Building a healthy community culture can be a tricky process. You want to balance the carefree enjoyment of your community with a sense of security. While it’s important that members feel free to be themselves on your platform, a healthy community culture should provide a safe space for members, without constant negativity or unwelcoming feelings.
Community expert and CEO of Design Cuts, Tom Ross, recently gave an expert workshop to our Circle members. Tom runs a community of 800,000 creatives so we couldn’t think of anyone better to break down the practical strategies for how to build a great culture within your community.
After the success of Tom’s workshop, we’ve decided to create an accompanying guide with 8 simple steps on how to build healthy community culture. Great community culture has to start somewhere, so we hope this guide helps you streamline the process more efficiently.
Let’s get started!
Why is a strong community culture so important?
The general definition of culture is that it’s the shared values, behaviors, and beliefs within a community group. While each community group will have different standards of culture (depending on where they’re from), it is possible to create a sense of culture that feels welcoming and open to everyone. But why is building a strong community culture so important?
Even though the behavior of individual community members can’t always be controlled, constantly reminding members of the standards your community wishes to uphold helps keep a community feeling more secure. Positive community culture consists of users acknowledging guidelines, but still feeling like they can showcase their true personalities.
A strong sense of community within online spaces allows for other members to set the tone for how new members integrate. If a strong sense of community culture is achieved, it will naturally be easier to maintain — regardless of how large a community grows! Positive community culture is infectious and new members should be able to slot right in if you manage to get the balance right!
But how exactly can you ensure a strong sense of community culture for your platform or online network? Here’s some simple steps you can follow:
Step one: Determine which values you want your community culture to have
Even though some values of community culture will be obvious to members, vocalizing the values you want to prioritize helps keep community members more unified. Do you want your community to be open and inclusive? To be honest and transparent? To have a flat structure with no hierarchy?
While strong community culture will naturally have a range of values that are both positive and negative (we’ll talk about this more a little later!), good community culture generally tries to promote positive values and inclusion as much as possible. This helps set a general tone for your community and provides members with a baseline for determining whether your community is for them.
Tip: If you want to establish a true sense of community amongst your members, a flat community structure is always best. All community members should feel equal, so while ‘community leaders’ will naturally exist, highlighting that these leaders are still just community members is beneficial.
For your community to be perceived as a positive space or to breed a more upbeat sense of community spirit, you must first define and promote the positive values you want your users to support. These might include:
- Consideration for others
While some of these values might seem obvious, a community that consistently and publicly promotes positive qualities within their community is one that users know care.
Remember: ‘Successful’ community culture isn’t always positive
While a toxic environment should always be avoided when it comes to community culture, the reality is that negative comments are a natural part of building a strong community. Members should feel free to be open and honest about their feelings, even if these feelings are negative.
The difference between negative comments that help strengthen a community, and ones that tear a community down is largely to do with how you respond to negativity within your community. Communities that want to support a more positive atmosphere will have a zero-tolerance policy for trolls. However, they will still be welcoming for people wanting to share honest thoughts and opinions on certain matters.
Some of the most successful communities are ones that breed negativity, but it’s up to you to choose whether this is the vibe you want your community culture to have or not. Communities such as Reddit or even YouTube can be brutal in terms of commenters voicing their opinions — but they’re still some of the most popular platforms out there.
For your community to avoid a high level of savage commentary, accountability can be key. Are you members free to make anonymous comments or do they need an established profile to get involved in conversations? Are there consequences for trolling or personal attacks on other members?
These are just some of the things you need to consider when trying to establish a strong community culture. Your members are largely responsible for how the culture of your community plays out, but there can still be guidelines in place to steer this culture in the right direction.
Step Two: Know which traits signify bad community culture
A bad community culture is one that’s difficult to come back from. Once a community member has a bad experience within your space, they’re unlikely to return. This is why knowing the signs of bad community culture is essential.
Bad community culture can consist of:
- An unenjoyable or non-engaging experience for members
- An unenjoyable or non-engaging experience for the community leader(s)
- A sense of disconnect between the intentions, values or mission of the associated company or community leaders
Some traits of bad community culture can include:
- Toxic member/leader behavior e.g., trolling
- Negative feeling & atmosphere
- Unwelcoming feeling for new & existing members
- A sense that the community needs to be heavily ‘policed’ or moderated
- Community leaders that don’t uphold the core values of your community / Seem unhappy in their roles
Bad community culture is also one that doesn’t carry cohesive brand messaging. From your community interface to how leaders interact with members, every aspect of your community should reflect how you want your community to be perceived. Your brand messaging should be a key focus when onboarding new community leaders, and when advertising your community or welcoming new members!
Step Three: Create and evaluate member personas
Your members play a vital role in helping your community culture thrive. Understanding these members is therefore hugely beneficial.
