6 Key Questions to Answer Before Starting Your Online Community

You've decided you need an online community. Good, because you probably do. Yes, even if you already have a Facebook page (falls under the "don't put all of your eggs in one basket" rule).  Before you go off to the races, you need to sit down with yourself (or your team) and hash out the answers to these questions:

  1. How will I define success?  If you don't know where you're going, you definitely won't get there.  Are you going to measure number of registered users/followers/fans? Page views? Posts? Is the community supposed to contribute to marketing efforts, or is it a "labor of love?"
  2. Am I monetizing, or not? There is a case to be made for online communities that exist for intangible ROI, buzz, or fan-building. But you need to get straight in your head whether you will charge a premium for certain features, run ads, or ask for donations.  Does cold, hard cash figure into your equation?
  3. How open/closed will I be? Do I need COPPA registration? Is your community wide open, or do you pre-approve registrations? Do you moderate comments? Do you have censor words? If so, what are they? What are your community guidelines?
  4. Who is in charge? Like any good party, your online community needs a host. Preferably someone with lots of people skills, knowledge of your platform(s), and very thick skin. Someone is going to need to be the point person, present in the community and guiding it to success.
  5. Where are my seedlings? You can call on your existing relationships to seed your new community.  Do you know how to reach them? Are there subject area experts you can invite?
  6. How will I tie it all together? Think about your existing community tools. How will you create a seamless experience for your users? Consider integrating the branding, logins, and content wherever you can. Will you offer forums? Blogs? Chat events? All of the above?

Did I miss any important points?  Feel free to add to the list.

...and if you're considering starting your own community, and need help sorting all of this out, please email letstalk@socialstrata.com and we'd love to help get you moving in the right direction!

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I'd love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, or connect with me on Twitter.

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Comments (4)

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Thanks all for the excellent additions to the list!

LOM great one! If you're going to throw a great party, you want to focus more on the comfort of your guests than yourself, right?

Harold, we've always been big fans of Leo.  It's cool to hear that something we did a long time ago has rippled through the years   And we've definitely benefited from having you around too!
I went to opposite approach. I purchased a UBB license from Infopop to give a few friends and I a new home and blindly jumped in with both feet.

I can't thank you enough for giving a complimentary license to Leo Laporte. That was my intro to the world of Social Strata.
Excellent points and great thoughts to consider before starting an online community.


An addition to 1: How do my forum users define success, and is this congruent with my definition? What is their baseline for success, and what factors will cause them to consider the community a failure?
Great article, Rosemary!

I'd just add this:

to 1. - No matter HOW you define success, your community must be visible in order to be successful.  I've seen too many people hide their communities so that it takes a trail of breadcrumbs and a jungle machete to find it.

to 2. - Completely agree that these are questions that are best answered before you start.  We've seen a number of communities try to set up "premium features" on formerly-free features.
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