Flashing Lights
Creative Commons License photo credit: jurvetson

Allow me to get on my Kanye West for a second. I’m a soldier of culture. In online communities. I believe that, to create a really beneficial, unique online community, what you win at – more than anything – is culture.

One thing I hear people say with some regularity is “I’ll never be the largest community in my niche” or “There is this well established community in the space I want to enter – I’ll never catch them!” or “I’ve put in so much time, but we’re still not as active as XYZ!”

Usually what I tell these people is to forget the numbers. Win at culture. Being the largest or most active community in your niche is a nice feather in your cap. But, I believe that a majority of long running, well established, sustained communities often share a number of things in common. One of those things? They win at culture!

Here’s what I mean: numbers come and go. Activity can come and go, too. If you live and die by that stuff, you’ll be easily disappointed. What I live for is the culture of my communities, our unique atmosphere. The environment. How people speak to one another, how knowledge is exchanged. What the tone of the community is. That is the stuff I live for.

Besides, being #1 in activity isn’t all roses and there can be a lot of room for success in the #2 through #10 slots, depending on the niche.

KarateForums.com isn’t the largest martial arts community in the world. It’s one of them, but it’s not top 5 and probably isn’t top 10. This isn’t the most active it’s been in it’s history (but activity has gone up over the last year or two). What KarateForums.com is, however, is a work and generally family friendly community that is inviting and engaging.

People care, they help each other, they provide thoughtful replies, they freely share information and engage in detailed discussions, while being respectful and kind, overall. If you visit the site, this is palpable. That is who we are. And I love that. We’re #1 at that, in my mind.

Trying to win at activity is fine, but it’s chasing a phantom. It’s like priding yourself strictly on being the youngest or on being the most good looking. Youth (I’m finding this with each passing day) and good looks (… no comment) fade. But, culture is ever lasting.