What is a User Community and How Can Your Org Build One?

From associations with multiple branches across the country to individual creators and one-person teams, organizations offer their audience a variety of products and services. However, it’s a mistake to think of this as only a one-way relationship. While your audience consumes your organization’s services and products, they can also participate further in your organization as a community and may even influence your offerings. 

When given the tools to do so, passionate consumers can form a user community around your organization. User communities are groups forged around specific products, brands, organizations, and other interests for the purpose of holding discussions, helping one another, and sometimes even offering transformative ideas about their subject of interest. 

An active user community can be beneficial both to consumers interested in an organization and the organization itself, often at very little cost. To help your organization create and leverage its own user community, this guide will first answer a few essential questions about these groups, and then explore strategies for effectively building and engaging with a user community

At TagFi, our team has experience helping organizations of all sizes forge and grow their communities. We understand the importance of cultivating a thriving user community and give organizations the tools they need to empower their users. The strategies in this guide focus on teaching organizations how to make the most of these tools while being conscious of practical considerations, such as limited resources.

Build a user community around your organization with TagFi.
User Community FAQ

User Community FAQ

Due to the sheer variety of potential organizations and products that user communities can form around, no two groups will be exactly the same. Fortunately, while this diversity in community experiences can lead to many questions, there are answers that will apply to most user communities. 

What is a user community?

What is a user community?

A user community is essentially a group of people who gather together over a mutual interest in an organization. These discussions usually involve users exchanging their thoughts and opinions on the organization, sharing their insights, and assisting other users by answering their questions or helping troubleshoot relevant problems. 

In some cases, these discussions can even take on a transformative effect as users offer feedback, solutions, or even develop ideas that expand on an organization’s current products or offerings. 

The level of oversight in these groups will vary, but most user communities have a relatively high degree of freedom to hold discussions at the community’s discretion. 

Why are user communities important? 

Why are user communities important? 

User communities provide an organization with loyal support, giving products and services additional longevity. When consumers are invested in ongoing community discussions, they’ll continue to support your organization, even when you aren’t continually releasing new content. 

User communities are able to cultivate this high level of loyalty and engagement through: 

  • Marketing. An active user community can easily become a source of free marketing for your organization. Users will continually keep each other invested by discussing your latest offerings. Additionally, many passionate members of your audience will reference experiences they’ve had either with your organization directly or with your greater community in other settings, which can potentially lead to new audiences discovering your organization. 
  • Internal community support. For most organizations, there are only so many questions that can be answered on your website’s FAQ. With a dedicated user community, your audience can assist one another and answer both basic and highly specific questions. This support can vary from new members asking pre-existing users what webinars they would recommend watching first to getting advice about what to wear or bring to an in-person event. 
  • Innovation. As mentioned, many user communities often go a step above merely discussing what your organization has already produced and consider ways they can contribute or build onto your current offerings. This can be as simple as providing feedback they’d like to see incorporated into new content or a more complex collaborative effort as users design their own content in response to your organization’s. 

User-generated discussions and content helps keep your members engaged long-term. Even the most hands-on organizations are limited in their ability to answer every member’s questions and continually create new content. As user communities start their discussions among members, often with little prompting from your organization, they can essentially create an infinite amount of content as users discuss unique ideas and problems amongst each other. 

Are there any trade-offs to supporting a user community?

Are there any trade-offs to supporting a user community?

While user communities come with many benefits that make supporting them well worth the effort, there are a few trade-offs and potential pitfalls to consider. Specifically, due to their nature of relying on users rather than your organization to facilitate discussions and content, user communities come with an inherent lack of control. 

By definition, user-generated content will rarely be created with your organization’s exact quality standards in mind and may not represent your brand in the exact ways you would prefer. While these discussions and their content are not strictly wrong or incorrect, they may not align with your intended vision. Organizations can get around this issue by implementing community guidelines that provide conflict resolution tools without stifling users’ freedom or creativity. 

