My former boss, who reads this blog, asked me how to actually build online communities yesterday.
You start by identifying what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it by. You figure out what resources you have and who you want to reach. Find a metric to measure success by.
Then you focus on the people you want to reach. What do they value? Identify your first members. What are the topical issues here? Who are the big influencers? What technology do members use? What are their personalities and motivations for participating online?
This saves you from firing blanks.
Now put this together and answer what type of online community will it be? What’s the big appeal? What do members need from the interface? How soon can you launch? Who is going to build the interface, and when?
When you’re ready, launch it. Drop personal e-mails to your early members before you launch. Build relationships with the influencers you’ll need later. Introduce members to each other. Seed content some early content, and give new members clear actions to take. Develops tactics to keep growing internally.
Next you begin developing a sense of community.
Encourage members to invest time in your community, create boundaries. Shine the spotlight on high-achieving members. Ensure everyone can influence the group, in at least small way. Offer rewards to motivate members. Introduce members to each other, set tasks and celebrate milestones. Treat top members much better. Get some press coverage. Continue reaching out to members to join. Recruit and train volunteers to take on your workload.