One of the more common questions I get asked is how you can grow your community and how you can get more activity. As with most things that require a great deal of work, people are looking for that magic, secret tip. But, that doesn’t exist because that’s not how it works.
Yes, there are some specific things that you can do that are directly related to online communities and may not be applicable in non-community spaces. While not all online communities may consider themselves to be a website (like communities built around a mobile app or a mailing list, for example – this post doesn’t really apply to them), it’s important to remember that, even though an online community is more than a website, it is still a website.
I point this out to say that the majority of impactful promotional activities that you can undertake are things that are considered general internet marketing tactics, things that would apply to most websites looking to gain visitors.
For example, if this is a public community, making sure that your content is generally search engine accessible goes a long, long way. Search engine traffic accounts for the majority of the traffic that many communities receive. You don’t need to go SEO (search engine optimization) crazy, but look at how your software handles it and see if you need to install some kind of hack or add-on. Do all of your pages have dynamic titles? Do you have search engine friendly URLs?
In fact, one of the biggest tips I can give to a community manager of a public, open registration community, is to make sure that their content is spidered and indexed by search engines. It may not be some great revelation, it may not be sexy – but, it can be of vital, high impact importance.
How good is your domain name? Is it easy to spell and say vocally? Is it a .com? Unless you have a reason not to use a .com (non-profit organization, country specific website, etc.), generally speaking, use a .com. How fast does your website load? Do you have a reliable web host? Do you have a call to action in your header, encouraging people to register or do whatever it is that you want them to do?
These are things that can help most websites, whether they be a blog, an ecommerce website, a large company’s website, the dentist office down the street or, yes, your online community. Yet, I find that many people are too interested in “more activity” and in some secret sauce, then in covering these important online marketing “basics.” And when I tell them this, some of them look at me with disappointment, as if I’ve let them down.
But, don’t ever lose sight of the fact that your online community is also a website (unless it isn’t). Just because our communities are about people and not technology doesn’t mean that you can disregard that the art of community building is partially reliant on the technology.