Additionally, keep in mind that user communities tend to be composed primarily of enthusiasts. These dedicated fans of your organization are some of your strongest supporters, but they are usually also a vocal minority, and their wants and desires may not actually reflect those of your entire audience. This means that while you can learn a lot about your audience by paying attention to your community’s discussions, you should also keep an eye on other sources of information about your consumers to ensure everyone, not just the loudest group, is being accounted for.

How can you create a user community?

How can you create a user community?

User communities are often forged organically by dedicated fans interested in connecting with similarly passionate individuals. However, your organization can help form, maintain, and grow these communities with a few strategies:

  • Providing resources for the community. User communities need platforms and communication tools that can host community discussions. If an organization does not provide these resources, user communities may form on third-party social media sites.  By providing these through your organization—such as forums on your website—you can directly interface with your community and provide the resources they need when they need them. 
  • Encouraging staff participation. While most conversations in your community will be generated by individual members, you can jump-start discussions by encouraging your staff to participate. This hands-on approach can make your community more lively and also show members that your organization is highly invested in making your community an engaging, dynamic place. 
  • Creating additional incentives to participate. As mentioned, many individuals join user communities due to their personal passion and interests. Your organization can help spark this interest or encourage more casual members to participate in community discussions by creating incentives. These can include contests, tangible rewards, or even purely aesthetic prizes such as virtual badges. 

Your user community will need different levels of hands-on support depending on your organization. For example, a new organization will likely need to take active steps to establish a community and spend a significant amount of resources encouraging members to join. By contrast, an organization that has been operating for several years will likely already have at least a semi-active user community and may focus more on regularly creating new content to support ongoing discussions. 

Engaging Your User Community: 4 Strategies

Engaging Your User Community: 4 Strategies 

Engaging with your user community requires careful observation to understand their unique needs and values. While every community has their own preferences, there are several strategies that most organizations can find success with when they interact with and leverage their communities. 

There are several strategies for engaging with your user community.
Provide your user community with two-way communication tools.

1. Provide two-way communication tools. 

One-way feedback systems, such as asking users to complete surveys or other feedback forms, allow organizations to collect their audiences’ opinions on specific offerings. However, this type of limited communication doesn’t allow users to interact with one another, limiting the potential of a user community. 

Group communications and interactions can lead to a more active, dynamic user community.

When your organization provides two-way communication options, groups can gather together and start building a community. Here are a few ways you can help facilitate communication between your members:

  • Custom social network. Most social media sites are solely communication tools and offer very little content for users to engage with, instead relying on user communities to generate content. Your organization can create your own custom social network to provide users with a place to hold discussions while also keeping them within your organization’s ecosystem. TagFi’s community engagement platform does just this. It encourages interaction, community discussions, and user-generated content in your own custom-branded social network.
  • Events. Events are opportunities to purposefully bring your community together to socialize and participate in activities that can also be discussed later. In-person, virtual, and hybrid events all offer opportunities for social interaction, whether through face-to-face communication or conversations in a live-stream chat. 
  • Group-forming tools. Your community has shared interests, but they are not one giant monolithic group. Empower members to make connections and seek out others with similar interests with group-forming tools. This allows members to create groups dedicated to specific interests, projects, topics, events, and more, putting users in touch with people who want to chat about the same things they do.  

Online communication channels will require leveraging the right community software for your organization. While it can be tempting to just rely on social media, building out these communication channels on your own website will give you greater control over your community’s experience, allow you to create your own community guidelines, and respond to community requests and concerns quickly. 

You can also avoid the costs of hiring a web developer by using online community software with pre-built templates and tools that are readily available right out of the box. A solution like TagFi’s community engagement software can act as your new standalone website, providing added flexibility, total content control, and powerful revenue generating potential for your organization.

Encourage your user community's innovation and creativity.

