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  Making the Most of a Targeted Community?
I am interested in any advice that you can give me in reference to building my online community for my website Florida Music Row (http://www.floridamusicrow.com). My site is dedicated to supporting and promoting ONLY Florida Resident Country Musicians and bands. I am trying to do research on how I might grow my site to reach not only the musicians, but the general music loving public as well. Thanks in advance for your help and guidance.

Thank you so much for your question. Based on your site it looks like you are well on your way to establishing a viable community for music lovers, Florida musicians and bands.

Here are just a few recommendations that will help encourage continued participation and provide your community with growth potentials:

Boards

Topic-based board system –
Organize your board into folders (if it is possible with the current board tool) to help your members find posts and topics of interest quickly and easily. Browsing by topic will enable your users to locate information much more effectively than scrolling all messages. You might also break down the major topics into sub-categories or sub-topics. For example, you could create a board for musicians to post their availability, and then have subtopics available within that board such as gigging tips, hints for publicizing and breaking into the industry, job postings, instruments for sale, etc.

When you create a topic-based board it is important that you provide a good description of what information and posts each topic contains. That way your participants will have a clear understanding of the posts to expect in that board.

Each “thread” within a topic or sub-topic should also begin with what we call a “seed post”. This post should encourage conversation and inform participants as to the content of the subtopic. It does not have to be a long post, but rather something that piques interest and invites others to contribute.

If you are not able to create topics within your message board, consider setting up several different message boards each with a major theme.

Featured member-generated content –
A true online community is “owned” by the participants that repeatedly visit it, not by the site itself. In many senses the community should be seen to be contributing to the site. A great way to demonstrate that is by featuring member-generated content (such as message board posts) on high profile pages, e.g. the front page. Not only does this promote “member buy-in” and ownership because you are validating a member’s participation, but it also provides an excellent way to draw visitors to the boards.

For example, choose one post each week as a highlighted item which will spur conversation, post it on the front page of the site and link it to the boards. Ask your visitors to comment on the post or invite other contributions with a question. A contentious viewpoint or post with interesting ideas or content makes a good contender for highlighting.

Articles Linked to Boards –
Editorial articles are a good form of content on a web site, but are intrinsically static unless there is a mechanism for your readers to comment on them. Where possible, if you can provide the means for such articles to be commented on or contributed to then you are generating a more dynamic and interactive form of content. This need not be a major task to implement. A simple link at the end of an article to message boards with a label such as “Comment on this article or see what other people have said” or “Got something to say about this article?” is often enough to encourage members to share and drive visitors to your boards.

By making articles more interactive and providing a venue for visitors to share their own ideas or information this will not only help spur traffic to your community, but it will also provide reason for members to stay on the site since it creates new paths for people to follow.

A by-product of this venue is that your site will gain useful information and content and therefore become more of a resource to others. As mentioned above, this content can be highlighted and used as promotional points on the opening page of your site.

Chat

Chat is another excellent way for members to connect with one another, discuss their interests and share ideas. Chats can be promoted and employed in the following manner:

Topical Chats –
A topical chat is an open moderated chat based on a topic of interest, e.g. gaining exposure as a musician. Topical chats are meant to stay on topic, rather than digress off track so it is important that a moderator is available to direct the conversations, provide assistance and maintain chat guidelines.

Live Event –
A live event requires a special auditorium where members are able to ask questions of a guest speaker in a choreographed fashion. An auditorium completely restricts open chat and therefore is particularly valuable in a question and answer setting or circumstances where the “noise” of casual chatting would disrupt the exchanges between guest and audience. Please see the following Community Answer that addresses the topic of live events:

Live Events vs. Regular Chat

Open Chat –
Providing a room for open chat is also a great way to encourage members to connect with one another. In open chat there is no designated topic, but rather connections will be made based on general interests. However, it is important to consider utilizing a moderator in the chat room, as a moderator not only helps encourage conversation and members to feel welcome, but they ensure that the chat room remains free of disturbing content, harassment and any other activity that may violate site guidelines and cause member upset.

It is important to remember that a well-rounded and moderated site is one that will attract users and encourage them to return.

Above all, if you intend to develop a fully-fledged community around your site, then the community should be a major focus on your web pages. Prioritize those aspects of your site which provide evidence of your community, discussions and interactivity, and where possible, provide clear links to and from the community components and editorial content you have on your site. Communities are driven largely by two factors: information and opinion. Tie these two areas together using community tools such as chat and message boards and you have a good recipe for success.

For further information on how to promote your community, please feel free to check the following:

Community Promotion

We wish you the very best of luck with your community and thank you for contacting CommunityAnswers.com.

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
http://communityanswers.com
http://cornerways.com
http://cwlive.com
 
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