So you’ve decided to start a community.  And you’re ready to start setting up your community membership software and organising your community forum layout.

You download that software and then … it’s like staring at a blank sheet of paper when you’re supposed to be writing a masterpiece.  Or drawing a beautiful picture.  

Where do you even start?

Figuring out where to start can be really daunting, right?

So in today’s post, I’m going to walk you through the 5 key questions that will help you take your new community page from blank to awesome.  And I'll be using a real community and real software to show you what I mean. 

I use Circle (affiliate link) as my community platform for my Online Business Lift-Off community because it's really easy to set up.  Plus they have great customer support.

And one of my project partners and I have been using Circle (affiliate link) for organising the community forum and layout for Circular Economy FNQ for people who are interested in becoming part of the circular economy.  So I'll be using examples from this set up throughout this post. 

Circular Economy FNQ homepage

What’s a circular economy? 

It’s where the waste produced by one business is picked up and used by another business to create new value.  

Which keeps things out of the landfill.  And helps in our fight to stop contributing to climate change so much.  Which we think is amazing.

And your community will be amazing too!  Once it’s set up, of course.

So let’s get started with those questions.

1.  The very first question (and one of the most important) is … what kind of community do you want to have? 

Another way of asking that question is, what experience do you want your members to have?

Every community has a different vibe.

Some communities are strictly focused on business and networking.  The vibe can be sell, sell, sell.  Or it might be all about how members can help each other take their businesses to the next level and it’s all about share, share, share (which is kind of how we roll in the Online Business Lift-Off community). [LINK TO OBL INFO PAGE]

Other communities love having a bit of fun.  Members will often share stories and fun memes and tend not to focus on business, quite so much.

When it comes to creating community vibe, there’s no one right way to do it.  

It just depends on what you, as the community owner want.  However, some ways of getting to that desired vibe can be more effective than others.  And the layout of your community platform can either strongly support the desired feel OR get in the way of it ever coming to full fruition.

So, once you’ve identified your desired vibe, then you’ll want to figure out how to use the layout of your community management software to “make it so.”

 Want your community members engaged and talking to each other? 

Make sure that you set up your system notifications so that community members are alerted when someone posts a question or request for help or whatever it is that floats your community members’ boats.

Want all those questions directed just to you and your team? 

Once again, your layout settings will determine how well that works.

With our Circular Economy FNQ (Far North Queensland) community we’ve got our Circle platform set up so that people know what’s happening and they can talk to each other, without us having to be involved or play the middleman.

We also want to make sure that new members have access to really clear directions about how to get started, the instant they gain access to the community

We do this by having a “Start Here” section. 

A lot of the other Circle-based communities I’m in or have seen also have “Start Here” as a space that is accessible to everyone.

Organising your community forum - Start Here Section

Now, here comes the next important question.

2.  What role will you play as the community owner/manager?

Once again, the answer to this question starts with the answer to question number 1, what community vibe do you want?  Once you know your community vibe, it will be much easier to answer this very important question about what your role as community manager should be.

For our Circular Economy FNQ people, we want our members to really be engaged with each other.  And although, we’re very happy to engage with them, the more they talk together and collaborate with each other, the more impactful the community will be.  So our role is to facilitate and encourage, but not be what we call “personal brand leaders”.

So, although we’ve got our Circle platform set up to allow us to be alerted when members comment, we can choose whether and when to engage.  And we’ve ALSO got it set up so that community members can directly (and privately) message each other, bypassing us altogether.

Organising your community forum - Organising Your Members

   Okay.  Next important question. 

3.  From a payment perspective, do you want your community to have just one level or tier?

Or do you want it to be possible to have multiple tiers or levels of membership that cost different amounts and/or receive different levels of access?

This is actually kind of a big deal from a strategy point of view, but it’s super easy to set up with Circle.

To to this, you’re going to want to use Circle's ability to set up 2 or more spaces, which will enable you to then set up access permissions so each group only sees what they are allowed to see.  

Then you’re going to set the permissions up in such a way, that members that join are given a specific tag (to indicate their membership tier) and those members with that specific tag will automatically be added to that group and be able to access all the topics in it.

Sound complicated?

I’ve put together a short training that will show you how to make it easier to manage multiple tiers of members, based on how you do your layout setup in Circle.  You can access it on YouTube here – 

NB:  You can also actually set this up to happen during an earlier part of the process by using the payment part of the Circle platform.  I’ll leave this part of the conversation for another time, as it is slightly more advanced.

Circle's paywall capability

And now we’re ready for the next question to ask yourself.

4.  How will you make sure that your community members will (a) know how to behave and (b) what will happen if they don’t?

One of the most important things to have in place is a set of guidelines that tells people what to expect from you and the other community members AND what is expected of them.

In our Circular Economy FNQ community we have included a clear set of guidelines that is part of the “Start Here” section.

Organising your community forum - Guidelines and Policies

If you’re setting up a community for the first time, you might not be quite sure what to include or where to begin.  So Jillian Benbow, the community manager from Pat Flynn’s SPI Pro community (affiliate link) and I collaborated together to create an “Introduction To Community Management” training workshop.

This pre-recorded training will explain:

  • What it takes to run a digital community that stands out from the crowd 
  • How to leverage your existing skill set to grow your community 
  • Ways to grow consumer trust and experience through community development

If you’re interested, click on the button below to find out more.

NB:  I'm a member of the SPI Pro community and love it so much I'm an affiliate for it.  If you join the community using my affiliate link (above) I'll get a small commission and as a way of saying thank you, I'd be delighted to show you around the community myself and introduce you to a few people

And the last question is …

5.  If you have a team, how much access do you want to give them, in terms of being able to make changes to the forum layout or structure, or the way it's organised? 

And if you don't have a team, do you want to give some community members the ability to help you manage the community?

If so, you'll want to be sure to discuss their permission levels with them and then set them accordingly.  Once again, Circle makes this very easy to do.

Organising your community forum - member permissions

Well, there you have it.

I hope that was useful.  Setting up a new community is both exciting and scary at the same time.  Thinking through these 5 key questions is going to make the whole set up process go more smoothly for you.

1.  What kind of community do you want to have? 

2.  What role will you play as the community owner/manager?

3.  From a payment perspective, how many tiers or levels do you want your community to have?

4.  How will you make sure that your community members will (a) know how to behave and (b) what will happen if they don’t?

5.  How much access to make changes to the forum layout or structure, or the way it's organised will you give your team or community members?

And did you know …?

If you’d like to start using Circle as your community platform, we’ve got some great stuff that will help you with that. 

If you use our affiliate link to sign up for Circle we’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you.  And as a thank you, we’ll give you access to our short “Quick Start” training on how to set up the different parts of Circle. 

And we’ll also include a checklist so you don’t forget anything important when you’re asking your 5 key questions and setting up the layout for the first time.

Click here to sign up for Circle.