Over the past few years, I’ve had a bunch of meetings with people trying to extract the secret sauce I used to make Indus Delta into a popular, profitable website. One or two actually made the leap and went on to build their own communities, e.g. No Offence. Hopefully the NUJ conference I addressed on the topic (alongside Guido Fawkes!) inspired a few people as well.

Having seen more than a few different websites in related fields launch and then, usually, sputter to a halt, I’ve been wondering if there was a magic ingredient that brought the whole thing together. Most people launching websites seem to have knowledge of the social marketing side of things, Twitter and Facebook and the top 10 email techniques and so on. A lot of it doesn’t seem to work that well though. Sending newsletters with teasers that don’t reveal the actual story until you go to the website? Doesn’t work so well when the story never matches the sizzle. One putative competitor of Indus Delta launched with the boast that its new site had 10,000 Twitter followers on day 1. Never mind that they’d clearly all been bought to puff up the numbers. So, just trying to follow all the latest social media marketing trends isn’t the secret sauce.

I think a fundamental issue is that people aren’t clear that, when they’re building online services or sites that they want people to develop a relationship with, what they’re actually trying to do is build online communities. There are exceptions to this, but most of the sites I’ve been an onlooker or participant in have as their business objective providing interesting or useful content to build ongoing user engagement and participation leading to sales income, either through ad sales, paid consulting, or subscription fees. That means that these readers of the website, or users of the web service, are a community. And they should be treated as such, and nurtured and communicated with appropriately. Taking them for suckers isn’t going to end well most of the time.

Social media marketing and online community building are somewhat different beasts, and while the former has spawned an entire industry of consultants, the latter has fallen by the wayside. It stretches back to at least the 80s as a discipline, making it rather ancient and dusty. That also means that there are well established good practices to follow, and I guess my recommendation to anyone thinking of starting a website with a community element (yes, that includes blogs) is to take some time to understand them.

That brings me to the actual purpose of this post, which is to recommend an absolute classic on online community building and management, Community Building on the Web by Amy Jo Kim. It was published in 2000 and is still available in e-book format.

Really, much of community building is marketing seen from a different angle, but it can be a useful perspective. Its relative age is part of what makes it so helpful - it’s easier to cleave to core principles of online engagement when you’re not distracted by the new social media shiny. And it’s very clearly not just a secret sauce you can sprinkle over a business in order to make it suddenly sell lots of stuff.

Originally published at https://danieljohnston.co.uk/2012/07/07/community-building-web on July 7, 2012. This post is included for historical curiosity only as its recommendations are super-outdated.