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How to launch an online community (Behind the scenes of a 2-week, 1600-member launch)

Learn how to launch an online community in five steps -- and how we built and launched the Podia Creator Community with 1600 members in the first two weeks.

Picture this: A group of people sharing ideas, working to accomplish the same goals, and supporting and learning from each other along the way.

That’s the power of community building, and there’s never been a better time to start one of your own. An incredible 76% of internet users participate in some type of virtual community, and 66% of people say they join online communities to meet others who share their interests.

We recently launched the Podia Creator Community , an online space for creators to connect, learn, and share with one another.

Within the first two weeks of opening the community to all Podia creators, we saw:

  • Over 1600 members

  • Hundreds of posts

  • Thousands of comments

We know firsthand that creating an online community from scratch can feel like a daunting task — but it’s also a wonderful way for creators to educate, connect, and even earn recurring income.

That’s why we put together this five-step guide on how to launch an online community of your own.

We’ll show you a behind-the-scenes look at how we built and launched the Podia Creator Community in just a couple of months — and how you can follow the same steps.

We’ll also share email examples and swipe copy, so you can set your community up for a successful launch. (As always, these examples are just a starting point. Make sure to customize your own copy to fit your voice and audience.)

Let’s get building!

Step 1: Ask yourself, what do your members get? How will a community help your business?

Let’s say you plan on launching a brand community centered around your product, service, or content. What does this do for you?

  1. Your brand community gives your customers access to you and your work. You want to create a place for your audience to connect, discuss your work, and get updates when you launch something new — and your ideal members are looking for the same.

  2. Within that goal, you might also want to gather feedback from your customers about your newest products or content. That’s a central business goal for you but might not be a main selling point for potential members.

  3. On the other hand, once your community is active and growing, members will start to interact with and learn from each other.

  4. Your community might offer opportunities for members to network with others in their niche. That’s a major benefit for them — and something you can (and should) emphasize when marketing your community.

When you create your community with a clear goal in mind, you can work toward a specific vision and build something that best serves you and your audience.

To figure out your “why”, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What do you hope to gain from starting a community?

  2. What do you want your members to get out of joining your community?

Different types of online communities address different goals.

A free community might be an excellent way to build brand loyalty and awareness — two great objectives. But if your goal is to drive revenue from paid memberships, a free community probably isn’t the best choice.

When we started building the Podia Creator Community , our primary goal was to create a space where creators could learn from one another.

How do other creators structure their websites? What do they sell? Where does most of their revenue come from? How do they build their audiences?

We knew that creators have all these questions and often look to each other for inspiration. The Podia Creator Community was designed to bring those conversations to life.

Under that overarching goal, we wanted to:

  • Offer creators and entrepreneurs a place to connect and network with each other

  • Make the creator journey less lonely

  • Give Podia creators a community open only to them

  • Create exclusive content for community members, including courses, creator interviews, and community challenges

Every part of our community strategy ultimately relates back to that “why”: Helping creators learn from each other. If we ever got stuck on a detail or decision, we asked ourselves what choice would help us reach that goal.

For example, knowing how we wanted the Podia Creator Community to serve creators helped us decide on our initial discussion topics:

  • Announcements: We needed a place where only the Podia team could post to reach the whole community.

  • Podia help: We wanted our creators to help each other — and we knew that people would post their Podia platform questions in the community. This topic helps us keep all of those posts in one place.

  • I made this: We want creators sharing their work and sharing (solicited) feedback with each other, but we don’t want the whole community to get flooded with self-promotion.

  • Business and marketing: Creators want to learn from each others’ experience and success, including on the business and marketing side of being a creator.

  • Introductions: A place for everyone to get started and say hello.

  • Random: A spot for everything else.

All in all, knowing your “why” from the start empowers you to build a community you and your members will love. It can also help you determine discussion topics, inform your marketing strategy, and identify the target audience for your community.

Speaking of your ideal members, it’s time to get them involved.

Step 2: Soft launch your new community with a small group of founding members

Creating a prototype is an essential part of any new product development, and your community is no exception.

