These days, building a sense of community around your association is more important than ever—especially if you want to foster meaningful relationships with your members and grow your association sustainably.
Specifically, an online community refers to a virtual space that facilitates meaningful bonds and connections between your members. This can be a place to discuss topics of interest to them, share advice, engage with your association's core values, and more.
Still, building a thriving online community can be easier said than done. If you're feeling overwhelmed at starting an online community for your association, you may not know where to begin.
In this case, exploring some examples of flourishing online communities for associations may be helpful. From there, you can see what these look like in action and discover some practical tips for designing one of your own.
- Benefits of Building an Online Community
- 10 Examples of Excellent Online Communities for Associations
- Tips for Building an Online Community for Your Association
- The Bottom Line
Benefits of Building an Online Community
Before we dive into some specific examples of successful online communities for associations, let's take a look at what your association stands to gain from building an online community.
For starters, a great online community provides a welcoming space for your members to build dynamic relationships with others. This sense of community and belonging can, in turn, boost loyalty to your association. Meanwhile, these communities can serve as sources of genuine and honest feedback for your association.
That's because when members feel safe and welcome within an online community, they are more likely to share their honest opinions and experiences. This, in turn, provides you with the information you need to serve your members better.
10 Examples of Excellent Online Communities for Associations
Without further ado, let's dive into 10 of the best examples of successful online communities for associations. You can use these examples to brainstorm ideas for your own community and to get a better feel for what your options are.
1. Educational Theatre Association
The Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) serves as yet another example of the good that can be done when people come together online. Specifically, EdTA aims to bring school theater department educators together in a cohesive, online community—including those who may not have the means/funding to pay for an EdTA membership outright.
This online community serves a meaningful purpose for school theater educators who are often working solo and without support from fellow colleagues. The EdTA online community provides an excellent opportunity for these educators to bounce ideas off each other, receive helpful feedback, and find important resources.
In turn, EdTA has benefited from its robust online community to the tune of a 900% increase in its organic search, so it's a win-win for everybody.
2. Australian Medical Association of Queensland
The Australian Medical Association of Queensland (AMAQ) uses its online community to connect members in a dynamic industry. Specifically, their online community serves as a centralized hub for all members to connect with each other, members of the organization, and sponsors.
Meanwhile, AMAQ finds that it is able to gather valuable and genuine feedback on the needs of its member base by staying active within the community itself.
Because the online community is a private space, AMAQ is also able to protect members' privacy (and the privacy of members' patients) more effectively than a social-media-based community would.
Overall, this community serves as a valuable aspect of AMAQ's member engagement strategy while being a cherished platform for members seeking feedback, meaningful discussion, and other dialogue.
3. American Occupational Therapy Association
Many associations, including the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), were forced to get resourceful and innovative during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, during this time, the AOTA turned to its online community (brilliantly named "CommunOT") to provide members with a place to connect while the rest of the world was more-or-less shut down.
Specifically, this community served as a place for AOTA members to receive much-needed support while having a meaningful place to connect with other occupational therapists.
Even after the worst of the pandemic had passed, AOTA continued to see excellent engagement metrics for this online community. In fact, logins to the CommunOT were up more than 100% by March 2020—whereas new member logins soared to a whopping 149%. Today, the CommunOT continues to serve AOTA members as a safe space for questions and industry discussion.
4. Southern Medical Association
Southern Medical Association (SMA) has its own online community, known as SMA Connect, that is available to all current members.
This cloud-based online community is private and open to members only, offering an open forum for general discussion. SMA also uses this online community to facilitate communications and share documents directly from its Board of Directors.
Ultimately, the goal of SMA Connect is to provide members with a powerful resource for connecting, exchanging knowledge, and sharing solutions with other members outside the scope of their daily jobs.
SMA Connect has been successful in bringing healthcare providers and clinical professionals together in a way that many other online medical communities have not.
This community has been especially successful in providing much-needed peer-to-peer support in a dynamic industry. Meanwhile, SMA receives valuable feedback from members by keeping their board members active within the community itself.
5. DNPs of Color
DNPs of Color (DOC) is a nonprofit nursing organization that aims to serve doctors of nursing practice of color by offering mentorship, advocacy, and networking opportunities. Since 2020, DOC has worked to diversify the nursing profession as a whole.
Its online community is primarily based on social media and comprises approximately 1,800 members. In 2022, DOC has plans to transition into a member-based association—so it is likely that the growing online community will become a part of that as well.
DOC's success in growing an online community became apparent during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when they focused on pre-planning campaigns and organizing online events in advance.
This, in turn, gave DOC plenty of time to market and build excitement for these events while driving engagement and boosting registrations. DOC's online community saw enormous growth during this time and continues to be a source of meaningful discussion for members.
6. The European Association of Electromobility
The European Association of Electromobility (AVERE) has also been optimizing its membership processes and building its online community in recent years.
Specifically, this membership-based organization (which has been around for more than forty years) is made up of advocates for electromobility and zero-emission mobility across Europe. Ultimately, this group aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while using technology to decarbonize the European transport sector.
AVERE's online community serves as a unified platform where members can discuss the latest innovations within the dynamic electromobility industry, ask questions, and receive general feedback.
Because AVERE has fewer than 40 members as of October 2022, this online community has become very tight-knit, serving as a useful platform for engagement and discussion. Meanwhile, AVERE has optimized its online community with a series of online events, email campaigns, and other features to best serve its member base.
7. The Community Associations Institute Channel Islands
The Community Associations Institute (CAI) is a multi-chapter organization that provides education, resources, networking, and advocacy to community associations across the globe. One specific CAI chapter, the Channel Islands chapter, has been particularly successful in using its online community to work with volunteers, board members, HOA community managers, and business partners.
