As a WordPress developer focusing on membership sites, I work with a lot of people trying to organize online communities. Let me just say that it is easy to build out the feature set that makes an online community possible but it is much harder to actually attract and build the community. Here are a few principles you will need to follow to be successful.
1. Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS)
You have probably heard this principle before and it is sooooo true for building membership sites. Your audience is going to be skeptical about the tools you are using to organize the community and the fastest way to alienate them is to overwhelm and confuse them.
To keep things simple, start by identifying the main thing that you are trying to accomplish with your community site. What is it that sets your community site apart from its competition? What need does your site fill? Focus on doing that better than anyone else. There will be plenty of time to build more features later.
As an aside, can I just say that if you are building a community site with BuddyPress PLEASE don’t activate all of the components for your initial launch. Unless you have a massive budget it is too many features to maintain and you will probably loose your users to Facebook or some other site that does all of those features better.
The bottom line: Pick 1 or 2 main features to do better than anybody else. There will be plenty of time to build more features later.
2. Tell Stories
When a potential user comes to your site, they don’t want the first thing they see to be a list of features. They already know that you think your site is cool. Spend time creating a story that your users will be able to identify with and that they will be able to connect with on a personal level.
More and more we are opening ourselves up emotionally to technology. We are allowing apps to manage and facilitate some of the most important aspects of our humanity. Help your users to understand how your site will help them to create more meaningful interactions with others.
3. Make Money
Now I’m not saying that this site needs to make you rich or even that all community sites need to be revenue sources. But it is important to point out that successful community sites take maintenance and management and these things cost money.
Consider using a membership solution to help you manage subscriptions. My friend Chris Lema has done some amazing work cataloging and reviewing the various WordPress membership platforms.
4. Get Help
If something is worth doing then it is worth doing with a team. What are your weaknesses? Can you write code? Are you good at marketing? Do you make savvy business decisions?
Find experts who will partner with you to make your site successful. If you need any help identifying good resources, feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to hear about your project and see if there is anything I can do to help.