Instead of launching your community to the masses on day one, invite a small group of beta testers to be the founding members of your community.

When you start with a small group of active, engaged community members, you can:

  • Learn how people want to interact with each other

  • Test out your community platform

  • Figure out the ins and outs of the user experience

  • Get direct feedback from members on what is and isn’t working

…without the pressure of hundreds or thousands of new members descending on your community at once.

Once you open your community to a bigger audience, this beta group can become brand ambassadors that start engaging conversations and show new members the ropes.

Sketchnote Academy founder Emily Mills learned this first hand while running a successful online community alongside her online courses , coaching programs, and workshops.

“When you’re first trying to figure stuff out, you need your biggest fans to come alongside you,” Emily explained. “And once you do figure out what you want, you can open a hundred percent to the public … and there’s less pressure.”

How do you find members for your beta group?

Start by asking friends and family members if they’re interested. You can also use social media platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to spread the word to your followers.

If you already have an active email list, send them an invitation to join (or apply to join) your community as a beta member.

For the Podia Creator Community, we invited all Podia creators to apply to be founding members via email:

Hey [name],

Do you wish there was a place where you could learn from and connect with fellow creators?

A place where you can have your questions answered, get feedback on your business, and chat with creators on the same journey as you?

We know that being a creator can feel like a lonely road, so to help you meet and learn from fellow creators, Podia is excited to announce the beta launch of the Podia Creator Community.

You can apply to be a founding member today!

So, if you’ve ever felt like…

  • You miss talking to people who are pursuing the same goals
  • Your friends and family try, but they don’t get it
  • If someone could just tell you what actually works, you’d get somewhere
  • You have a lot of experience to offer, but no one in your space to share it with

Then the Podia Creator Community is the place for you!

We will be opening up the Podia Creator Community for all Podia creators later this year, but if you want to be one of the first creators inside, this is your chance.

Apply to become a founding member here.

To keep our beta cohort small, we asked interested creators to apply through a Typeform .

If you choose to create an application, ask questions that help you learn more about your potential members and what they’re looking for in a community.

Among other questions, we asked, “What interests you most in joining the Podia Creator Community?” The answers helped us create the community that members wanted from day one.

After applications closed, we chose about 50 creators for our founding member group. There were more than 500 applicants to choose from, so this decision was a tough one and eventually came down to chance.

Finally, we opened the community so that smaller group could get to know each other, test out the platform, and start some stellar conversations. We admitted about 50 more members each week leading up to the official launch.

At the same time, we announced to all Podia creators that the Podia Creator Community was on the way. A community for Podia creators had been highly-requested, so we knew people would get excited.

We’ll talk more about building anticipation for your community launch in step four. But first, let’s make sure that you’re not missing any of the details that make a community thrive.

Step 3: Don’t forget the details (Community guidelines, onboarding, and more)

As you’re gearing up to launch your community, it can be tempting to only plan for the big-picture events and announcements. Don’t let the small details that have a big impact on your members’ experience slip through the cracks.

First, make sure you’re creating a space that feels safe for all members. The internet can be chaotic, but you can control what happens in your online community.

Establish your community guidelines and a plan for moderation before you open to a bigger audience. Community guidelines are a set of rules that clearly state what kind of behavior is and isn’t acceptable in your community.

In addition to creating an inclusive community, clear guidelines help you stay ahead of behavior you want to avoid.

When members are all on the same page about what is and isn’t acceptable, you run into fewer angry posts, customer support questions, and misplaced self-promotion. This keeps the quality of discussion in your community high and enjoyable.

If you’re a member of other online communities, look at their guidelines for inspiration. What makes the communities you’re a part of feel safe?

Here are some of the guidelines we established for the Podia Creator Community:

  • Be kind to one another

  • Self-promote only in the appropriate topics

  • No affiliate links

  • For product questions, please check the help docs first

  • Do not provide unsolicited feedback

Beyond your community guidelines, active moderation is key for member retention . Determine whether you want to appoint additional moderators or community managers to help you keep things in check, and get familiar with the reporting features in your online creator community platform .

