FeverBee is a great organization of experts exploring the psychology of online communities. I subscribe to their newsletter because it’s a great way to learn about developing, building and growing an online community. One of their older posts discussed tips to build a successful online community.

The one that hit home for me was #3 – start out small.

So many times we want a big splash with a promotion and all the bells and whistles. But, in the end it’s NOT maintainable. I’ve learned it’s better to start small, learn about your community, and slowly grow. This goes for number of members, promotions, and features. When you start off small, it allows time for a rhythm to develop, time to build on lessons learned, fail fast and fix fast. Listen to the smaller community and adjust, find and encourage advocates. Then grow.

Here’s their tips. What do you think?

1) Create a powerful concept.
The concept is what the community is about. Too often we default to a community about the organization. It’s better to make the community about the audience or about the topic. In fact, it’s better to make it about a niche within that topic or targeted at a niche audience. More than anything else, the right concept will determine if your community succeeds or fails. Spending months on this one task is a good use of time.

2) Commit the time and resources.
A community will take years to properly build out and a full-time person to do it. This requires internal commitment. If you can’t do this, don’t build the community.

3) Start small. Ignore the big launch brigade.
Big launches never work. The successful communities you see today started small. Focus on the first 50 members, then 150, then try to add 5 to 10 new members a day. That’s a few thousand members per year – far more than most communities have. Start small, keep costs low, focus on flickers of activity. Put in the time with each individual member.

4) Focus on active members. 
Registered members is a meaningless statistic, focus on active members. Getting members to register is easy, getting members to participate is more difficult. Plan out the newcomer to regular journey and be data-driven about optimizing it.

5) Keep the platform simple.
Sometimes there are valid reasons to use an expensive platform. These are the exceptions. Use a simple, relatively inexpensive (to your budget) platform. Remove all the unnecessary features to keep a high concentration of activity.

6) Reflect the personality of the community. 
Have a real personality. Interact in a genuine, personable, way – not as a human drone. Avoid plural personal pronouns like we believe….Have opinions and voice them. Joke and tease members. Bring up in-jokes. Reflect the personality of the community.

7) Embrace human motivations.
Your members want to feel their contributions matter. You need to design an environment that allows members to feel like their contributions will reach a large number of people. This does not mean reward/reputation systems. It means giving members genuine areas of responsibility, soliciting volunteers, and giving real control over to members.

8) Frequently interact with the top 100 members. 
100 is arbitrary, but know your best members better than your worst. Build strong relationships with the key 100 participants. Reach out and touch base with them.

9) Never stop recruiting. 
Don’t leave growth to chance, proactively drive growth. Individually reach out to members, share community-generated material with links back to the community, secure promotion in prominent media.

8) Create content about the community.
Use content as a mechanism to highlight key contributions, reward the best contributors, and subtly nudge the community in the direction you want to go. Interview and profile your members. Write about what your members are doing and their achievements. Create a group of peers – ideally very jealous peers.

9) Drive activity. 
Similar to growth, you need to drive activity. Schedule regular events/activities to get members to participate. This might be webinars, new discussions, or an immediate challenge to resolve. Don’t leave activity to chance, directly stimulate it.

9) Encourage conflict.
Conflict is good for a community. Allow it, until it becomes personal. Allow and encourage heated debates over core issues. Don’t over-moderate.

10) Prioritize proactivity over reactivity.
Don’t become emotionally hooked on resolving petty disputes or trying to convert an unhappy members into a happy one. Focus on the activities that have the biggest, long-term, impact upon the greatest number of people. Every minute you spend resolving a petty dispute is a minute you can’t spend creating a community ebook, off-line gathering, or optimizing the registration stream

11) Optimize everything.
You have reams of data. Use this data to optimize the newcomer to regular conversion funnel, the retention rates, your invitation approach, your platform (kill the dead areas), even the types of discussions and content you create.

12) Make members smarter.
Do everything you can to help members to become better informed about the topic (or happier, wealthier, safer etc…). Take responsibility for ensuring members are as smart as they can be about the field.

13) Build a sense of community.
Create a genuine sense of community among members. Embrace the key four elements of membership, influence, integration of needs, and a shared emotional connection. Add a common history, raise and maintain the boundary, foster familiarity, and push towards more the deepest or more hardcore level of discussions.

14) Look ahead to the future of the topic.
Your community lives within an ecosystem. Identify the new trends and bring them into your community. Refine the concept to embrace the overal direction of the topic. Ensure your community is the pulse of what’s new within that topic.

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