October 31st, 2007 - by MrSpooky

Running a community site can be absolute murder sometimes. Keeping the balance between a happy operator and happy users is a deadly dance. Being the owner/operator of a now comatose niche community site has given me the supernatural power to see into the future and warn you about the baleful consequences of ignoring the blood-thirsty mob. Here are five grisly mistakes you can make when running a community site, be it a blog, social network, or message board:

Requiring Visitors To Log In

As much fun as it is to say you have N number of registered users or to see the “Who’s Online” widget on your site teeming with usernames, you should never require a visitor to register an account to view basic content on your site. A good rule of thumb is that anyone should be able to view stuff, but if they want to add anything (comments, content, videos, etc), they need to login. Premium content is OK as long as the user is getting a significant value-add by giving up personal information to view it. I made the mistake of putting too much stuff behind a login, so nobody ever bothered logging in to use any of it.

Being A Content/Comment Nazi

One primary goal of community is fostering an environment for the open exchange of ideas and opinions, right? A great way to scare off (and tick off) users is to selectively censor and delete their posts. Be sure to set up your content guidelines/terms of service ahead of time and stick to them. Just because you don’t like what someone has posted doesn’t mean you should delete it or change it. If its not violating your site’s TOS, then leave it. Most communities are good at self-moderating anyway.

Not Solicit/Ignore User Feedback

Community is all about the users, so why wouldn’t you listen to their ideas and concerns? Always have some form of open channel of communication with your users, be it a contact form or even just a PM link in your sig. Keep an eye on who your “power” users are and solicit their opinions from time to time. I made the mistake of adding features to my site that I thought would be killer, but never asked what anyone else thought of the ideas before I launched them. I’ll bet you a bag of candy corn you know what happened…..nobody used them.

Oversaturate The Site With Ads

You’ve built a community site with a decent amount of traffic and would like to start recouping some of your hosting costs or put a little extra coin in your pocket. The easiest way to capitalize on this is to put ads on your site and use your traffic to earn $$$. Sounds like a goldmine, right? Be careful how you do this, as you may drive away your users and your precious traffic right along with them. Planning the best methods to integrate ads into your site is beyond the scope of this article, so do a little research in order to maximize your profits and your users’ experience at the same time.

Be A “Me Too” Site

Don’t add features just because other sites have them. I thought it would be great if my users could upload videos, comment on each other’s profiles, have a “friends” list, join groups, and post pictures in their own photo galleries. Sounds a lot like Myspace and every other social network out there, doesn’t it? All my users were already doing this on Myspace and Facebook, so why would they do it on my site? Well, the answer to that question was “they didn’t”. I tried too much to artificially build more community into my site when I should have left it alone. I promoted these features, but found no one interested in using them. Stay focused on the things your site/community does well and don’t try to emulate what others are doing (unless the community asks for it, of course).

I’m real big on self deprecation, and nothing is more humbling than admitting I’ve run a failed community site. I just hope my shortcomings will help some of you avoid the trials and tribulations of driving your users away into the arms of another site. Happy haunting…..

8 Responses to “Five Horrific Things You Can Do To Kill Off Your Community”

1 Golgotha

Hey Jeremy, great post. Thanks for being so open about your websites failures. We all have them – or at least anyone who has dared to try has.

“One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again.” – Henry Ford

2 TOMAS

This is a great post indeed. I’ve been toying with the idea of hosting a forum/community site, maybe you could write a follow up post on setting up a community site for newbies?

🙂

3 MrSpooky

not a bad idea….I’m actually in the (sort of) process of resurrecting the site, although I don’t have a ton of time for it.

4 Golgotha

You knew with a nic like MrSpooky you’d be the one posting on Halloween 🙂

5 MrSpooky

@Golgotha – of course…..I tried to run with the Halloween theme, but it got a bit cheesy….

6 ses5909

Very good post. I’ve definitely tried to make TBE fit into all of your rules and hopefully done a good job. You know where to find me if you want anything for your community.

7 Patrick Burt

Good article. A few other comments. It’s almost required that your actively participate in your own community. It might fall under the “Not Solicit/Ignore User Feedback” category, but it’s worth nothing.

8 Jo

Hi,

thank you for your recommendations.
http://sixgroups.com tries to follow all of them…

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