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  How Do I Attract and Maintain Visitors?
I am a stamp collector in UK and I am planning to set up a philatelic community where collectors in the UK and abroad can interact and communicate. Most of my audience are over 50.

Any advice on how to attract and retain this group to the site? What are the issues that I should bear in mind, in my planning stage? Thanks.

We greatly appreciate your question -- thank you!

When one is planning to develop a niche community, the best starting point is to gather a select group of individuals from your target audience to form a focus group. Their opinions, characteristics and attitudes will be crucial to you and your community. Using these individuals, perform a survey to gather thoughts, ideas and feedback regarding your new community idea.

When surveying a focus group, it is a good idea to develop a core set of open-ended questions that gets to the heart of the information you are seeking. For example, questions similar to the following:

1) What information would you find helpful on a stamp collector's site?

2) What features would attract you to the site and compel you to become a regular visitor?

3) When you find a site that you like, what key components and/or services attract your attention?

4) What community features would assist you in connecting with other stamp collectors?

When you have your focus group findings in hand, we would recommend that you also do some research into other sites catering for your broader demographic group. This will help you to assess how representative your focus group is, what differences you need to consider, and also how other sites' approach might compare to your own. Make a note of how these sites approach their visitors in terms of image, language and tone. In particular, make a note of what you think works and doesn't work on these sites.

At this stage, you might consider asking your focus group to visit these same sites and survey them. Their opinions and feelings could be crucial in determining what is likely to be successful, and provide you with useful pointers for your own community.

Once you have completed this phase of research you are then able to compile your findings and develop a solid plan based on the information you have gathered. This plan can further be developed by answering the following questions yourself:

1) What is the purpose of my community?

2) How will it benefit the site?

3) How will it benefit my users?

4) What features and content will it provide?

5) How am I going to attract new visitors and retain existing ones?

6) Where would I like to see my site/community in six months? One year?

With a solid plan and mission in hand you will have an easier time developing your site and the community. It is important to remember that once the site/community has taken initial shape, that is when the real development begins.

Community development and visitor retention is similar to cultivating a garden. You can plant the seeds, but you must maintain the garden through nuturing and care in order for it to survive. This equates to continually listening to your vistors, getting to know them, encouraging them to participate and assisting them in meeting their needs. Showing your visitors that you value and care about their opinion will go a long way in retaining them, and helping them to call your site their own.

You might also wish to review the answers we provided to the questions below:

Turning Visits into Participation?

Niche Market Community?

The absolutely best piece of advice we can render, is be true to your visitors, let them help you grow your site and community. Give them voice and they will be your greatest asset.

We wish you the very best of luck with your community!

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
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