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Imagine you are new in town, and you are invited to a party in a huge mansion.  The mansion has dozens of rooms, and it's very very quiet.  Do you feel intimidated? Are you going to grab an appetizer and sit in one of the empty rooms waiting for someone else to arrive?

The empty mansion is a mistake some beginning community owners make; they create dozens of categories and forums, on every subject imaginable, thinking this will encourage participation.  Instead, it creates a confusing, intimidating entry for newcomers, especially if most of the forums have no content yet.  But what's a new community manager to do?

Here are five quick tips that will get any new community organized for success:
  1. Don't build an "empty mansion" - limit your number of forums at first, I like to start with no more than 5 if it's a totally new community. You have plenty of room to forums as the community expands. It's always great to be responsive to members' requests for new forums.
  2. Leave some forums open; don't lock it all down - even if you're starting a private community, it's a good idea to leave some content public, even if it's read-only.  You want to give visitors a reason to join.  If they see engaging content, they'll want to stick around.
  3. Be welcoming, but don't be a "Tom" from Myspace - auto-welcomes are an OK last resort, but it's even better to have a live human notice new members and engage with them for real!
  4. Don't overseed - in many new communities, the forums are full of posts by the community manager and his/her colleagues, hoping to spark conversation.  If you have to "seed," do it sparingly and try to ask questions that will encourage other members to participate.
  5. Set the tone from the start with good guidelines - as you're creating forums, you need to also consider the vibe of the community. Hopefully you already have an audience in mind, and they already have something in common that will draw them together.  Use your community guidelines to establish from the start how things will run.  Perhaps include a moderator welcome as one of the first posts, in which your mods can introduce themselves and explain their moderation style.
What did you do when you first set up your forums? Please share your own "startup" tips with us!

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