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How To Create an Online Community

So you want to create a social network, and you want it to be vibrant. What are some things you can do to make sure you’re successful?

First, you have to accept that humans are tricky things. You can’t write a formula for how to grow a community, or at least if you can, I’ve never heard of it. Some fads explode one day and disappear the next, while some slowly burn into a wildfire. But enough with super vague metaphors, lets talk about community building in the most practical terms possible.

Before I start this, I want to stress two things:

1) These are simply the ideas of one person. I have put a lot of thought into these ideas, but I am absolutely capable of being wrong and…

2) This is an open discussion. If all goes well, I’d love to see you all blow up the comments section with reasons why I’m right or wrong or super insightful or your favorite blog writer ever or just an all around good dude.

Really though, I want to hear some discussion at the end of all this. So here we go.

Create a Community Around Something You Are Passionate About

I know, this seems like a no-brainer, but hear me out. Your entire community depends on you. There is no one else who is going to pick up the slack when you don’t feel like working so it is of paramount importance that you select something that will inspire you to keep working. Don’t worry so much whether the idea is super “marketable”. It has been my experience that the internet is so big that no matter what your idea, there’s a community out there somewhere who is passionate about the same thing. So build something that you and your friends would spend time engaging in and then the lines between work and play start to blur. While this may potentially be bad for your social life, it’s great to keep yourself excited and focused!

Use Other Networks as a Springboard

You’re probably not going to take down Facebook. Or Twitter. I admire your gusto, David, but these Goliath’s have billions of dollars that you probably don’t have. So instead of slaying the giants, why not make them work for you?

Unless you plan on running through the streets in a funny hat yelling your community’s URL (which may not be a bad idea. I will personally send a dollar to the first person to send me a video of them doing this) you’re going to need to find a place where people already go to tell them about your site. Where is everyone already hanging out? Facebook and Twitter. Make sure your community has a Facebook Fan Page and a Twitter account and start using these channels to reach people that wouldn’t normally hear about you.


You still have to engage people to convince them your community is worth joining, but using Facebook and Twitter provide you with a pool of potential users who would love to join a more niche community, like the one you’re building!


You still have to engage people to convince them your community is worth joining, but using Facebook and Twitter provide you with a pool of potential users who would love to join a more niche community, like the one you’re building!

Be Patient: Slow Growth trumps Fast Growth Almost Always

Remember how I said I was done with vague metaphors? Well I’ve got one more and its super cliche, but if the tortoise and the hare taught us one thing it is that cute animals enjoy competitive activities. If they taught us two things, the second would be “Slow and steady wins the race”.

Now in a rapidly growing technology age where the fast eat the slow, this may seem counter-intuitive, but the likely fact is, you’re not going to build an empire over night, and even if you did, it would be a passing fad that would collapse as quickly as it came up. I have looked over quite a bit of data related to SocialEngine sites and their signup rates and everyone generally has the same pattern. There’s a giant spike in the beginning because you’re new and exciting and over time that growth tapers off. The key is to embrace the fact that growth will taper and from there your job is to engage that initial flood of users and turn them into your core fans. These people will be your most important asset moving forward.


Give your core users incentive to invite their friends

So once you have your core users the best way to continue forward is inspire them to tell their friends to come join. These users will hopefully in turn tell their friends and so on and so on… Kinda like this guy did:

Mark Zuckerberg giving an early presentation to investors

So how do we do this? How do we inspire people to take action? What do people respond to? Anyone? Any Econ majors in the room? CORRECT! People respond to INCENTIVES!

You have to give your core users a reason to advertise on your behalf. This could be, literally, anything. Have a community based on coffee? Have a raffle for anyone who tags your community on Facebook/Twitter where the winner gets a bag super cool and obscure grounds from Guatemala. Is your community built around Battlestar Galactica? Please send me a message telling me where to sign up, then offer a first season box set with a super sweet cylon action figure. Reddit people lose their minds over karma and karma has absolutely zero real world value. This offering may cost you some money, but look at it as an investment in future growth.

