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The word "start-up" can conjure a lot of different pong tables in the conference room, sleep-deprived grads, and people wearing geek glasses.  But anyone who is in the business of starting new online communities would do well to take some pointers from the crazy start-up scene. 


Here's what I mean:

 petsdotcom sock puppet

Build your "customer base" before you launch - the best online communities start with a core group who already know each other.  If you're planning to break ground on a new community, contact your core group before launch and offer a special invitation.  Successful start-ups always know their market before releasing anything.


You can sleep when you're dead - it takes a lot of patience and dedication to launch a start-up, and your new community will require a time investment.  You don't necessarily have to sleep under your desk, but be sure you commit to being present and "on-deck" as your community launches and beyond.


Drink a lot of Mountain Dew - As a community manager, I would translate this as "keep your energy level high."  Hopefully you don't have to be hopped up on caffeine to be excited about your community's subject area, but your enthusiasm will initially set the tone for newcomers and returning members. 


Pay attention to the environment - there's a reason why startups are famous for the Aeron chairs (thank you, VCs) and out-of-the-box perks.  The style, colors, graphics, and amenities of your online community should all work together to form a cohesive environment for your members.  And it's always a good idea to think out of the box (i.e., no cubicles).


Decide whether to bootstrap or get investors - if your community is a labor of love, will you be willing to pay for the hosting, platform, promotions?  Are you going to add premium memberships or premium content to make some money back?  Would you like to have advertising or sponsorships, or is your community an ad-free zone?


Don't become - in other words, don't be all razzle-dazzle and no substance.  Snazzy technology, advertising gimmicks, and slick design are no match for real interactions by real people.  Focus most of your attention on building those human connections that meet real needs, and your sock puppet won't become a cautionary tale.


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


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