Two weeks ago, I met with an organization looking to build a community for entrepreneurs.
Their plan was to create great content to attract people to visit the site and then include forums and other community elements. Voila, a community!
Can you spot the problems here?
First, content is ridiculously competitive and people have a limited amount of time. There is far too much content on almost every topic on the internet. It's difficult to be the best (expensive and time-consuming too). Building up a larger audience to create a community rarely works.
Second, content attracts people looking to satisfy their information needs. Converting these information-seekers to community members isn't as simple as adding community elements. There is no direct connection between reading content and participating in a community. Just think how much content you read every day and how much you talk about.
What if you forgot about content for a moment and focused your efforts solely upon the community? What if you initiated interesting discussions and invited people to participate? What if you promoted events and activities that were taking place in the community? What if you created a strong and unique community culture?
It's far easier to create a unique community than unique content. In fact, many of the most successful communities I've seen are simple forums or mailing groups with no centrally-produced content at all.
Free information doesn't have to be the pull to your community. I suspect participating with some of the most passionate, knowledgeable, friendly, funny or active people in your sector is a pretty big draw too. It's better to attract people to a community that want to participate in a community.