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What are the Indicators of a Successful Online Community?

While large, engaged, and even rapidly growing communities can look (and even be) successful, none of those measures necessarily indicate a successful or healthy community.

While large, engaged, and even rapidly growing communities can look (and even be) successful, none of those measures necessarily indicate a successful or healthy community. A successful community, above all else, needs a strong foundation that can support the community through its many iterations and evolutions.

Community foundations are made up of five key elements: 

  1. Vision and Values
  2. Goals
  3. Personas (Understanding who you serve) 
  4. Purpose Statement
  5. Leadership

Without these foundational elements in place, it is possible that your community may be successful for a time. It might even grow rapidly or drive lots of activity. But without each of these pieces, all of that success will be built on a house of cards—fragile and prone to falling apart.

Let’s dive into each element and discuss what you need to create a community for your organization that yields long-term positive outcomes.

Foundational Elements

  1. Vision and Values

Communities that stand for everything stand for … well, nothing. Articulating your community’s vision and values is articulating what sets your community apart from everything else out there. A vision, simply put, answers the question: How will the world look different if our community is successful? And values are the ideals by which you operate and make decisions for your community.

Want to define your vision or mission for your community? Check out this guide.

Want to dive even deeper into your specific community values? This guide will help you.

  1. Goals 

If your community’s goals are unclear, you are likely to create more confusion than connection. To best support your community and internal team, goals should be clearly defined at the outset. But better late than never!

Set your KPIs now or at least define the specific reason you are investing in your community. Check out this blog to dive deeper.

  1. Personas (Understanding who you serve)

One of the most common problems I see in communities I advise is a lack of deep insights about members. Creating personas—even simple ones—is essential to delineating and communicating who you serve, even to those who may not interact with your community on a regular basis. You can get more into the nitty-gritty of personas here and quickly create your own.

  1. Purpose Statement 

Not to be confused with a vision or mission statement, a purpose statement outlines how you strategically plan to accomplish your vision or mission.

To write it, your mission or vision must first be clear. The purpose statement then takes these ideas a step further, helping you to put your mission or vision into operation.

Need to define your purpose statement? Try this guide.

  1. Leadership

It matters who leads your community. And having multiple, unclear leadership roles within the community only leads to confusion and redundancy.

If you don’t already have clarity about who leads your community, try to articulate what skills and commitment you need; begin to decide if now is the right time to bring on a full-time hire or if you’d be better off delegating in-house or doing the work yourself.

Check out this blog for tips on finding a leader for your brand community.

It’s important to cement these foundations, even if you are years into your journey. While your community may look successful from the outside, you are risking community collapse without these foundational elements. Community building is a constantly evolving, iterating process, and these foundations will help you navigate the many inevitable ups and downs on your path without sacrificing your integrity.

Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones is a community leader, entrepreneur, and community management consultant who has been involved with online community leadership since the early 2000s. As the founder of Gather Community Consulting, she consults with brands to build and optimize communities around the world.