Build an Online Community From the Ground Up With These 3 Tips
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We all want to be part of a community that aligns with our mindset and goals. There's no greater feeling than being surrounded by (literally or figuratively) people who have the same mission and want to achieve the same things. But, with so many online communities out there, how do you find one that is a good fit?
Our solution? Build your own. Creating an online community can lead to lasting relationships (both personal and professional) and business opportunities. Plus, it's simpler than you may think, as long as you have the right plan.
Take Human Hotel, a cutting-edge community for creative travelers and activists that began as a design project, and is now a network offering places to stay for creatives around the world.
It was started by Wooloo, a collaborative where artists don't create pieces out of a specific medium —like clay— but instead practice relational aesthetics. In simpler terms, they facilitate interactions around the world. That is the art, and Human Hotel is one of Wooloo's many projects.
Now, Human Hotel is a thriving community that has connected tens of thousands of people with local creatives (and their homes). So, if you are headed to London, for example, apply to Human Hotel and they give you a platform to connect with fellow creatives or like-minded locals who will host you at an affordable rate. And, you have the opportunity to collaborate on some cool projects, too.
Co-founder of Human Hotel, Martin Rosengaard, gave us three valuable lessons he learned about building an online international community that scales. Here's what you need to know:
1. Hone in on a Purpose
At its core, Human Hotel is about fostering meaningful human connection to create positive change. “We're in a time when people are globally connected in a way that they have never been before, yet people feel isolated sitting in silos. We need to be together," Martin says.
The purpose of the community evolved from that ethos to meet a very specific need: a comfortable, affordable place to stay and connect with locals. Human Hotel's leaders are single-minded in their focus—everything they do, from how they structure Human Hotel to how they approve requests to join, stems from that intention.
The community took off because it fulfills its purpose, giving creatives and activists deeper, more meaningful experiences in a place with the built-in opportunities to collaborate with local residents and institutions.
Your purpose needs to stem from a real, human need. The best place to start brainstorming is with your own frustrations. Is there something you wish you had access to or a resource that would help you in some way? Make a list, and go from there.
2. Start With a Niche Audience
Human Hotel began its curated travel network around a specific event, which served as a natural opportunity to test the community before rolling it out on a larger scale. During the UN Climate Summit Copenhagen in 2009, most hotels were booked up and smaller NGOs couldn't afford the high rates for accommodations. Wooloo organized an impressive 3,000 homestays for climate activists who, otherwise, would not be able to participate in the Summit.
By connecting sustainable-minded residents and climate activists, Human Hotel set the groundwork for amazing collaborations and expanded participation in a landmark summit for the non-profit community. Nine years later, hosts and activists are still friends—many of these relationships became the seed point for long-term collaborations that nurture action on climate change, especially in the third world.
Create or find an opportunity to test your concept among a niche audience. Is there a specific event or limited roll out you can peg your community to? By starting small, you can see if your concept resonates.
3. Scale With a Designer-Friendly Solution
Although Human Hotel started as a network tied to specific events, it quickly grew beyond that footprint to become a constant, ever-growing community of international travelers. “Anybody can connect with other people through us—it's about giving you a platform to think out loud and meet other people," Martin says.
But, Wooloo needed a way to scale up Human Hotel efficiently and without a lot of effort. Instead of personally facilitating each connection, they wanted a digital home that could grow effortlessly with the size of the community.
Martin credits Squarespace with enabling their team to evolve. “We hit a bottleneck in what we could do, and Squarespace allowed us to focus on growing the mission without getting stuck developing a complex website from scratch. We already recommend Squarespace to everyone in our creative community—it's designer-friendly and intuitive to use."
With its Squarespace website, Human Hotel has been growing at a rate of 5% a week and continues to inspire new members to join. This year, the team plans to expand from 13 cities to over 30 cities worldwide. “It needs to be everywhere," says Martin. “Soon, you will be able to go wherever you want to go and connect creatively."
Lead with your purpose, and don't get bogged down with how you're going to make it happen. An affordable all-in-one website solution can effortlessly bring your idea to life, so you can focus on the other parts of growing a community.
There are a ton of different kinds of communities, and all of them (even in-person networks) need a digital home. It's easier than ever to use technology to help build something in our corner of the world and beyond, especially if you focus your community with the above tips. Just imagine how big you can go. The possibilities are endless.