If you wanted a successful marketing campaign, you would probably copy successful marketing campaigns. If you want a successful community, I suggest you copy successful communities.
Backyard Chickens is one of the most successful communities I’ve ever seen. It has 5.1m posts from 77,000 users. That’s phenomenal.
This is the sort of community organizations claim they want but refuse to imitate. They refuse because it looks ugly. They refuse because they need to brand the community. They refuse because they think they know how to do it better.
I'd suggest that you probably don't know better. I'd suggest that if you want a community with 5.1m posts, you copy what works for that community.
Here are some lessons you should follow:
- Clear, specific, focus. There aren’t that many people on the world interested in raising chickens, but because backyard chickens is so focused it dominates its niche. It doesn’t expand to other areas like farming or raising animals. The smaller niche you target, the easier it is to dominate.
- Long-term planning. Backyard Chickens has been going for over a decade. It might be around for another decade yet too. It didn’t need, nor want, a quick success.
- Simple technology. Forums work. Forums are the backbone of nearly every successful community. They may be out-dated (like the phone and e-mail), but they work.
- Balanced categories. As it became clear which topics were popular, categories were created for those threads. The forum itself is now very well balanced.
- Off-topic discussion. Allow and encourage plenty of off-topic discussion. It lets members bond beyond the initial topic matter.
- Loose moderation. The communities aren’t strictly moderated. They have a loose level of moderation.
- Limited advertising/spamming. You don’t feel you’re being spammed up to your maximum tolerance level. You’re being advertised to as little as possible – which probably adds up to a lot of money.
Aside, Rob Ludlow (community manager) has a stunning array of successful sites you should check out. People with a successful track record of developing multiple communities are hard to find. Rob is one of the few.