Alright class, you have been wonderfully well behaved thus far. Now let’s hear what you have to say.


  1. ayunitah
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Very difficult for us to compete with facebook and twitter, but we do not despair, I see there is the potential to build community via the SE is the business community, but many limitations in the use of the SE such currency transaction systems are very limited, so for users whose currency not listed on the transaction in the SE is very difficult to build community in the country.

    I hope for further development of the SE can display all currency transactions throughout the country, not limited to tansaksi Paypal, 2Chackout alone. Thank you.

  2. Posted October 10, 2013 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    “Give your core users incentive to invite their friends”. I think I need to try this out. Thanks, great post!

  3. Posted October 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Glad you liked it! Hope it helps!

  4. Posted October 14, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the feedback! I’ll pass this along to our developers for consideration for future releases!

  5. Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Want to compete with Facebook, Twitter and the like without a HUGE budget is a crazy idea. I think a SE community builder should go after a niche network and deserve them great content related to that niche. The content will attract them, so you will get traffic, and since they will be around people who enjoy the same subject as them, they will automatically feel the need to connect each other.

    Nowadays, for an average Joe with a small budget, to compete for attention in the social networks world I can not see better strategy. Facebook does a great job to connect people each other, you will not be able to beat them at this game :-(

  6. Posted October 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely agree, but I don’t think this is a bad thing. I think the ability to find a niche market is key to success. The super-mega-giant-behemoths like Facebook and Twitter are one in a million, and if you’re lucky enough to be someone who starts that site, great for you! But for the rest of us, its totally fine to be not Mark Zuckerberg.

    “A Million Dollars Isn’t Cool. You Know What’s Cool? A Billion Dollars.” — I’m gonna have to call BS on you Mr. Timberlake/Parker. While I do admit that a billion dollars is cool, a million dollars is also pretty cool.

    In the end, you should absolutely strive to be the absolute best you can be, but don’t be depressed if you don’t take over the world. Sometimes the middle road is best.

  7. Ward Daggett
    Posted October 15, 2013 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    The FOUR most IMPORTANT things on the internet today are searching (Google), Networking (Facebook, LinkedIn), geo location (by location) and email communication (Yahoo / Google email). I’ve been with SE since August 2007 supporting this project. Six years later and your team has completely failed us. When are you all going to start listening to your clients? Seriously?

  8. Posted October 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    We are definitely sorry to hear you think that we’ve failed. Looking into your points of interest, we do provide SEO tools and Network integration tools as well as an ability to reach your audience directly via email. We don’t have Geo-location at this time, but it is definitely something we are working on and trying to develop an elegant way of integrating into our product. Is there something else you think that we should be offering?

  9. Mason
    Posted October 18, 2013 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    HELP? It’s not as self explanatory for an old dog, as much as I want to learn new tricks. With all of the other aspects in being a radio station / publishing company — we’re going to need someone who has the same vision who can lay it out … as I see it , because they can hear the signal …. We are JST KLSX ( America’s Coast to Coast Entertainment Network

  10. Eva Byrne Architect
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    I’m adding a blog to my social engine site to boost my new architects home exchange community. Is there a way you can get followers to subscribe to a Social Engine blog?

  11. Posted October 21, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    This is not a feature that we offer at this time, however, I will pass this along to our development staff for consideration.

    You can always team up with a third party developer to implement this feature as well at

  12. Posted October 21, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    If you are looking for someone to help develop the site or fill in some gaps where you are unclear on how to build the site, I would recommend reaching out to a third party developer at

  13. Mason
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Kyle — If you have the skills — don’t hesitate in contacting me – — or through the SOCIAL ENGINE on what I’ve already established –

  14. Anita Johnson
    Posted April 17, 2015 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    “In the end, you should absolutely strive to be the absolute best you can
    be, but don’t be depressed if you don’t take over the world. Sometimes
    the middle road is best.”
    Dear sir, you are a genius!

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