For example, Podia’s built-in reporting features make it easy to keep your community on track.

Onboarding is another important piece to figure out before your big launch. Your members are getting excited to join — make the experience of being new to the community as welcoming as possible.

Create a “start here” post to welcome new members and let them know how your community works. New members are most excited and ready to participate in a community right after they join. A “start here” post offers people specific ways to start interacting right away.

This post is also a great place to link to your community guidelines and explain the ins and outs of your community platform, from navigating topics to setting up notifications.

Make these must-read posts easy to find by pinning them to the top of a topic that every member automatically subscribes to.

In the Podia Creator Community, our community guidelines and welcome post are pinned in the Announcements topic.

One more simple way to make your community feel more welcoming is a designated introductions thread, where members can share a bit about themselves and get to know each other.

An introduction thread also encourages people to make their first post without the pressure of deciding which topic to post in or what to say.

Members of Casey Richardson’s online community use the introductions thread to do more than just say hi.

Casey is the founder of Blaze Knowledge Academy , where she provides courses and resources to help Black female entrepreneurs build online businesses. She also runs an active online community where her audience can connect.

“People come back even after they introduce themselves just to figure out who else might be in their niche or their industry,” Casey shared . “I serve founders … and [the introductions section] helps them to expand their network.”

Creating an introductions thread for your own community is a great way to encourage engagement. Pair it with clear community guidelines and an informative welcome post, and you’ll be well on your way to a top-notch new member experience.

(PS: If you’re moving an existing community off of a different platform, like a Facebook group or other social network, make sure you and your members are prepared for the change. Check out this step-by-step guide to moving your online community to a new platform .)

Step 4: Build excitement leading up to your community launch with a content sneak peek

With the first three steps done, you’re on the right track for a fantastic community launch. Now, it’s time to tell all of your potential members exactly how awesome that launch (and your community as a whole) is going to be.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel for your community marketing efforts. If you already have channels that work well for your business and audience — like email, social media, or word of mouth — use them to promote your community launch.

Because we built the Podia Creator Community for existing Podia creators, we chose email as our main channel to get people excited.

Creators had already received the initial email about applying to be a founding member, so they knew the community was coming soon. When the community opened to the founding members, we sent out an email inviting all other creators to join the waitlist:

Hey [name],

Starting today, there’s an exclusive community for Podia creators.

We wanted to create a place for creators like you. Inside the community, you’ll get:

  • Access to exclusive Podia content and announcements
  • Interviews and AMAs from experienced creators
  • The opportunity to meet other people going through the same things as you are

Right now, we’re accepting a limited number of members in the creator community.

We have hundreds of creators on the waitlist, ranging from beginners to experienced entrepreneurs. No matter where you are in your journey, you’re guaranteed to find peers and mentors who can help you with any challenge you’re facing.

New creators will be admitted each week - and the doors will fully open soon! - but you can make sure you’re at the front of the line by joining the waitlist.

Join the waitlist here.

As you get closer to launch day, consider giving potential members a sneak preview of the discussions already taking place among your founding members (with permission, of course).

This gives people a feel for your community and makes them even more excited to join as soon as they can.

In our final email before the community opened to all creators, we shared a great post from Emily Mills, one of our first community members:

Emily’s Podia hacks served as a great example of how members can learn from each other’s expertise, one of the biggest benefits of joining the Podia Creator Community.

In the same email, we announced the official launch date for the community and promoted that week’s Creator Corner webinar featuring Cara Chace  — another community member and successful entrepreneur.

Here’s the email copy:

Hey [name],

Over the past month, you’ve heard that Podia is building a place for creators like you to meet and learn from each other.

A place for you to connect with fellow creators who get it.

A place where conversations like this are happening every day (shared with permission):

[Screenshot of Emily's post]

That place is the Podia Creator Community, and we are excited to announce that it will be opening to all Podia creators on Tuesday, February 1st!

