What Does It Take To Build A Community?

We’re currently building a number of community based “social media” website. Obviously I’m interested generally in what makes a good online community, but this time there’s a practical aspect to this – I want my customer’s sites to succeed!

Let’s throw this open for comments.

What do you think are the critical factors involved? Is it specific functionality? Great moderators? The initial “link bait” content that gets people there in the first place? One or two really sociable users?

4 responses on “What Does It Take To Build A Community?

  1. Elie

    All of the points that you mention are valid, but my favourite online community, http://stackoverflow.com, has one additional factor. The site is controlled by its users. By that, it means that the questions, and answers, are moderated not by some superuser (although there are a couple, but they never do anything) but by the other users of the site.

  2. Jeremy Lichtman Post author

    Sounds somewhat like the late, lamented Askme.com questions and answers site.

    I’ll check that site out. Thanks for the lead!

  3. sol

    Do you really think you’ll nail your target on the first try? The first bunch of users will probably have feedback. And you will have to respond to it FAST or they will migrate quickly to another competing “community”. Users of these communities can be very fickle, especially if there’s a viable alternative. Why should they stay with yours if it doesn’t adapt?

    Once the initial change suggestions slow down, the focus will probably shift more to something that is specific to your community. Maybe system stability and bug fixes, maybe content moderation or creation… who knows…

    …But this already assumes that:
    – You have clearly identified a target demographic (maybe with fuzzy edges though) and done some research.
    – You have a set of features you think your demographic is interested in and will want to use.
    – You can explain to this demographic WHY they should use your community over other similar ones (if others even exist, but I assume you’ve researched the competition as well). Just because your system is great, that does not mean the others are not great.. You will need some conversion incentive.
    – You have SOME mechanism to let the target demographic know about this new development. Billboards, radio ads, business cards, Google ads, SEO, skywriting, etc.. any of these in any combination.

    1. Jeremy Lichtman Post author

      I’ve built a few communities before. 🙂

      I’ve spoken to many people about this over the years, and while there are some commonalities, people have very strong (and personal) preferences for the communities that they participate in. Part of that seems to be thematic – getting the right niche, minimalizing the number of people they dislike etc. That’s only part of it though.