I’ve been spending a significant amount of time thinking about the difference between traditional, static websites and online communities as more companies start to make the leap into online communities. In the past, when you created a traditional web site, only your employees could tell how many people visited and interacted with your site. You could hide the dirty little secret that only 10 people per day visited your website, since only the employees with access to your analytics would ever know the truth. In other words, websites fail privately.
Online communities, on the other hand, fail publicly. When you launch an online community and nobody participates, you fail very publicly. Anyone visiting the community can see that people aren’t participating, and it can be damaging to your brand.
Because communities fail publicly, it is important never to launch a community that is empty or nearly empty of content. You need to provide some content and set the tone for the community. It’s like attending a party with a dance floor. If no one is already dancing, it can be hard to get people started, but once you get a few people on the dance floor, others will take their lead and join in a similar fashion.
Here are a few quick tips to help make sure that your new community succeeds:
- Have a content roadmap and plan for content. Participation takes work, and it won’t magically happen without a little work on your part.
- Seed some content prior to launch. Create a few discussions with questions designed to stimulate conversations, and post other content that participants might find interesting.
- Run a beta with your favorite 10-25 people (depending on the size of the effort). These could friendly customers or people in your industry with interesting ideas.
- Promote your community and encourage your early beta testers to help get the word out about the community.
Spend the time during the planning phases of the community to make sure that you have a plan for the content and the resources to execute your plans over the long term. If you can’t get the resources or don’t have enough time to devote to the community, it might not be the right time to launch a community, and a static website might be a better choice for now.
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