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Creating a Successful Community

Posted 09-03-2008 at 03:18 PM by NoeJeko
Updated 02-18-2009 at 10:42 PM by NoeJeko
We see it all the time. A new game launches and a myriad of fansites sprout from the internet to provide a community for the gamers. They all start off well; all of them seem to show promise. Often, they all have a unique angle and an active management staff. They should all be destined for stardom, right?

Fast forward 6 months.

The new gameís players populate one of two communities - the official game forums and the last remaining fansite. Wait, werenít there 10 of them when this game came out? What happened to them all? Can you even remember their names? How many of you remember all the fansites that existed when Ragnarok Online launched?

Creating a successful community is not as simple as slapping a forum on a webserver, drawing some pretty pictures, and letting it grow. In the world of online communities, if you build it they will not come. While thereís no secret guide on communities, there are some common factors between the ones that live.

1. Infrastructure. The greatest, most informative site in the world is nothing if the users cannot access it. Infrastructure costs money - and money is something that eludes many startup communities. They place their site on a shared host planning to upgrade when they get bigger. One major event happens, their site gets slammed with traffic, and the webserver buckles under the load. Users turn to the gameís official forums or their favorite search engine to find a site they can actually use. With infrastructure, you must stay one step ahead of your current requirements. You never know when that traffic spike will occur.

2. Management. ďA chain is only as strong as itís weakest linkĒ - but if that link happens to be at the top then the entire chain falls when it breaks. Iíve seen many fansites start out with strong management but, as time goes on, their staff gets busy with other things and their community activity dwindles. A less active staff means less new features, more spam creeping into the community, and less policing of activity that drives users away - such as trolling and flaming. Maintaining an active staff is paramount to a communityís survival.

3. Search Engine Optimization. You can only advertise your new community by word of mouth so much. At some point, you must let the tools designed to drive traffic to your site do their work. Making a search engine friendly site is a science that no one has yet perfected yet many achieve to do so. Companies have started explicitly to SEO sites for other entities. Products such as Crawlabilityís vBSEO for vBulletin work wonders. If you cannot look at your pageís URL and tell what content itís supposed to contain, chances are that a web spider cannot either. Spend the money and get the site properly SEOíed.

4. Be first. Being the first in any market has its advantages. Most people, when asking for a tissue, will ask for a Kleenex. They donít care if they get a Wal-Mart brand tissue and they arenít asking specifically for Kleenex brand tissues. People in the southern United States often ask for a Coke - if you ask them what flavor theyíll tell you that they want Dr. Pepper or Sprite. People remember things that come first. To this day, x86 architecture computers are still sometimes referred to as IBM-compatibles. If youíre the first, youíre more likely to be remembered than the second.

5. If you canít be first, do it better. The first major operating system to come into the computer world was UNIX in the late 1960ís. Now, under #4 above, we should all be running UNIX, right? (some of you are probably wondering what a UNIX is at this point). Thereís a reason that weíre not - Microsoft came along and did a better job - at least from the casual userís point of view. Itís not always possible to be the first in everything but if youíre not first, then you need something to make up for it. You have to give a reason why people should join your community instead of the older, more established community. Provide a feature that no one else has.

If you can hit 4 out of 5 of these points then youíre well on your way to creating a successful community. It wonít happen overnight and youíll never reach the point where you can sit back and let your community just grow. You must remain constantly engaged with it - constantly releasing new features, bringing new content, and driving new interest. You have to remain flexible enough to change something when itís proving that it doesnít work. Your community will thank you for it through growth.

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Tags: features, mmog, vision
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