Principles for building a sustainable community

The power of fan bases

Best practices

Building a healthy community can lead to a zealous fan base and long-term audience growth. Finding authentic ways to connect with your viewers on and off YouTube can be easy to do and can yield fantastic results.

The YouTube platform provides a unique experience for both creators and viewers alike, one that is social with lots of interactive tools baked right in. As a creator, you can encourage engagement around your channel and also interact directly with your viewers. The benefits of doing so are numerous. First, interacting with your audience and turning them into an engaged community is one of the easiest ways to create a social army of promoters. If your fans love what you’re doing and have positive interactions with you, they’re much more likely to share this with other friends— and personal recommendations are the most effective kind! A healthy community can also be a content barometer or focus group for you. If your viewers are coming back regularly and begin to feel invested in your channel, they may give you valuable feedback about what you’re doing and what they’d like to see more of.

Community building shouldn’t be a ton of extra work and that is partially because communities form naturally. Communities form around common interests as people are drawn to shared experiences and are eager to connect with others. Marketers and big brands have capitalized on this innate human need to belong and have learned how to use a few simple principles to create zealots for their brand: creation story, creed, leadership, rituals, and language. These principles are also exemplified in many of today’s top YouTube channels.

  • 5 guiding principles

    #1 Share your creation story

    Your creation story is powerful. Give your viewers the inside story of you. By letting them in on what this channel means to you, and the life experiences that contributed to how you got started, you are providing viewers with an opportunity to find a commonality or relate to you. Giving fans a peek behind that curtain will showcase your authenticity and true passion. Tell your fans about how you got started. Viewers will return to support you once they can relate to you.

    #2 Define your creed

    If you want to build a strong community, take a step back and think about what your viewers want and how they feel. One of the most important aspects of developing an inspired, and sustainable community is making sure that your audience has something they also believe in, and this is called creed. Give your fans a higher meaning when they come to YouTube, rather than just “watching a silly video a friend shared.” Think about what inspires you, and illustrate that feeling or higher purpose for your community.

    #3 Have clear leadership

    When you are passionate about your topic, and you (or your host) shows this on screen - your inspiration can transform into leadership. A leader can be a literal host or personality, a group with a consistent voice, or a figurative authority. This works incredibly well on YouTube - while a lot of people subscribe to channels they like, most people subscribe to personalities they like. Consider finding a way to showcase authority or leadership on your channel.

    #4 Build in rituals

    Rituals are repeated activities or formats that viewers can come to expect and look forward to over time. Is there a repeated element that you can do in every one of your videos? This can be as simple as sharing your upload schedule with viewers, or as involved as actually building in something special into each of your videos.

    #5 Create language

    Being conversational is one of the quintessential hallmarks of YouTube but many of today’s top YouTube creators have done something more. They've developed special lingo or language with their audiences over time, which can make feel like insiders— like they’re part of a secret club.

  • Actions you should take

    Develop relationships with top contributors

    Think of each viewer as an individual. Respond to frequent commenters, and take a genuine interest in them. Respond to comments in the first few hours after you publish a video. These first commenters are your loyal community members, so keep them engaged.

    Recognize the contributions of individuals in the community

    People love to be recognized; responding to first-time contributors is a way to encourage ongoing engagement. Consider recognizing your community through in-video shout outs, or by offering other rewards like fan merchandise or exclusive content shared through unlisted videos.

    Create content about your community

    Whenever possible, include your community in the video content itself. Shout them out by name, acknowledge that you’re reading their comments, or even let viewers choose the direction of a special feature. Many creators find ways to work-in their fans, letting the whole community know how much they appreciate their viewership.

    Spur conversation

    Create relevant content that generates conversation among your community. Ask for their opinions and feedback. Remember, good debates are a part of a healthy community. If trolls or bullies emerge, a healthy community will likely take care of the issue for you, but use the moderation tools available to ensure bad-actors are flagged or blocked.

    Use off-platform social tools to engage with your community

    Do some research and figure out which social platforms your community is actively involved in. Jump into the conversation on those social networks. There are many social networks that YouTubers use as part of their social strategy. Some popular platforms include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and Google+.

    Sources: Patrick Hanlon, Primalbranding: Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company, and Your Future

Mastery checklist

  • What is your creation story?
  • What do your fans believe in?
  • How will you show leadership?
  • What kinds of rituals and language will you use?
  • What do your fans respond to the most?

Examples from creators

Community activities

Put your new knowledge to work! Answer the activity questions below. Then share your answer with the community to get feedback from other creators.

1. What video have you liked recently or commented on? What motivated you to push the like button?

2. How do you find out who your fans are and what they like? What interesting fact did you learn about your fans and how did you use this information?

3. Think of the communities you’re involved in - maybe it is a book club, a sports team, or your college alumni group. What qualities of these communities make you want to be a member? What will you do to recreate some of those same qualities in your YouTube community?

4. There are a lot of other things your viewers could be doing instead of watching your videos. Give viewers a reason to support your cause. What value does your channel and the content you create provide?

Check your knowledge

Measure success