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Get Your Online Community Off to a Rockin’ Start!

Way back when Google+ first introduced communities, I jumped right in and started a community myself. It suddenly made social media more relevant — focusing in-depth dialog around a specific topic of likeminded people. Now with Facebook communities, the same is true: online communities are a fantastic place to meet interesting, smart people from all over the world and have targeted, coherent conversation.

The re:DESIGN community I started is focused on smart design intersecting with business strategies to reach, engage, and inspire people to action. We have had countless conversations around all things design, creativity and innovation.

Of course, running an online community isn’t as easy as it sounds and there are some very important things to keep in mind when starting an online community to ensure its success. There’s nothing worse than a community that stagnates with no engagement.

Follow these 12 points and you’re sure to rock your online community!

1. Community focus and organization
Let’s start right at the top, since these are important factors that will be critical to the success of your community:

  • Topic focus — what will you talk about?
  • Name — what will your community be called?
  • Tagline — how will you encapsulate what you’re about in just a few words?
  • Introduction — how can you tell a little more of your story?
  • Type of community — will it be public or private?

Your topic and focus should be crystal clear and hopefully different from all the other communities out there. Keep the name short and add a compelling tagline. You can tell a little more about your community in the introductory “About this community” section. The topic categories you choose will also play a part in how clearly people understand what types of discussions take place and help encourage engagement. Making the community public or private affects how people can join and what people can see — it’s a decision only you can make based on what you’re trying to accomplish. Careful though, because you can’t change this setting later.

2. Branding
Taking #1 a step further, use the profile photo to create a brand image that will stand out and express the feeling you want your community to have. The profile image will be the welcome mat every time someone visits your “home” and function as a little ad as well — so spend some time on this. It could either be a photo or a total branded image complete with a logo. It’s a visual world, and social media has become highly visual — doing this right will encourage people to join and visit more often.

3. Set rules and establish protocol
The “About” section is a great place to establish some basic ground rules right upfront. I include things like “no link dropping” and that people should include a thought or opinion when posting to encourage dialog. After all, conversation and building relationships are the whole point of having a community.

4. Show up
It’s important to be visible in the community you run. People will take your lead — if you are active, they will be active. If you’re MIA, it sends the signal that you don’t care so nobody else will either. As community owner, you also become de facto model member, so it’s important to always exhibit the behavior you want to see in your community.

5. Post good stuff
It all begins with good content — and good content spawns more good content. So it follows that if you desire to build a community with rich content, make sure you start by posting good content focusing on quality, not quantity. A strong, well-run community will post more good content than a poorly run one.

Networking on Social Media -- Online opens the door but offline closes the deal.6. Enlist moderators
You can start right off by designating moderators to help run the community or wait until later — but once you grow to a certain size this becomes very important. Moderators can help keep things moving and relieve some of the daily tasks of monitoring spam and approving/greeting new people who join.It’s always good to have another set of eyes making sure everything is running smoothly. Moderators also help post content, especially during slower times in the community.

7. Be encouraging
Generously “Like” people’s posts and comments. Do it often — show your community that you care and appreciate their contributions. Everyone is busy and there are lots of other places people could be spending their time, yet they chose your community and took the time to engage. Welcome them enthusiastically and thank them. There are lots of ways you can do this, and if you really like something that was posted, don’t forget to share it outside the community too!

8. Be friendly but firm
Nothing will kill a community quicker than a stream full of links with no engagement, or other undesirable behavior. If you’re not careful, this can happen faster than you think. So while a positive, friendly demeanor is important in any community, do not hesitate to enforce the community rules — repeat offenders must be bounced.

9. Pump it up!
You can instill new life in your community at any moment. So do it! When you’re really “feeling it,” that’s a perfect time to engage and communicate your enthusiasm at its authentic best! People will know it’s real and be motivated to respond with their own enthusiasm. Maybe you’ll even help turn someone’s bad day into a better day. It works!

10. Post reminders
Every once in awhile, it’s a good idea to remind people of the little things that will make the community better. We post reminders about selecting the correct category when posting to keep the community’s content organized, and things like asking people to introduce themselves if they haven’t done so yet.

11. Live video chats
There is great benefit in deepening online relationships by going offline too — and video is the perfect bridge from online to offline.

12. Invite relevant people
When you meet people online in your other interactions and they seem like a good fit for your community, don’t be afraid to invite them in. They will likely thank you for it, and it’s a great way to “pre-qualify” people and their involvement could end up sparking your community.

As in any successful venture, it’s the little things that matter. I hope I gave you a bunch of little things here to consider so that you can get your online community off to a rocking start!Are you planning on starting an online community? If you have one already, what do you do to rock yours? Let me know in the comments section below.

This post first appeared on 12 Most, the best list site on the web.
Featured image courtesy of tessa needham creative licensed via Creative Commons.
Photo illustration work: Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN
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