Where’s Your Online Community?

"Build a community and you’re building a business." That’s the new and proven business model in cyberspace.

Hotmail.com, Geocities.com, ICQ.com. The list goes on and on. These companies (and thousands like them) have built thriving online businesses based on that model.

It’s quite simple really. If enough "netizens" gather at your site, finding a way to create revenue is easy!

You can sell them your products or services. You can invite others to market to them and take a percentage. You can collect advertising dollars. You can even invent your own revenue model. The whole idea is this: when you create an online community, a solid customer base simply comes along for the ride.

Now, let’s scale things down a bit. I realize that, like myself, many small business owners do not have the type of capital it requires to create their own Hotmail or Geocities business model. But that’s not to say you can’t take advantage of the community building model!

Here’s a prime example….

Visit http://bizweb2000.com/wwwboard and you’ll see one of these "scaled down" communities. That URL is the address of my "CyberMarketing InfoBoard". It is simply a self-propelled community where anyone and everyone can go to learn about Internet marketing. Got a question? Ask it there. Got a solution to someone else’s dilemma? Post your answers there.

Perhaps a bulletin board would tie in nicely at your site? After all, a "Q & A forum" fits in well with just about any subject matter, and it makes for a nice community! If you’re looking for repeat visitors to your site, you won’t find a better way to get them.

Before you jump right in though, here are a few tips to consider before setting up a bulletin board at your site.

1. Wait until you have a decent flow of traffic to your site before you open your board for business. A very slow board can be worse than no board at all. If visitors stop by your board and there are just a handful of posts over a long period of time, they may not return.

2. Choose a simple bulletin board interface like the one I use at my board. Not only is it easy to navigate, it is simple to moderate and remove posts as necessary. (More on selecting an interface on the next page.)

3. Don’t try to run your board all by yourself. Hire a small team of qualified moderators as I have done at my board. Experts who know the value of networking will gladly accept a position as moderator. My own moderators spend an hour or so per week in trade for the name recognition and new business it brings them.

Okay, are you ready to build your own board yet? Here some details on making it happen…

A multitude of free "bulletin board cgi scripts" are readily available on the web. My bulletin board cgi script came from Matt’s Script Archive at: http://www.worldwidemart.com/scripts

You can go to that URL and download Matt’s WWWboard or, if you prefer a different style, more bulletin board scripts are available at: Cgi-Resources.com

Once you settle on the actual script you want, you’ll need to install it at your server. This requires modifying the files you download with the script, and uploading them into the proper directories at your web server. Since most scripts differ, it’s best to read the "readme.txt" file that comes with your script. It will spell out all the details of installation.

Once your board is up, tend to it daily.

Don’t allow blatant advertising or self-promotion at your board. This makes for a board that people will not bother to re-visit. You may want to post a "no advertising" statement and police your board by removing undesirable posts as quickly as possible.

As far as what posts get deleted and what stays at your board, you have the final say. After all, you are the moderator. It’s your community. Tend to it wisely, and it will re-pay you many times over!

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