To celebrate the launch of the Podia Creator Community, we are interviewing productivity expert and Creator Community member Cara Chace this Wednesday, January 26th at 12 pm ET to learn all about her online business and entrepreneurial journey!

Join us for Cara’s live interview for actionable insights you can use to grow your own business, including topics like:

  • Managing your time and focus as an entrepreneur
  • Leveraging Pinterest for your business
  • Creating an engaged community
  • How Podia supports Cara’s business

Save your seat for Wednesday’s Creator Corner interview with Cara here.

And make sure to mark your calendars for Tuesday, February 1st when you can join Cara and hundreds of other creators inside the Podia Creator Community.

We can’t wait to see you there!

Beyond email, think about where your ideal community members spend time and meet them there.

Jill and Jeffrey Dalton run the Whole Food Plant Based Cooking Show , a YouTube cooking channel featuring healthy plant-based recipes. The show is crowdfunded through their online community, and they also offer courses, meal plans, and cookbooks.

They created a video to share their paid community with their 100,000 YouTube subscribers.

Today, they highlight their community in each new YouTube video.

“We made a commercial [that we put in our videos], and it talks about our community and how our show is crowdfunded. That has been tremendous. That’s probably the biggest driver,” Jeffrey explained.

We also recommend creating a landing page leading up to your community launch, so you have somewhere to direct potential members for more information. Tell them what your community is all about, why they should join, and when they’ll be able to do so.

Throughout the launch process for the Podia Creator Community, we pointed people to this landing page :

While we were accepting founding member applications, we embedded the Typeform on the page. Once the community was open to all Podia creators, we replaced the form with information on how to access the community.

To sum it up, all you need is a couple of emails, a simple landing page, and a clear message to build excitement around your community launch.

Share a content sneak peek, highlight the benefits of joining your community, and give your audience a taste of the top-tier experience that awaits them come launch day.

Keep potential members in the loop about when your community will open — they’ll be ready to join as soon as they can.

Step 5: Turn your community launch into an event featuring exclusive content, activities, and perks

Your community launch day has finally arrived. The virtual doors are open, and, thanks to all of the marketing you did in step four, people are enthusiastically joining.

A few folks introduce themselves, but nobody’s quite sure what to talk about. People stop replying to posts, and, after a few weeks, no one is interacting at all. Crickets.

You’ve worked hard on building your community — don’t let your launch be anticlimactic.

Leverage the excitement into an engaging event (or events!) for your new community members.

You don’t need to limit yourself to just a day. Consider planning a schedule of interactive activities, content, and events for the week or month of your community launch.

When we announced that the Podia Creator Community was open to all Podia creators, we also told potential members about an exciting virtual event: A Creator Corner roundtable interview featuring three Podia community creators.

After the webinar, members could continue the conversation with the panelists in a community-exclusive Ask Me Anything (AMA) discussion.

Here’s the email copy we used for the announcement:

Hey [name],

If you’ve been looking for a place to connect with fellow creators, you don’t have to wait any longer.

That’s because the Podia Creator Community is opening to all Podia creators, and you can join the community for free - right now!

Click here to accept your invitation to the Podia Creator Community.

The Podia Creator Community is built for creators, by creators. Join today to:

  • Connect and network with Podia creators just like you.
  • Bounce ideas off one another and get feedback on your latest projects.
  • Get exclusive training and programming from Podia, including courses, creator AMAs, challenges, and more!

Speaking of exclusive content, we are bringing together three Podia community creators for a special Creator Corner roundtable interview this Wednesday, February 2nd at 12 pm ET. 🎉

After the live interview, you can ask questions and chat with our guests in an exclusive ‘Ask Me Anything’ session in the Podia Creator Community.

We can’t wait to see you inside!

The roundtable and AMA were a hit, getting new members even more excited about the concept of online communities as a whole. (You can check out a recap of the Creator Corner here .)

The fun (and content) didn’t stop there. Members received access to an exclusive online course to help them make the most of their Podia site. Podia’s all-in-one community platform makes it easy for members to access the community and online courses in one place.

