Launching an online community can be a tricky process. Here are 5 ways to get you on the right path.
1. Start small: Clay Shirky puts it best: "projects that will work only if they grow large generally won't grow large; people who are fixated on creating large-scale future success can actually reduce the possibility of creating the small-scale here-and-now successes needed to get there. A veritable law in social media is that to get to a system that is large and good, it is far better to start with a system that is small and good and work on making it bigger than to start with a system that is large and mediocre and working on making it better."
2. Get to know the user experience: Put yourself in the shoes of a variety of users (since not all users have the same intrinsic motivations) and ask lots of people for their thoughts. Try to see as many things from this outward-in angle. Users rarely behave as designers of a system expect or want them to (another Shirky quote, paraphrased). So eat at your own restaurant.
3. Be selective with initial audience: Don't try to target everyone. Pick out a select group according to who/what/where/why and spend A LOT of time with this initial group. Get them engaged and into positions of leadership. They will be the bedrock of the future success. This ties in with point #1: Start Small.
4. Technology platform doesn't have to be perfect. As I've discussed in a post titled "It's More about Your MEMBERS and Less the TECHNOLOGY", technology is an online community-enabler, but it's that at most. Focus more on the human aspect of your community. Technologies will come and go, but understanding human-drivers is forever.
5. Participate, participate, participate and stay scrappy. As the Community Manager, once you launch a community, stay intimately tied to everything that is going on. And stay scrappy. Try all sorts of new things yourself, and don't immediately drop the reigns and outsource everything to unknowing participants. This is your baby, and you have to raise it. If you have to pass the torch to a new Community Manager, make sure they are as passionate, understanding, and dedicated as you are.