If your member personas align with the culture you’re trying to achieve for your community, it’ll be much easier to develop your community in the way you want. If certain members of your community don’t align with your values, observing their behavior and adjusting your interaction with these members might be necessary.
For example, if you feel that certain members of your community are having a negative impact on others — ask yourself why? Is this member not getting what they need from your community? Are they not being engaged directly enough?
Find out what problems negative members have with your community and instead of just hoping that they’ll go away or change their attitudes, give them what they might be missing.
Step Four: Establish and promote your community’s mission
Every community developer wants to build a strong community culture, but what impact do you hope to have in achieving this? A strong community culture is one with purpose, so make sure your members are aware of what you’re trying to achieve.
To draft a community mission, consider the following:
- What will members gain by being a part of your community?
- What long-term impact does your community hope to have?
- What is your community doing to achieve its ultimate goals?
Communities are a place for members to grow as people and interact at a level they might otherwise not. Promote the transformative nature of your community to users wherever possible — how will members change for the better after joining your community?
Step Five: Define your culture
It seems logical that for your members to understand the culture you’re trying to achieve, you’ll need to set it out in your own mind first. This can be a process that involves some serious thought, but breaking it down into smaller phases can really help.
To define your culture from the beginning:
- List 3 core behaviors you want to promote in your community
- List 3 core behaviors you don’t want to promote in your community
- Vocalize how you want your members to talk about your community to others
Something to consider: Barriers for your community
For a strong community culture to exist, all members should want to be there. Consider using barriers such as cost or public values to narrow down the types of persona joining your community.
If possible, follow these steps:
1. Establish your core values with a small group of initial members
2. Don’t just let anyone into your community (people should want to be there, so a membership fee might be a good option!)
3. When onboarding team leaders or welcoming new members, set out your values and guidelines from the start (and don’t be afraid to repeat them over and over!)
Step Six: Moderate your community, but also allow your community to breathe
It’s possible to be an assertive leader without making your community constantly fear expulsion or stifling members with endless rules. The best way to do this is to set your guidelines loud and clear from the start, and consistently (but gently!) reminding members that this is the type of community they’ve chosen to be a part of.
With this method, members are more likely to naturally observe guidelines without feeling like they’re constantly being monitored or moderated.
While moderation will still be necessary when certain community guidelines are broken, micro-managing your community is never advised. Long-term and committed members are usually happy to help guide new members on community guidelines, so often, issues can be resolved without ever needing to interfere.
Tip: Think about moderation as more like good housekeeping. If something doesn’t belong in a certain place, it’s okay to remove it. Once all moderation actions can be justified to users through clear guidelines set out from the beginning, there shouldn’t be any issues. The need for moderation should be minimal though, so if you find that it’s a constant in your community — it might be time to rework your guidelines!
Step Seven: Communicate with members, gauge satisfaction, and make sure they feel included
The best way to ensure that your community members are happy is to talk to them. Asking the right questions can make all the difference to how your community culture develops. Some tips on how to communicate better with your members:
- Create surveys to gauge member satisfaction
- Ask members to describe your community in 3 words
- Conduct social listening to find out what people are saying about your community
Members love to be engaged individually, but this isn’t always possible. Because of this, it’s especially important to ensure that all community members feel seen. If you don’t have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategy, it might be time to develop one.
To ensure that DEI is a core element of your community:
- Focus on educating yourself on diversity and inclusion
- Weave DEI throughout all of your core community practices
- Vocalize your DEI mission and ensure members know that your community is a safe and open space for all
- Don’t wait on members to notify you of issues about accessibility or inclusion, get ahead with regular audits and updates to your policies
Step Eight: Don’t just discuss the culture you want, demonstrate it!
Last but not least, if you want your community to have a strong sense of culture, lead by example! From welcome messages to community events, you and your team should showcase the best of your community through your own actions.
If you want your community to feel fun and free-spirited, host events that reflect this core messaging. Share external media that reflects this core messaging. Do everything you can to embody your core messaging and allow community members to see exactly what you’re about.
Now that you know how to build a healthy community culture, all that’s left is to get started!
Building a healthy community culture isn’t something that just happens overnight, but hopefully with these steps, you can set off on the right track. Overall, the most important thing to remember is that your members are what make your community what it is. That’s why it’s so important to let them be your guide in making your community the best it can be!
We’d like to thank Tom for taking the time to speak with Circle members and sharing his expertise with us. If you’d like to learn more about the topic, why not check out Tom’s website (he’s always open to meeting new people and sharing his wisdom!).
Check out Circle’s other training videos for more inspiration and top tips from community and business experts.
If you’d like to share the Circle experience with some of your friends or business associates, you can also let them know about our 14-day free trial. Circle, the all-in-one community platform for creators and brands.