers foster trust and loyalty through effective communication and stewardship.
  • Member empowerment and representation — Communities that advocate for social change and influence policy decisions aim to mobilize supporters, raise awareness, and amplify voices.

Collective and association communities

The key objective of collective and association communities is to cater to members’ needs and interests. A community can do this through:

  • Enhanced member experience — The online community provides a platform for members to connect, collaborate, and access valuable resources.
  • Expertise sharing and connection — The online community offers a centralized hub for members to exchange ideas, share best practices and insights.
  • Empowering and representing members — The online community serves as a forum for members to discuss critical issues, mobilize support, and coordinate advocacy efforts.

Education communities

Education communities’ key objective is to identify and serve the needs of alumni, students, and external stakeholders. This can be done through:

  • Alumni engagement and fundraising — The online community allows alumni to stay connected with their alma mater, participate in mentorship programs, and contribute financially to scholarships, research, and campus improvements.
  • Student success and retention — The online community facilitates peer-to-peer support, academic collaborations, and campus engagement.
  • Career development and placement — The online community connects students with alumni and employers, facilitates internship and job postings, and fosters professional development through industry-specific groups and discussions.

Online community management best practices

1. Be authentic

You can be authentic as a community manager by openly sharing your experiences while genuinely engaging with members to build trust and rapport within the community.

Have the courage to be vulnerable and share your own challenges and failures within the community. Being vulnerable fosters trust, empathy, and deeper connections as it allows for authentic and meaningful exchanges that promote mutual understanding and support.

2. Connect on a human level

Strive to establish personal connections with members to understand their individual needs, concerns, and aspirations. This involves actively engaging in conversations and offering personalized support when needed.

3. Lead by example

Embody the behaviors and values you wish to see reflected in the community. Follow your community guidelines to the letter, actively participate in discussions, promptly reply to queries, and consistently demonstrate respect towards your members.

4. Show appreciation for your members

Recognizing and appreciating the contributions of community members fosters a sense of belonging and encourages continued engagement. This can be done through public acknowledgments, rewards, or personalized messages of gratitude.

5. Identify your community champions

Champions are enthusiastic and engaged members who actively promote and support the community’s goals. Identify and nurture your champions and leverage their influence to drive positive engagement and growth within your community. You could invite champions to participate in special projects or initiatives, empowering them to take on leadership roles within the community.

6. Communicate the value of the community to your organization

Clearly demonstrate your community’s impact on your organization to secure ongoing support and resources for community initiatives.

Showcase tangible outcomes based on your community’s and organization’s goals—decide the best metrics for tracking your community’s success with our spreadsheet!

7. Encourage participation and connections

Create opportunities for members to contribute ideas, share expertise, and collaborate. Organize regular discussion topics, challenges, or events to stimulate interaction and participation among members.

Consider creating specialized groups within the community based on criteria such as interest or maturity to offer spaces for more targeted exchanges.

8. Set clear guidelines

Remember that for your community to achieve its goals, your members need to feel safe and supported.

Community guidelines explain how members should interact with each other, what is allowed, what isn’t, and the consequences for breaching the rules. Guidelines help safeguard your members while encouraging the culture you want to create within your community.

What your guidelines cover will depend on your type of community. For example, consider a dedicated terms and conditions page if your community shares sensitive documents. However, any community should create rules around the following:

  • Hate speech, harassment, bullying, discrimination or other targeted attacks
  • Spam or self-promotion
  • Privacy and sharing of personal information (sometimes referred to as doxing)
  • Illegal activity
  • Intellectual property protection
  • Unauthorized use of content

Get our guide on creating community guidelines with examples and a free template here.

9. Create an inclusive environment

In communities where diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are prioritized, members from diverse backgrounds feel valued, respected, and represented. Everyone can belong, authentically contribute, and flourish.

Some starting points for evaluating your community’s DEI include:

  • Content analysis — Review the content shared within the community to ensure it represents diverse perspectives. This might involve analyzing the topics discussed, the authors of posts, and the portrayal of different groups in multimedia content.
  • Accessibility check — Conduct an accessibility audit of the online community platform to ensure it meets WCAG standards. This could involve checking for features like alt text for images, keyboard navigation options, and compatibility with screen readers.
  • Community guidelines review — Review and update community guidelines to explicitly prohibit discrimination and harassment based on factors like race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. Ensure moderation policies are in place to address violations promptly and fairly.
  • Engagement tracking — Track engagement metrics by demographic groups to identify any disparities in participation rates or interactions. This data can help pinpoint areas where certain groups may feel marginalized or underrepresented.
  • Feedback mechanisms — Implement regular feedback surveys specifically asking about inclusivity and diversity within the community. Additionally, anonymous channels should be provided for members to report discrimination or exclusion.

Download our guide for tips and expert advice on how to build an inclusive community.

10. Test and grow

Community management is an iterative process, and it’s essential to evaluate and evolve strategies based on feedback and data continuously. Be open to experimentation, testing new approaches, and learning from both successes and failures to drive continuous improvement.

Try conducting surveys or focus groups to gather feedback from members about their experiences and preferences, using this information to refine community initiatives and engagement strategies over time.