We also hosted a live membership challenge . For five days, members received written and video lessons to help them create their best sales page. Creators responded to daily prompts and shared their ideas, questions, and final products with each other.

That said, members didn’t have to be hands-on to stay in the loop about community happenings. We send a weekly recap email highlighting the most interesting and helpful recent posts in the Podia Creator Community.

We even include fun metrics, like the most replies, longest post, or best use of a green screen.

The weekly email is also a great place to give members a heads up about upcoming events in the community — like the Creator Community Launch Party.

We threw a virtual launch party as the culmination of our launch events.

Instead of your standard, not-so-interesting Zoom meeting, we decided to host the party in Wonder , a platform that lets attendees actively mingle and chat in small groups — the same way you would for an in-person event.

The launch party included time for creators to talk with one another, a recap of some recent product updates, and the exciting announcement about Podia’s first-ever Creator Fellowship .

It was wonderful to connect with so many Podia creators and celebrate the first two weeks of the community together.

After the event, we shared the fellowship announcement with the entire community via discussion post and email, so folks who couldn’t attend didn’t miss out on the excitement.

So, what type of content should you create for your community?

The possibilities are nearly endless. You can choose some of the ideas above, or create something entirely your own.

Think back to the goal you set back in step one. The content you create during (and after) your launch should highlight the benefits of your community and make your new members feel like they made an excellent choice by joining.

If there are common pain points that your members share, offer them live events and exclusive content that can help them overcome those obstacles. Give them the opportunity to discuss their processes and work through things together.

Take Jimmy Daly, founder of content marketing community Superpath . Jimmy hosts monthly live office hours where Superpath members can learn from content marketing experts across the industry.

Each month’s office hours address a different topic based on the guest’s area of expertise.

“They’re this type of conversation where there’s a general theme … the one that we’re going to have on this month has been a COO at a content agency,” Jimmy explains. “Depending on who the person is, that kind of sets the theme for us.”

After the live office hours, Jimmy shares a recording with community members — and new members get access to recordings from all prior office hours. “I have a section within our Podia [site] where we have a library of them. I think we have 25 of them now,” Jimmy noted.

Here are a few more content ideas for your launch (and beyond!):

  • Live events, like hangout sessions and office hours

  • Contests and giveaways

  • Exclusive podcast episodes

  • Challenges and gamification

  • Brand announcements and updates

  • Interviews with experts and influencers in your niche

For even more tips, check out this guide to increase online community engagement in six steps.

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Join the 150,000+ creators who use Podia to create websites, sell digital products, and build online communities.

One more note before we wrap up: You don’t have to have it all figured out on day one, week one, or even month one. Building an online community from the ground up is a learning experience, and your first active members will help shape your community along the way.

Every creator’s path is different. Don’t be afraid to try out different ideas, even if you’re not 100% sure about them. You’ll never know until you try. Podia — and the Podia Creator Community  — are here to help you during your journey.

Launch an online community you and your members will love

Online communities offer you and your audience a space to connect, collaborate, and learn. Done right, your launch will set your community and members up for success for a long time to come.

To recap, here are the five steps to launch a successful online community:

  1. Create your community with a goal in mind. What do you hope to get out of starting a community? What do you want your members to gain by joining?

  2. Soft launch your new community to a small group of founding members. This beta group can offer valuable feedback about your community and create an excellent first wave of conversations.

  3. Don’t forget the details. Establish your community guidelines, moderation plan, and onboarding posts before opening your community to a broader audience.

  4. Build excitement by offering a sneak peek of conversations taking place in your community. You can also keep your community top-of-mind with intriguing emails and an informative landing page.

  5. Turn your community launch into an event (or four!) with exclusive content and activities for members. Get your members involved with webinars, challenges, and even interactive events — the opportunities are truly endless.

Ready to create your own community? Sign up for a free Podia account and start building your community today.

A portrait of Rachel Burns

About the author

Rachel is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and communities scale with their creators. When she’s not writing, you can find her rescuing dogs, baking something, or extolling the virtue of the Oxford comma.