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  What Makes A Successful Community?
Where can I get some information on the critical success factors of building a community. The community I am building is a information portal combining several top brands in the Netherlands.

Thank you for your question! This is actually very similar to the question we had two weeks ago (Gauging Success), but this time rather than measuring the success of the community, we delve into the ingredients which help to provide success to measure!

There are some critical and rather basic factors to community. Notably, is the common phrase which is "Build it and they will come", which seems to suggest that all you have to do is build a community and it will be successful. Unfortunately, it is not as straightforward as that.

Here are some key elements, not an exhaustive list, with some brief pointers under each, which we hope will assist you.

1. A clear and realistic set of community goals.

Absolutely paramount is knowing what your community is, what you intend it to function as, and what the overall goals are. Write yourself a candid "Mission Statement" and make careful note of the expectations you have of both the community as a whole and of individual participants. Check to make sure you are being realistic, as unrealistic goals can often become pitfalls in the future.

2. A definable and sustainable set of reasons for your community to participate.

Notably, you need a reason for people to join your community and be active within it. This can be as basic as providing the means for people with a common interest to talk about it, or providing a venue for support. Don't be too surprised if the reasons you thought up for your community aren't the same as the people who use it! In addition, if you intend for your community to be long-lived, give it the scope and breathing space to mature and grow. A community based on a narrow focus can often times run out of steam, or simply the reason for it being there in the first place disappears, marooning the community. To use a rather extreme example, a community based on a single topical event might simply cease to be once that event is no longer topical.

3. A solid and accessible provision of community tools.

Again, this is critical. If your community tools are buggy, not user-friendly or simply aren't doing the job for you or for your users, then you have an Achilles heel. Make sure that the technology behind your community is as solid as it can be, since one bad user experience is often a lost community participant.

4. A staff who are supported and understand their role in the community.

If you have community staff, such as moderators, it's crucial that they have the support and training they need to be on the "front line". It is often they who get the worst of any community problems, so it is imperative that they are given the back up they need.

It is also important that your staff fully understand the guidelines of the community, their role on the site, and have a great understanding of the site itself. This will ensure that they are able to provide guidance to your membership, as well as uphold the community standards, thus assisting in the production of quality content.

5. A supportable economic model if the community needs to provide revenue to sustain itself.

If your community requires self-financing, choose the most appropriate business model to fit both those needs and the characteristics of your community: banner or other forms of advertising, membership subscription-based, or pay-per-access.

6. Patience.

Communities don't happen overnight. Often they take time to coalesce and form themselves into something valuable and sustainable. It's crucial that patience is exercised, since it WILL take time for momentum and a critical mass to develop whereby the community becomes solid and established.

7. Consistency in how you present yourself to the community and how you deal with them.

One thing we've learned, is that communities tend to be very quick to react to inconsistency (but see below about flexibility). If your message boards work one way this week and another way the next, or if the procedure for logging into chat changes from one live event to the next, then this is a put-off. Consistency equals trust, and trust brings loyalty.

8. A willingness to deal with some of the more complex and personal aspects of community.

People are people, and communities always have their fair share of personal disputes, disagreements and complexities. You will need the resources and ability to deal with some of the personalities you might find in your community.

9. Listen and be flexible - be ready to change should your community require it.

If your community is telling you, and they might well do so directly within it, that something is not right or something is not to their liking, then it is important to listen. If you really believe that you have done something wrong, then do admit that, don't attempt to evade the issue. If you cannot respond to the requests for change, then explain why. There's nothing which riles a community more than not getting answers, even if they're getting answers they don't want to hear.

10. The three Rs - Research, research, research.

Do your homework on similar communities, on your potential participants, on your community software, and upon the market in general. Don't stop researching once your community launches - use your community as your research tool, find out from them what they want and think. That's your best ingredient for success.

We hope that this helps, and we truly wish you all the best for the future of your community.

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
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