How to build online communities?

Max Levchin
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One of the best talks I heard at CasualConnect last week was “Building communities, not just hits” by Max Levchin (founder and CEO of Slide) and Philip Rosedale (founder and CEO of Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life). Creating an online community is extremely hard to do and I have seen a lot of examples where it just happened but nobody could explain why (and tons of examples where community plans never took off) so I appreciated the thoughts by Max and Philip on this topic. They basically boiled it down to 4 success factors:

  • Provide tools for self-organization: human beings love to be part of groups so if you provide communities tools for self-organization, people will know “who is with them and who is against them”. This could be centered around interests, passions, or locations but the principle of wanting to belong to and identifying with sub-communities is a strong driver of engagement.
  • Give people a place to show off and represent themselves: this is the old principle of letting people create profiles to show their personality which has increased in importance with the emergence of game mechanics (i.e. badges) and virtual goods (i.e. decorating your profile)
  • Leave room for drama in forums: you need to monitor forums so that things do not get out of hand but a bit of drama is good as it provides the basis for new conversations.
  • Creating and trading stuff as key activities: giving a community the ability to create stuff (e.g. decorations, virtual goods) has a big impact on engagement. Even better is letting them trade the stuff.

Building online communities is very hard but if you are successful, you can create amazing value for your startup. So think about those 4 points when you think about adding a community aspect to your site.

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