Remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the bad guy brandishes an impressively frightening knife, and Indy whips out his pistol and shoots him? Yeah, when you design your community, be sure you align your "weapon" with the mission at hand.
Your online community's purpose should be tightly integrated with the rest of the organization's Web strategy. For example, if you are a corporation whose primary reason for being online is e-commerce, ensure that your online community provides opportunities to discuss and purchase your products. If you are a high-end design firm whose primary purpose online is to showcase the company portfolio and designers, you may want to showcase your design skills by customizing the online community.
Something to think about when choosing a community technology is whether it will easily integrate with the rest of your existing Web site. Find out whether you can share membership login information, pull chunks of information from the community onto other Web pages, or completely customize the interface. Each of these things adds to the seamless experience your visitors deserve.
Simply put, your online community should not be "just another goodie" on your Web site.
Most successful organizations have financial goals and a clearly defined business mission. Your investment in online community should be a contributor to that bottom line. However, you'll never know whether it is or not if you aren't setting up expectations from the very outset. Arm yourself with knowledge of how the corporate financial goals are set, as well as the Web strategy financial goals, and create financial goals for your online community.
Your community technology should also assist you in evaluating its financial return. Look for an application that will allow you to track vital statistics, such as member activity and growth in member registrations. If you plan to charge a fee for membership in your online community, you'll need technology that will allow you to differentiate between paid and unpaid members (for example, you could have public forums accessible to all and private forums accessible only to paid members). If your typical revenue online is derived from advertising, start thinking of creative ways to integrate ads within the online community. Some community technology will allow you to go far beyond the generic banner ad, allowing you to feed smaller, more targeted ad information directly within the community interface.
The bottom line is that if your online community is going to be either a revenue-generating or cost-savings asset, you need to configure it that way from the very beginning. Every step you take in setting up the community should reflect your financial goals.
And never, EVER forget that Indiana Jones is thinking the same way.