2. Encourage innovation. 

User communities thrive due to the passion and creativity of their members. Plus, innovative communities can inspire your organization with ways to improve your current offerings or to create new offerings. You can help fuel this innovative spirit in your members by:

  • Encouraging conversation among users. Communities are collaborative, and the best projects and most comprehensive feedback usually comes from many users working together. You can help spark these conversations by giving users the tools to reach out to one another, creating content meant to start discussions, and generally encouraging members to be friendly and welcoming to one another. 
  • Creating new content to engage with. Conversations in your community will be user-generated, but users will need content to continue engaging with and discussing. Release new content on a routine basis to keep conversations active, and pay attention to your community’s responses to your content to determine what results in the highest engagement rates. 
  • Providing resources. To encourage innovation, you can help your members expand on your content by providing a variety of resources. These resources can be broad, such as communication channels that allow members to converse directly with one another. They can also be highly specific to your organization, like deciding to make a series of older webinars that were previously behind a paywall free for all members. 

As mentioned, creative user communities may result in slightly less control over your brand than you may prefer. You can assuage these fears and put your community on the right track from day one by implementing community guidelines to help steer conversations and your members’ creativity in the right direction. 

Maintain transparency with your user community.

3. Maintain transparency.

User communities can only thrive when their members believe in and trust the organization they have formed a community around. You can help build this trust by being transparent in your communications, setting clear community guidelines, and being straightforward about which—if any—members of your community are employees or staff at your organization. 

By following these practices, you’ll receive a number of benefits, such as:

  • Community trust. A community that doesn’t trust the organization it supports will be full of criticism and dissent. This can happen with larger organizations that often don’t consider their audiences’ wants and needs. By being transparent, you can create a healthy dialogue with your community, building trust and thereby ensuring that your users further engage with your organization and even promote it. 
  • Increased loyalty. Your user community is made up of your most passionate supporters, and you can secure their loyalty by always being straightforward and open with them. When community members feel respected, their dedication will only increase, ensuring they stick around for the long-haul. 
  • Aligned interests. When you’re open with your community about your organization’s direction and purpose behind content, members will be more likely to match your expectations. This will help ensure that you and your community are on the same page for the future of your organization. 

As you communicate with your members, be thoughtful about what they need to know and how you can explain policy and guidelines changes as they come up. There will be details or reasons behind decisions that you’ll want to keep behind the scenes, but you can always share why and how your organization’s decisions will impact your community to avoid any surprises on either end. 

Stay attuned to your user community’s values. 

4. Stay attuned to your community’s values. 

A community’s members will change over time as new individuals become interested in an organization and others scale back their involvement. This means your community’s interests will also change over time. 

Your organization can continue fostering a healthy user community by staying up to date with your members’ changing needs and values. A number of aspects can alter your community’s needs and how they view your organization, including:

  • Your organization’s role in your community. How active is your organization in your community and what do your members expect from your organization? As your community grows, the answers to these questions will likely change, and you’ll need to reconsider your level of involvement to ensure you are continually meeting members’ evolving expectations. 
  • Community motivations. Why are your members invested in your organization? Motivations for participating in your community will most likely be linked to your offerings and content. As you launch new programs and initiatives, these motivations are likely to change. 
  • Community demographics. Who is your community? Your organization should have a target audience in mind when launching new content and programs. As you expand to attract new audiences, your community’s demographics will change to reflect these new members. 

Understanding what your users need and value is essential to creating content that will find success with your audience. Sometimes organizations can make assumptions about what their community wants, which may not always align with their current community’s interests. For example, you might assume that your members are eager to resume in-person events, when in reality your organization has managed to attract a community of remote members who will have limited interest in such activities. 

Wrap Up

User communities can greatly impact your organization’s success, creating a loyal group of members dedicated to your content and community. Forging a user community and giving them the tools to support your organization requires a dedicated strategy focused on open communication and a strong understanding of your members’ values. 

Dedicated user communities form when an organization already has strong membership engagement practices in place. Here are a few resources your team can use to help position your organization to cultivate a dynamic user community:

Connect with your user community with TagFi's innovative community engagement platform.