9 Things You Need to Know about Starting a Profitable Online Community
Know why it works. People have an inherent need to collaborate. Maybe it’s in our genes, but human beings seem to need, in addition to food, clothing and shelter, a fourth factor to sustain us: collaboration. Before the Internet, we commuted to work along with all of our fellow workers, hung our coats up together, shared a coffee break, discussed our families and our weekends, and gossiped about various topics of shared interests. Today, thanks to telecommuting—people working from home or from Wi-Fi spots—the need to collaborate is palpably urgent. “The goal that a person seeks to fulfill in joining an online or mobile community is to collaborate with others who, like him or her, share a common interest,” says Silver. “Through sharing that common interest, the joiner seeks to solve his or her problem: a vital need to collaborate.”
Reputation management is key. Think about it. People are willing to send $600 to perfect strangers for a purchase on eBay because it provides trustworthiness scores for sellers and buyers. Your success will be tied to your trustworthiness and part of that trust will be built based on how you deal with betrayers and defectors within your community. “Publishing the names of betrayers and defectors is the best way to deal with the problem,” says Silver. “If they create new identities, publish those as well, and along with their new identities publish the ISPs who sold the defectors their e-mail addresses. Since their reputations are valuable to them, they will not continue selling an e-mail address to a person who violates the trust that the communities offer to him. Whatever you do, implementing an effective reputation management service will be imperative in order for you to maintain the success of your community.”
Corporations can get involved, too, but you’ll have to be creative. Existing corporations can get involved with online communities, but corporate leaders must understand how their situation differs from that of entrepreneurs. The biggest obstacle corporations have to overcome is distrust: Often people do not completely believe what a corporation says about its own products. That’s why creating communities where users come in order to learn about a corporation’s products and services won’t work. There are several approaches corporations can take. For instance, launch products experientially, making the experience of finding a “hidden” new product one that people will want to share. Place your products in online games. Sponsor experiential events in communities that have no financial or legal relationship with your corporation. Finally, make a venture capital investment in an online community that will benefit your company.