10 Lessons From 10 Years Of Running An Online Community



Recently my music community turned 10 years old, so I thought I would put together a list of 10 lessons that I’ve learned over these 10 years to help others who are interested in building their own online communities.

1. Start A Community On Something You Love

Leland Francisco, CC-BY-2.0.

Starting an online community isn’t an easy task, which is probably why I only have one. You will spend countless hours engaging with, moderating, and promoting your community – and as it grows you will be spending even more time.

There is also the financial investments you’ll need to make too; software, design, domain, hosting, security. Hosting is something you want to keep an eye on as it can get expensive quickly, depending on how fast your community is growing. You’ll be able to start out on a cheap shared hosting plan (from $5/month), then you’ll upgrade to a VPS/VDS (from $25/month), and eventually you’ll have to upgrade to a dedicated server (from $100/month) or even multiple dedicated servers.

I don’t dare add up the amount of cash or hours I’ve spent on CrazyPellas, but I know for sure if I didn’t love music I would have given up a long time ago.

2. Give People What They Want

Artotem, CC-BY-2.0.

Listen to your community; take notes and assess any comments, suggestions, and ideas that they give you. They’ve most likely been members of other communities that have failed and will be able to tell you where the other communities went wrong so that you don’t make the same mistakes. They will also tell you what they liked from them communities.

Your members will be interacting with each other and using your website in ways that you wouldn’t even have thought of, so as they use it in more and more ways they’ll see what new features need to be added way before you do.

There’s been more than a few times where my community knew best but here’s one that really made a huge impact: CrazyPellas started out as a downloads forum of acapellas and instrumentals for DJ’s, producers/beat makers, and artists. A member suggested that they should be able to share their music with us too, which has now become the main focus of the community.

3. …But Don’t Give Them Everything

Andy Rennie, CC-BY-2.0.

I mentioned previously that you should listen to your community, that doesn’t mean you should add everything they suggest. A lot of their ideas will only be beneficial to them or only a few people. It is still your community and you decide what goes on, gets added, etc. With that said, don’t make decisions solely on personal reasons – everything you do should be for the benefit of the community.

If you decide to start a forum you will find that members will suggest a lot of forums. I’ve made the mistake of listening and ended up with too many forums with very little participation.

4. Contests Are Gold

tableatny, CC-BY-2.0.

Contests are a great way to encourage engagement with your members and attract new members. And no, your prizes don’t need to be expensive; members love being interviewed and being featured in front of the community. You can also reach out to companies to sponsor and offer prizes.

Our busiest times were when we ran beat and remix contests offering an interview featured on the homepage and some Talent Points (more on them below).

5. Build Partnerships and Network

yaph, CC-BY-2.0.

You’ll hear it time and time again, building partnerships and networking is the key to success in any industry and it’s also true for the Internet.

To get started with meeting people in your industry you can join and participate in existing communities, but don’t spam! Join Facebook groups or find people on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Many CrazyPellas members have become friends in real life and formed music groups, production teams, etc. I met Garett and Julian through CrazyPellas and we have worked on numerous projects together over the years.

6. Be Reachable

RBerteig, CC-BY-2.0.

I don’t mean publicize your personal phone number and address. Let your members talk to you outside of your community via email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. It’s great being able to talk to your members on a personal basis as they may feel more comfortable sharing ideas and letting you know what feeling they’re getting from the community.

This actually goes back to lessons 2 and 5.

7. Learn To Code

Michael Himbeault, CC-BY-2.0.

There is only so far you can get by using publicly available software until your community becomes bored. People love new and unique features and they’ll help attract new members too!

To start coding you’ll want to learn HTML and CSS, then the language your community software is coded in. Codecademy is a great place to learn. In time, we’ll also have tutorials published here for you.

When we added the Talent Points system it really helped us stand out, it was what a lot of members were asking for and helped bring a lot more in. In a nutshell, Talent Points award members for leaving feedback on others’ music and enables them to share their own.

8. Deliver On Your Promises

Kamyar Adl, CC-BY-2.0.

If you say you are going to do something, DO IT. It’s okay to screw it up, as long as it’s done, you can easily go back and fix it.

This is something that I have been guilty of not doing and have certainly seen the effects of it.

9. Community First, Money Last

Ian Sane, CC-BY-2.0.

I’ve said it before, everything you do is for the good of your community. When you start trying to make money from your community, you will receive a lot of backlash. People understand that you need to cover costs and won’t complain about a couple of banner ads, you can even offer them the opportunity to make a small monthly payment to hide the ads. It’s when you introduce pop ups, content lockers, sponsored email blasts, etc. – that’s how you lose a community.

I’ve done two out of the three I mentioned and quickly learned my lesson. We also learned this lesson from Garett’s experience.

10. Reinvest Any Profits

Ken Teegardin, CC-BY-2.0.

When you do start making money from your community reinvest it in things to help your community grow and make your members happier.

Some ideas would be:

  • You could advertise on Facebook, Google, large websites and communities in your niche, or even on Yahoo/Bing if that’s what you’re target audience uses.
  • Get some merchandise made to offer as contest prizes.
  • If you weren’t able to get sponsorships for contests previously, you can now front the cost of bigger products yourself to use in contests.
  • Hire someone to develop new features, redesign your community, do basic tasks.

Before you start advertising online make sure you have tracking setup so you know how your campaigns are performing. You want to track and test everything as you can lose a lot of money if you don’t.

This is something else I wish I knew earlier, and I have been doing more and more of it lately.

BONUS! Celebrate Achievements and Milestones

Christian Lambert, CC-BY-2.0.

Members of your community will love seeing the community succeed, so celebrate even the smallest things with them.

  • Reach 100 / 500 / 1,000 / 2,500 / 5,000 / 10,000 members?
  • Had a “celebrity” of your niche mention or follow you on social networks?
  • Been mentioned in a magazine or website write-up?

These are just a few things you can celebrate. You can even celebrate personal things with them too; get engaged, married, having a baby, new house.

I hope you can learn from my experiences and these lessons will help you build a better online community! If you have any questions just leave them in the comments below.

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About Iain Meddicks

Iain Meddicks is a father and music industry entrepreneur from Glasgow, Scotland. He is the founder of SendBeatsTo and CrazyPellas Music Community and has a passion for web technologies.

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