Online Communities are becoming more and more prevalent and can be found for just about any niche or topic area that you can think of. They are one of the ways to plant the seed of a viral marketing campaign, and if you participate actively and within the spirit of the community (and not just use it’s a channel to spam your message) it is one of the fastest ways to build word of mouth referrals.

But what if you can’t find a community to participate in that meets your needs? Why not start your own community website?

The Young Entrepreneur website published these 7 ways to build a successful community website that I thought said it all.

1) Pick A Theme

I see so many forums, blogs, and portals that don’t have a specific niche. If you try to be everything to everyone then you’re not going to make a memorable impression and people won’t come back or get involved.

2) Choose Something You’re Passionate About

Just like my advice last week (5 Ways To Know If Your Business Idea Is Any Good), you have to love what you do. Especially in a community driven website if you don’t have an interest in the topic then there is no way you’re going to be successful. You have to live and breathe the subject matter to drive it forward and you’ll have a lot more fun as well being able to share your passions with others. It can be tempting to jump at an opportunity because it looks like a “sure thing” but if you don’t love the topic, don’t do it.

3) Get It Started Yourself

You can’t have the mindset of “if I build it, then will come.” It’s so easy to set up a new blog or forum – the technology makes it extremely simple to get going so anybody can do it. The key is getting it started, putting up interesting content, and continuing to post and add to the site. If you are not heavily involved at the start to get it to critical mass, it won’t succeed.

4) Get Help!

You’re going to have to put in a lot of work to get your website off the ground (see point #3!) but as soon as possible you need to engage people to come out and help you. Get them to comment on your blog, get them to post responses in your forums, get them to moderate different categories and contribute. You can’t do everything yourself and more people become interested in your website if they see that there is a discussion going (not just you talking to yourself). Start with your friends and people you know and then reach out to others who run related websites who might be interested in participating.

5) Post Interesting Topics

People click through, read, and participate in stories that are engaging and interesting. Be controversial, offer practical advice, be a source of inspiration. If you’re just regurgitating news from a Google Alerts feed then people aren’t going to care and come back to your website. A good trick is to look at the homepage of Digg and see what stories consistently come up on the first page. Adjust the topics to fit your niche and get writing!

6) Get Prizes

People love contests and there’s nothing like a great prize to get people talking. If the prize is related and interesting to your target audience and there is a degree of value associated with it then visitors will increase their participation and help drive more traffic for you. The prize doesn’t always have to cost you money either. How about a feature story on your website or a special report or service from a partner who is willing to donate a prize? If you’re going to be an entrepreneur you need to think outside the box – I’ve never paid for any of the prizes I’ve offered on my site – you just need to get creative!

7) Encourage Your Top Users

You will have a top percentage of your users who love your site and visit it daily. Give them encouragement and recognition in the community. Point out how useful some of their contributions are and thank them for their involvement. You can also profile them as community ambassadors. Stay in regular contact with them and get their suggestions for how to make your website even better. Keep your champions happy and they will help you go out and bring more people in!

What would you add to the list of how to build a successful community website?

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