Building an Internet Community
What is an “Internet Community”?
The definition of community is “a body of people living in the same place under the same laws; hence an assemblage of people living in a common home under similar conditions.”
Think about your community in the “real world”. Do you live in a town or a city? Do you have a group of people within that town that you communicate and interact with? Why do you choose these particular people to interact with? On a general level, you are probably interacting with the same people because you share common interests.
For example, if you are a college student studying engineering, you probably choose to interact with other students studying the same field. You need the support and understanding of other people which live in the same circumstances that you do. In otherwords, you share a set of “rules” which you must adhere to. Learning the rules is one of the reasons why we develop relationships.
If we transfer the definition of community to the internet, we can think of an “internet community” as a body of people looking for similar information, dealing with similar conditions, and abiding by the same “general rules”.
What kinds of information do you look for when you surf the web? What kinds of sites do you frequent? Are the sites that you frequent giving out similar kinds of information? Do you find sites that you visit again and again?
If a webmaster has done a good job at creating and maintaining their web site, you will find yourself “bookmarking” that site and returning to it again and again.
If you visit a site frequently, you have become a member of that site’s community. If you visit many sites which deal with the same type of information, you have become a member of a larger community which deals with similar content. For instance, I frequently find myself at Promotion World. I have become a member of this site’s community. I visit many sites which deal with web promotion; thus I have also become a member of the larger community of “web promoters”.
This is not inclusive, you may be visiting several different types of sites which offer different types of information. For instance, I’m interested in web promotion, so I frequent sites that have information concerning website promotion. However, I am also interested in online shopping, so I frequent sites that offer shopping opportunities. I am a member of both communities.
Joining a Community V. Building a Community
Now you must ask yourself, “Do I want to be a resident of the community or do I want to actively participate in the building of that community?” If you are a webmaster, your answer should be, “I want to help build the community!”
The very essence of establishing your “website presence” requires you to help build the community. You will be establishing your own community for your own website at the same time that you are helping to build the larger community of which your website is just one part.
However, you need to take it one step at a time. You can’t become the mayor of the community, until you’ve been a resident of the community.
Join a Community
1. First, find a community. Think about what you are offering on your site. What kind of people do you want to visit your site? Name them, call them something – “shoppers”, “vendors”, “collectors”, “web designers”, “graphic designers”.
2. Visit other sites which cater to these type of people. For instance, if you are trying to build a community of shoppers, then visit lots of sites which offer shopping.
3. Start actively joining in other site’s activities. For example, if they have a message board or a discussion board, start frequenting it. If they have a newsletter, subscribe to it. If they offer free articles, read them. If they have tutorials, go through them. In otherwords, become a member of the community.
4. Keep a list of the resources which these sites offer. How are these sites getting you to return again and again? What do you like about these sites? What don’t you like about these sites? Write it all down.
Build a Community
Once you become a member, you start learning the rules. Then you can start to help other people abide by the rules. You can start to help build your community. Your website can be its own little community, but always realize that you must also be a part of the larger community, and you can help to build the larger community in the following ways.
1. Become an advisor and an expert: Offer advice and solutions which will help people solve their problems, which help people follow the rules. Have this information available on your site but also offer the information to other sites. Post your advice on discussion boards, submit your advice to newsletters. Show people that you are an expert.
2. Provide a reference library: Build a directory of sites. These sites must contain useful information specific to the members of your community.
3. Provide original information: Offer articles, tutorials, newsletters or other types of information which the people in your community would find valuable.
4. Use interactive context: Provide tools which people can use to help them solve their problems.
5. Develop relationships: Write to other webmasters that offer complimentary services. Show them that you’ve been to their site. Tell them you want a reciprocal link. Or offer them an article or a piece of useful information that they can include on their site. You are showing them you are an expert, you are developing a relationship, and you are getting them to put a link on their site to your site.
6. Maintain your website: Have something new on your site everyweek. Tell people on your home page where they can find this new information.