When starting an online community, the first step is to search to see who is posting about your company, competitor or about a topic that is relevant to your company. You can use that to follow people, start a conversation and engage with them. This way you can start to build a relevant following from the ground up.
Startups are usually in a rush to build a community as big as possible, as quickly as possible. The trick is to slow down. Get to know all of your users one at a time. This will give you the foundation you need to eventually scale and grow your community. Leverage any and all connections at your disposal. Take advantage of your own friends and connections to start the community. Ask them to be a part of your community and to help you grow it.
Make your topic social. If you want people to share, make it really easy on them. When they sign up, give them a checkbox to sign up for your newsletter. Ask them to follow you on Twitter and like you on Facebook as part of your welcoming process. Suggest opportunities for them to tweet or share with their friends. You’ll be amazed how many people will take the step to follow or share just because you took the time to ask.
Expect it to take time. Real community doesn’t happen overnight. Every community will go through an ‘awkward phase’ where conversations feel a little forced and people aren't initiating conversations on their own. It will pass. Keep building your community one person at a time, and it will eventually begin to flow naturally.
By focusing on building a place where community members talk to each other, not just you, you’re on the way to building a scalable community that can sustain itself. Make sure your community finds value from their involvement — focus on building that value and your community will not only stick around, but become a huge supporter of your company.