You’ve managed to achieve what has eluded innumerable wannabe entrepreneurs: You actually got your startup off the ground! While you might feel tempted to pat yourself on the back until you dislocate your own shoulder, you’re not quite done yet as your new enterprise now requires an active and motivated online community to support its spread. While a handful of entrepreneurs demonstrate remarkable capabilities in creating such a community, the majority simply don’t have a clue even on how to start on this path and thus severely handicap their new venture from the get-go. Following these top five tips will help you provide your product or service the online community support it deserves.

  • Appoint a moderator. Every community needs its manager and the moderator becomes the real face of your community, rather than a gray corporate “we.” This individual has to demonstrate tact, sensitivity, authority, and be highly skilled in tackling controversial issues. They have to be friendly, approachable, gregarious, but at the same time be able to enforce the rules of the community for the benefit of all. The entire tone of the group is set by the moderator as the members will look to them to determine just how severely serious or knee-slapping light-hearted it will be.
  • Lay out the starting procedures. It’s not sufficient to just attract individuals and throw them into the melee, as you need to create a set of actions which each new member must undergo in order to familiarize themselves with your community and allow your current members to familiarize themselves with their new member. These actions can include an “Introduce Yourself” section, or a restriction to the “Newbie” subgroup for a week until they get their bearings. Whatever start actions you choose, make sure that they are simple, enjoyable, and communicate to the new member the benefits of your community.
  • Provide ample help. Very few of your new members will actually feel comfortable in asking for help and that is the reason why you have to make it extra easy for them to do so. Providing both public and private help functions will allow your new members to choose whether they want to solicit the wide input from the group at large towards the resolution of their problem, or whether they prefer to do so confidentially through a private conversation with your moderator.
  • Commit to consistency. TrekMovie.com is a marvelous online resource and community for thousands of Trekkies, even offering the active ongoing participation of one of the film’s writers, but it suffers from the “hurry up and wait” problem of many other online communities. Whether or not there is any real news on the Star Trek Movie Front, the site will see a flurry of postings from the community managers, sometimes more than one each day, and then they’ll go through weeks or even over a month without a single sign of life. This remarkable inconsistency befuddles the community members and there are many instances of public grumbling as to whether the site is dead until it mysteriously goes back into hyper-post mode. Don’t emulate their error and commit to serving your community on a consistent and sustainable manner from Day One.
  • Stop selling. The members of your community are already very well acquainted with the Unique Value Proposition of your product or service so you can put aside your sales hat and move towards serving the needs of the customers who have already convinced themselves to be in your camp. That translates into providing common usage tips, innovative applications, sneak peeks into upcoming variants, competitive comparisons, and authoritative power-user information. As a startup entrepreneur, you are establishing a firm foundation for the future of your company by embracing and nurturing a group of true believers who will spontaneously become your evangelist advocates across the internet.

The creation and maintenance of any online community is always a marathon and never a sprint. Don’t sign on for the short run as you’ll need to keep up the effort over the entire life cycle of your startup… but you’ll be amply rewarded!