What is the Secret to Building an Online Community That Thrives?

When it comes to online community-building, everyone wants to create a vibrant, engaged group. And yet, so many community owners and managers struggle with groups that aren’t living up to their potential. The secret to building an online community that thrives is to have a clear purpose and easily understood promise for your group.

Sounds simple, right? It is, but building your community around a clear purpose and easy-to-understand promise is not easy. If it were, every group you encounter online would be filled with loyal members who actively participate on a regular basis.

Purpose and promise are non-negotiable cornerstones if you want your group to grow.

This article can be a valuable resource if you:

  • Have a group you feel never really got off the ground.
  • Feel like your group started off strong but fizzled out fast.
  • Like your group and its members, but feel like something is missing.

This article can also help if you’re thinking about starting an online community and want to be sure you’re doing everything you can to support its success as you design and develop it.


What is the Purpose of Your Online Community?

The purpose of your online community is the foundation upon which your group is built. Without a clear purpose for your group, you’ll never establish a solid identity or direction to support your goals. To clarify your purpose, you need to be able to answer the four key questions listed below.

Why does your group exist?

Nobody wakes up at 2 a.m. thinking they need another Facebook™️ group or online community in their life — and even fewer (less than nobody) wake up with a burning desire to create a group they have to manage day to day. Your motivation has to be high to go through the time and effort to start a group.

So what is yours? Why did you create the group? Why are you keeping it going?

Most group owners have a “head” reason or a “heart” reason behind the creation of their online community. Your “head” reason is driven by logic: lead generation, customer service, sales goals, social proof, etc. Your “heart” reason is driven by impact – gathering together like-minded individuals to advance a shared goal or amplify results.

What is YOUR why?

What gap in the market does your group fill?

According to Influencer Marketing Hub, 10 million groups were on Facebook™️ in 2022, with over 1.8 billion active users each month AND over 70 million admins and moderators. That’s just on Facebook™️, which excludes the thousands of communities on Mighty Networks, Circle.so, Slack, HiveBrite, and others.

The competition is stiff and yet more groups are created each day because there is a need somewhere not being filled.

What gap is YOUR GROUP (or potential group) designed to fill?

How will the group benefit you?

Heart-centered business owners tend to be all about the people they serve, which is important.

The world is a better place because heart-centered leaders make it so. But if you can’t clearly describe the benefit YOU get from your group, you will quickly grow weary and resentful. Groups take too much time and energy for them to be all investment and no return.

What benefit(s) will YOU get (or are getting) from your group?

How will the group benefit those who join?

Just like a thriving community can’t be all about its members with no benefit to its owner or leader, a group can’t be all about the leader with no care or concern for the members.

Nobody needs one more community and yet people are constantly looking for new ways to connect. People on Facebook™️ alone regularly participate in an average of 15 groups because each group benefits them in a way the others don’t. It’s up to you to figure out how to do that.

What benefits will members get from YOUR group?


What is the Promise of Your Online Community?

Your group promise is the anchor that connects members to the group, to you as the owner or leaders, and to each other as peers. For most groups, the promise is more internal than the purpose. The group promise creates clear boundaries defining what your group is and is not based on the purpose. This helps you communicate to members what they can expect to give and get in the group. To figure out your group promise, answer these questions:

What does community or support look like in your group?

No matter how generous, energetic, or ambitious you are, there are limits to what you can do for any group you lead. Even high-ticket paid communities are limited by the reality of 24-hour days and human leaders who must take time away to eat, sleep and care for their own needs.

Whether your group is a totally free service, a free component of a revenue-generating business, or a self-contained paid product, you need boundaries. If your group promises community or support, you need to clearly illustrate what that looks like.

Here are just a few examples of community and support offered in free and paid groups:

  • In-person meetups
  • Member directories
  • Online workshops
  • Networking sessions
  • Accountability
  • Q&A sessions
  • Encouragement
  • Product support
  • Customer service
  • 1:1 support via direct messages

Use the list above as a starting point to figure out what your group will and won’t include. In some cases, you might realize that certain features will carry costs while others are easy to provide for free, or at least easy to provide for free at some level. 

