Build an Online Community Following The Why, How and What

You might want to build an online community but don’t know where to begin. Or maybe you have heard about online communities and want to know how it can help your organization. This article follows Simon Sinek‘s “Why, How and What” to help you answers those questions.

Before you build an online community, start with ‘Why‘.

Understanding and being able to explain why you want to build a community is essential. The reasons our clients built their communities are diverse. Let’s list the most important ones we hear:

Before you build an online community, start with ‘Why’
1. you want Connect your customers and learn from them

Probably the most seen type of community is the Customer Community, used by brands and enterprises to stay in close contact with their customers. Customers are taken along into product development or service optimization processes. This doesn’t only give the brand insight in what their customers want, but it also helps to build a better relationship with them. Brands facilitate constant contact between brand enthusiasts and themselves.

The Solar Plaza community

A good example of a Customer Community  is the ‘SolarPlaza Network’. Solarplaza is a pioneering enterprise that, over the course of 10 years and in 25 different countries, has organized over 70 events, focused on connecting professionals and experts in the solar/renewable energy field. They have facilitated knowledge sharing and networking for more than 8,000 professionals worldwide. They are using their customer community platform as a primary digital hub for connecting their members. It helps them strengthens the solar and renewable energy movement.

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2. you want to collect consumer insights to learn what works and what doesn’t

The second most seen community type is the project-based Insights Community. This solution is mostly used by researchers to collect consumer insight data using Diary studies, Online focus groups, IHUT and Customer journeys. Incentivising members using points and badges is an often used tactic to keep people engaged.

A good example of an Insights community is Consuminded, a multi-client platform managed by Branddoctors Dialogue. Community members are asked to respond to questions on how they use certain products. They participate in activities that relate to a wide range of subjects and topics.

The variety of ways in which members can participate keeps them engaged. It is allowing Branddoctors to gather community insights quickly and provide fast turnaround for their own clients.

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3. you want a Private Network so you can co-create with your peers

Third is a “free form” of communities that is on the rise. Many of our clients mix Insights Community and Customer Communities into a Private Social Networks using many different interactive modules & widgets. It allows them to create their own perfect online social network and build and engaging and dynamic online space.

The Learning community

A great example of is Taking College Teaching Seriously (TCTS). Built to explore a revolutionary professional learning experience with a focus on the impact of day-to-day teaching. The community brings educators together so that they can share and discuss their teaching practices. It lets them improve their craft and student outcomes. Educators examine practices and procedures that work well and help each other improve where they can in a supportive, collaborative community.

‘How’ are you going to do this?

Now you know Why you want to build an online community, it’s time to think about How you’re going to do this. Obviously you need a community platform and aside from the technology platform pur-sang you need to decide of the following subjects:

  1. Types of interaction
    The first step is to think about which interactive modules you would like to use. This should always be based on the goals you set in the first step. Do you want your members to start a discussion with each other? Then host a forum. Do you want them to brainstorm about the next product line? Launch a Challenge. Internally you can use a Content Calendar to think ahead about the different types of activities.
  2. Tone of voice
    Do you want to keep it formal, or do you want members to feel like they’re amongst friends? Ofcourse this depends on the subject and your target audience. You might even already use a certain tone-of-voice for your brand. In that case it would be logical to use the same tone-of-voice in your platform. When a brand identity does not apply to your community take a careful look at your target audience. Wat kind of people are they, and how do they wish to be spoken to?
  3. Private, open or hybrid?
    This is an important step to think about before you build an online community.  Based on your target audience, you can should decide if you want to keep your platform open to anyone, keep it private in an invite only platform, or go for an in between solution, where anyone can register.
  4. Incentives
    Another big part of your community, is deciding if you want to use gamification. If you want to motivate people, or incentivise your members for their responses then giving out Points and Badges is a fun way to achieve this.

Now, ‘What’ do you need to achieve your goals?

The final step is the What and this is where CMNTY Platform comes in. When we started working on the platform we wanted it to be an intuitive all-in-one solution for building online communities that inspire interaction. Nowadays it empowers thousands of communities ranging from large brand communities to small communities for “boutique” agencies. We advise you to start a trial to get acquainted with the platform, and meanwhile think about the following:

  1. Feature selection
    CMNTY Platform comes with a lot of features. You might want to use all of them, but you might also just need some. Be sure to check out the comparison list between plans. An easy overview where you can see which feature is added to which package!
  2. Budget
    We’ve built our pricing model with every type of budget in ind. A model with a low entry level, that allows you to build your community with up to 250 members.  As your community grows, your platform can grow along as it will give you more space for members, but also more features and options
  3. Community management team
    Get your colleagues together to talk though how you are going to run the community. We’ve already discussed the tone of voice. Be sure all Community Managers use that same tone of voice. Also, to make sure no comments are missed, we recommend to divide certain activities amongst community managers. In that case it remains clear for members, but also for the community management team, who’s responding to which activity!
  4. Planning + Kick off
    When making plans for your community, don’t forget to pay attention to your internal processes as well. Keep in mind: The more effort you put into your community, the more your members give back. We recommend to do an internal kickoff for your community before you go live and out in the open as well.


Before you build an online community, make sure you start with Why. Are you looking for new business ideas or want to get to know your customers better ? Create a customer community. Is your goal to collect quantifiable research findings then launch a insights community. Need a hybrid solution? Investigate if a private social network is the way to go.

Next determine the kind of functionality you’ll need. Determine Tone of Voice, whether you want your community to be Public or Private and if you want to use incentives. Definitely do not forget to form an internal community management team and reserve budget for internal resources, incentives and software. Make sure the software is flexible enough to match your needs and allows to accommodate any future changes to your community strategy. CMNTY Platform can be configured for many different applications and is built to match your Why, How and What at all times.