Specifically, the CAI Channel Islands chapter uses an online community to provide training and educational materials that empower more successful management of HOAs. All board members of HOAs, homeowners, builders/developers, and other invested individuals are invited to join the community and participate in the discussion.
This online community has provided an excellent space for members to brainstorm, troubleshoot, and discuss common association issues while keeping everybody involved. Meanwhile, the online community serves as a great place for CAI to spread the word about in-person events, webinars, and other events that require registration.
8. IACC Karnataka
The Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) Karnataka has been able to substantially grow its own memberships while boosting engagement with its existing members using an online community and networking platform.
Specifically, IACC Karnataka utilized an event management platform from Glue Up to improve the user experience for members and more effectively spread the word about new events as they are announced.
With help from this event management platform, IACC Karnataka has been able to create an online community that improved engagement with attendees while leveraging features to expand its online network and boost registration numbers.
Having an online community for this association has been integral to its success, especially considering many of the association's events are representing large corporations and organizations from India and the rest of the world.
IACC Karnataka's online community has exemplified the impact that these virtual spaces can have on attendance/registration numbers for in-person events as well.
Zenoss, a developer of hybrid IT monitoring and analytics software, has been running a thriving online community for more than a decade.
Specifically, its online community is designed to serve as a gathering space for IT Ops customers, offering collaboration opportunities and space for ongoing conversation. As a result of this growing community, Zenoss has found that its member engagement has grown—as has its membership.
For the latest revamp of the online platform, Zenoss focused on improving the user experience by adding an open API for CRM integration and implementing public and private community forums for ongoing discussion.
With more than 3,500 active members across the globe and a 140% increase in memberships following its most recent relaunch, Zenoss' online community demonstrates how much an association can gain from listening to member feedback.
Another example of a successful online community that has really listened to its members' feedback is Genesys, a SaaS customer experience platform.
What really has set this community apart is how well the team has humanized the customer experience with its unique "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) style discussions. As part of the online community, the Genesys team has also launched a series of pre-recorded videos where they answer technical questions that have been submitted by Genesys members.
All of these initiatives have created an excellent sense of community while also reducing instances of new tickets by answering common questions among members. Meanwhile, Genesys has reported that their daily engagement metrics triple during their AMA sessions.
Tips for Building an Online Community for Your Association
Now that you've seen some successful online communities in action, you may be wondering where to begin with building an online community for your association.
Ultimately, there's no "one-size-fits-all" blueprint for a great online community; you'll need to decide what's best based on your association's values and your members' needs. Still, there are some general tips and best practices you can keep in mind as you embark on this journey.
Don't Expect It to Happen Overnight
Begin with the realization that cultivating a thriving online community will take time. If you go into it with any other mindset, you're likely going to be disappointed.
Allow your association time to design your online community, recruit members, and really get the ball rolling.
Consult With Your Team and Develop Goals
You'll get the best feedback when you work as a team, so be sure to consult with other leaders from your association as you brainstorm the beginnings of your online community.
Consider, for example, creating a task force of sorts with representatives from different areas of your association. From there, work on developing both short- and long-term goals that will be easily trackable and measurable.
Get Your Current Members Involved
You may even want to consider bringing in a few of your association members to provide some feedback on what they would like to see in an online space. Even if you feel you know a lot about your target audience already, it never hurts to get some information straight from the source.
You could bring in some current association members to sit in on a meeting—or you could simply send out a survey to get direct feedback on your ideas for an online community.
Build Community Awareness With Swag
These days, people love representing the communities that are near and dear to them—both on and offline. If you really want your community to take off, then consider having some "swag" or other branded merchandise made and distributed to your community members. You can keep costs down by using a convenient print-on-demand service for your swag. From there, you can make these items available for purchase by your association members or set up some free giveaways and contests within your community to make things even more exciting.
Create a Website for the Community
Although creating a website is not an easy task, it'll allow you to be in complete control of the digital space for your community. You'll be able to control things like layout, interface, features, user experience, and other functionality features on your website.
User interface (UI) and password management systems are one of the most crucial things to think about when creating a website. Create a UI that makes it simple for users to find what they need on the website and avoid confusion about where objects are situated. This will also ensure all areas are clearly labeled with the right intent.
Make sure you have sound security practices in place. Build a password management system that enables users to sign in whenever they want without remembering their account name or password each time they access the website.
Focus on Social Media
Social media is a great way to get your online community off to a strong start. Rather than trying to create your own online forum or another platform from scratch, then, you might consider setting up a social media group instead.
This is easy enough to do on Facebook, but you'll want to make sure that a large percentage of your association members are already active on Facebook. Otherwise, you may want to explore another social media platform that supports groups, such as LinkedIn.
Explore Newsletters, Blogs, and Other Content Avenues
Another great way to build a community around your brand is to provide your members with something valuable and exciting outside of your online community. This could come in the form of a weekly/monthly newsletter, a blog, or some other content avenue (like an eBook or webinar).
This type of content can also be a great way to recruit new members to your online community, as you can make the content exclusive to community members. This, in turn, may encourage more people to join.
The Bottom Line
Building a strong online community for your association isn't something that will happen overnight—but with enough thoughtful goal-setting and careful planning, you'll be well on your way to creating a community that all your members want to be a part of.
As you get started with designing your online community, be sure to reflect back on these tips and examples of thriving online communities for associations as well. You can draw a lot of inspiration from these examples that will set your own community up for prosperity.