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Lessons on Running an Association Online Community from the Passionate

By: Bryan Kelly 30 Mar 2017

How to Run Association Online Communities


Association communities go through engagement dry spells. It happens.

Now instead of playing the blame game or looking back on what you could have done differently, let’s look forward to 2017 and how online communities outside of the association realm get people genuinely excited and involved.

If you are wondering how to run associations' online communities, you have come to the right place.

But first, did any specific online community come to mind when you first read the title? A Youtuber’s cult following? The diehard SK Gaming network? The deep and detailed subreddit universe? Did none come to mind? Associations need to start investigating the internet’s most intense online communities, especially if they want to win over younger members. These communities are more like families or small societies. They are diverse, assertive and constantly changing, and association leaders need to adapt to their pace.


Lesson 1: Program your Technology and Community

running Association Online Communities

Lesson number 1 for how to run an associations online community discusses programming technologies and your community. As an association, you want to create an environment that promotes limitless thinking, not blame technology for your shortcomings. Instead of getting hung up on your technological capacity, think of how to program your culture to engage members and tap into their limitless power.

Let’s turn to an awesomely geeky inspiration – “No Man’s Sky,” a space exploration and survival video game. The game can create endless amounts of galaxies and planets for gamers to explore based on millions of variables programed into its system. Many are even generated spontaneously as gamers visit them based on their algorithm. 

This is a great vision for how associations can use the potential of technology and the human mind. Having technology like artificial intelligence can aid the limitless flow of content that are catered to your members. When delaing with programing community culture, often nonprofits and associations attempt to rigidly define their space, purpose and capabilities. But what they should be doing is establishing a culture and attitude that allows for endless exploration through content that encourages engagement – this allows the community to grow organically and decide the best ways to manifest itself.

Regardless of what type of community structure an association plans for, if your community is truly engaged, it will advance into greater stages of the online community lifecycle.


Lesson 2: Learn From Youtube 

running Association Online Communities

You may have a good handle of your general community members, but have you identified and interacted with your different niche communities? This is crucial if you want to encourage growth and development among your member base as a whole.

The second lesson on how to run an associations online community can be taken from the Youtube community. Youtube gives a voice to anyone with a webcam and an internet connection. As a result, thousands of life changing communities have cropped up around various people and channels. From social causes, to education, to a DIY revolution, people find welcoming places on the website to learn, socialize and share. Places they feel they belong, because they are continuously given reasons to feel accepted and be engaged.

Many of these communities are built around specifically people – Youtube personalities, or vloggers as they refer to themselves. To put these community followings into perspective, many of the largest vloggers have tens of millions of subscribers. You can view a list of Youtubers with the largest followings (and earnings) here. In addition to these Youtube celebrities, there are also thousands of other channels with deeply passionate fan bases of only hundreds of people. But they’ve been devoted for years and they will be devoted for many more, which is where the impressive potential for growth lies. A great example is shown here with The Vlog Brothers – “Youtube Stars Create Communities, Not Fans.

Associations can learn how to create content that sticks and is engaging to their audience. 


Lesson 3: Learn to Produce Great Content

Youtube does a great job of reshaping their brand around online communities and inspiring them to continue engaging viewers. A great example is the annual Rewind video they produce. This content features dozens of the platform’s most influential personalities rehashing online community trends from the past year. Every single person you see in this 2016 Youtube Rewind video is the face behind a successful channel with thousands of devoted subscribers. Essentially, it’s a pop culture and Youtuber cameo heaven. Aside from being viral and highly entertaining, it gives a great idea of how many resources Youtube puts into entertaining their online communities and shows how they’ve become a cultural institution.

Every Youtuber in this Rewind champions their own purpose, their own culture, and their own following. This circle of entertainment is wide, but people have found an accepting family in these communities. And the reason they feel so drawn to them because of the Youtuber’s boldness, openness and effectiveness in defining their following.


Association’s need to tap into this intensity by creating exciting spaces and content for their current and potential member base. 

Remember that a diverse, involved community can be your most powerful asset. Associations can affirm member identities and help them form strong bonds around their cause by providing spaces to explore and maintaining a reliable stream of content, interest and energy. This can lead to more engaged online community members, additional non-dues revenue, and a strong connection with the millennial audience.


If you enjoyed reading this post, you may also enjoy:

5 Habits of the Successful Online Community Manager

Why the Size of your Online Community Matters


If you want to learn more about engaging millennials,

watch our webinar!



Bryan Kelly

Written by Bryan Kelly

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