What transformation is your group designed to provide?

You can’t help all of the people all of the time, but you can help your perfect people get to where they want to be better than anyone else. That’s why they are YOUR perfect people, and not someone else’s.

Just like your capacity of time and energy, capacity for facilitating transformation is limited by a variety of factors.

If you’re running a free group all by yourself with 1,000 members, the transformation you can offer is going to be very different from a group of the same size where everyone is paying $100 a month (making it possible for you to hire help). Likewise, the transformation a person can experience in a group of 1,000 is different than what could happen if they were part of a smaller group or being served at an individual level.

What expectations are appropriate for members to have for the group?

Managing expectations as a group leader is critical, and expectations go both ways. You have the right to expect certain things from your group members, just like they have a right to expect certain things from you. The key is to be sure you’re aligning your expectations and making them clear. More conflict and drama comes from either unmet or misaligned expectations than just about anything else.

You’d be surprised by what group members will ask for over time. Them asking for it doesn’t mean you have to deliver it, but it’s not fair to get upset with them for asking if you haven’t set the stage for what they can and can’t expect. Here are some expectations to consider for your group:

  • Can members DM you?
  • Can members email you?
  • Are members allowed to publicly criticize you or your decisions in the group?
  • Are members allowed to question you or your decisions in the group?
  • Are members allowed to sell or pitch fellow members in the group, either by public posts or private messages?
  • What is your expectation of community conduct during conflict?
  • How will you resolve conflict in your community?
  • Will you provide customized resources at a member’s request?
  • Will you provide individual coaching in your group?
  • Will you provide any services for your group members?

This list isn’t exhaustive, but should help you brainstorm your own boundaries for your group.



Examples of Online Community Purposes and Promises That Have Paid Off

Jenna Larson started GroupTrack CRM | Supercharge your Social Media Strategy in 2020 to support users of the social-selling solution she co-founded. Because software-as-a-service (SaaS) products can have quite the learning curve, she started hosting free product walkthroughs and tutorials early on to show business owners how GroupTrack can help them manage organic outreach on Facebook and Instagram. Today, almost 3,000 people are in the CRM’s Facebook™️ Group, myself included, and Jenna has created several paid programs teaching her own high-touch strategy and system for finding the right clients online.

Kat Lieu created Subtle Asian Baking on Facebook™️ during the pandemic when her favorite shops were closed. Her group gathers together people who love to share Asian-inspired baking and dessert recipes, and celebrates those making bakery favorites at home. Because the gap she filled was huge, the group now has more than 156,000 members and inspired a book deal for Kat.

Jen Mackinnon of Practical, By Default, created the Working Homeschool Mom Club because she wanted to help women realize that they could work AND homeschool at the same time. As a homeschooling mom who needed to get a job, Jen saw firsthand how lonely it was. Working moms she knew didn’t homeschool, and homeschooling moms she knew didn’t work. She started writing about her experiences until someone asked if she had a community they could join. Today, her free Facebook™️ Group has more than 26,000 members and has been the catalyst for several paid products, programs and a membership.

Creator Kathi Lipp found out her fans were asking churches to host small groups focused on her Clutter Free book and bible study but weren’t signing up. She wondered whether there was something deeper holding them back. Understanding the fear, guilt and shame that overwhelms people who struggle with clutter, Kathi wondered if an online community would feel safer than in-person meetups. The Clutter Free Academy Facebook™️ Group debuted in 2016 and now has close to 15,000 members who listen to Kathi’s free podcast, and buy her books and programs. The group also birthed a successful paid membership community, Clutter Free for Life.

Need Help with Your Community?

Team Kubo specializes in online community design, development and growth. Whether you need help with strategy, training your admin team or day-to-day management of your group, we can help. The first step is to complete our no-cost community health assessment, so we can identify your needs and customize a plan to get the results you desire.

Tonya Kubo

Tonya Kubo

Social Media Consultant

Tonya Kubo is founder of Team Kubo Community Management. She supports experts, entrepreneurs, and enterprises in developing highly engaged online communities so they can grow their groups and get results without feeling frazzled. See the team in action at tonya.link/group.

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