I have been a community builder for over nine years. In this time I have learnt a lot, and I am still learning. Here are 95 things I have learnt so far:
1. You need to know why you want an online community.
2. A strong community cannot be built quickly.
3. You need to have specific goals and targets.
4. Technology doesn’t matter.
5. Planning a community should take longer than the design and coding stage.
6. Starting an online community is the most exciting stage of community building.
7. Developing and managing a successful online community is the most rewarding part of community building.
8. Dormant online communities can be turned around.
9. Ads shouldn’t distract from your content and they should never have more prominence than the community.
10. Never hide your community – it doesn’t belong behind a ‘community’ tab.
11. Make sure members are able to invite friends to your community easily.
12. Poaching members from other online communities rarely works.
13. Social bookmarking traffic is next to worthless. Don’t bother chasing it.
14. Search engine rankings do help and they do matter. Don’t get obsessed, though.
15. Paid advertising won’t always get you the right members for your community.
16. Google is fickle.
17. You will deal with more spam than you ever thought possible.
18. You need to watch what your competitors are doing.
19. Competitors will try to steal your members.
20. There is nothing wrong with stealing ideas as long as you don’t copy them.
21. Befriending your competitors is a good idea.
22. Keep your community as open as possible.
23. Don’t be fooled into thinking members will use features even if they requested those features.
24. Keep features down to a minimum.
25. Your reputation is important. Defend it.
26. Expand your community slowly.
28. You don’t need expensive software.
29. You don’t need a flashy design.
30. Your community needs to be easy to use.
31. You need to go and find new members – they won’t always come to you.
32. A lot of people won’t understand what you do for a living.
33. If you don’t regularly backup, you’ll be punished.
34. One day, you will need to ban someone from your community.
35. You will be called names, and you will face abuse.
36. All online communities need to have visible (and enforced) guidelines and rules.
37. You have a responsibility to educate your members about staying safe when online.
38. You need to highlight the best content and give strong calls to action.
39. You don’t need money to build a successful online community.
40. You need to know what your visitors are doing when on your site.
41. You need to know how visitors are finding your site.
42. You need to know how visitors are interacting with your site.
43. You need to install something at least as good as Google Analytics.
44. Link exchanges can still provide some value, but don’t spend too much time on them.
45. If you encourage abuse and arguments, your community will be a hive of negativity.
46. Controversy and suspense encourages activity, but see point 45.
47. Asking questions is the single most effective way of generating activity in an online community.
48. You need to share information about yourself.
49. You need to be approachable.
50. You need to be consistent.
51. You need to be personable.
52. You need to be visible.
53. You need to be proactive.
54. You need to be involved in the community.
55. You will make mistakes.
56. Sometimes you will need to say sorry.
57. Your successes will tempt you to forget about your mistakes. Don’t.
58. Sometimes your community will disappoint you.
59. Sometimes your community will overwhelm you.
60. Sometimes your community will make you proud.
61. Sometimes you’ll feel as though your entire community is against you.
62. Never give cash to your members.
63. Competitions need to be thought out very carefully. They are rarely effective.
64. You need to act as a matchmaker by introducing members to other members.
65. Sometimes you’ll just get lucky. There’s no shame in that.
66. Sometimes you’ll be unlucky – you’ll need to work even harder.
67. You’ll make friends.
68. You’ll make enemies.
69. Sometimes you’ll want to quit.
70. Sometimes you’ll want to work 24 hours every day.
71. You need to cater to your members – not your own wants or needs.
72. Trust is critical.
73. You need to give out a lot of ego strokes and compliments.
74. You should always try to say yes.
75. Sometimes you will need to say no.
76. You can’t please everyone.
77. Some members will always complain.
78. You will feel humbled by your online community.
79. Your members will not always say things you want to hear.
80. Do not edit or delete negative comments about your brand. Respond to them openly.
81. The more you moderate or intervene, the less active your community will be.
82. You need to delegate some tasks to trusted members.
83. You should give trusted members additional responsibilities and powers.
84. Your moderators need to know exactly what is expected of them.
85. Don’t focus solely on your power members.
86. You need to work hard to get dormant members active and involved.
87. You can’t predict the future.
88. You can’t be afraid to experiment.
89. You need to be original and come up with new ideas.
90. Your community needs to be different.
91. It can be easy to forget that a real person sits behind every member name.
92. You need to be passionate about your online community.
93. A community cannot be declared a success based on member count alone.
94. Online communities need a dedicated community manager.
95. Being a community manager is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.
I deliberately stopped short of 100. Having 100 points could imply that this list is comprehensive and covers everything. It may also suggest I have nothing more to learn. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
What have you learnt in your time as a community builder?