When staring up a new online community, or even regenerating an old one, the most important thing to consider is the categories. The main reason that people visit online communities is for discussion and debate. Categories are a brilliant way to split up conversation types so users to the website can find related discussions which they may be interested in. To ensure discussions occur, take some time to write out the areas that people may want to discuss related to your subject. Try not to put too many categories as people may feel a bit overwhelmed when visiting the website for the first time, and not know where a specific post should go. Do not however go the other way and make too few categories as they may become very general and posts will not stay specific to the categories.
A good way to ensure there are enough categories without cluttering the community is to create sub categories. These sit nicely within a specified category and give suggestions of more in depth areas that may be more suited to the post.
If you are going to use a new forum with none or very few posts in, one way to make users remember the website and potentially start posting, is to ensure the community has a good design. Even if the forum is empty, a good clean design that is specified towards the audience and subject of the community can help to make it stand out from many other dead communities. It also shows users that the owner of the community has made an effort, rather than just having a blank default design, and therefore there is more chance of a response from posting a topic.
With a wide variety of community or forum software available on the Internet, it is very important to ensure you pick the perfect one. Users may not be as bothered by the software, but as the person who is required to administer the forum and set up various aspects, if the software is wrong it can be extremely hard to get the community running as smoothly as you may wish.
The other aspect of deciding what software you want to use, is the availability of add-ons. These can be games, statistics from the website, a shopping system or even an enhancement to the usability of the community. This again can be a key factor in visitors becoming part of your online community, many of the newer add-ons can add a lot of value to your community and give it a much more professional feel, especially when it is relatively new.
To me this seems like the most obvious of all the tips, but to many it is something that seems to pass them by. All forums will go through a period where there is a lack of posts, this could be as a result of the subject matter being seasonal, people are on holiday during the summer months, or just simply that the interest in the forum has dropped.
If you are going to attempt to keep the community active, you need to maintain you input and enthusiasm for the community. Without this, no users are likely to post there again, especially if no one else is willing to post on the community.
If members see you are enthusiastic about the subject and the community, they will become enthusiastic themselves and hopefully increase the post count and discussions.
The final tip for a successful online community is the moderating of the community. It is very important to ensure posts and topics and moderated into the correct areas, while deleting any spam or inappropriate content. When forums are very young however, many people are drawn to smaller more intimate forums due to their lack of moderation. This may sound strange, but large communities often will over moderate users and only allow certain posts. Smaller communities however are less concerned with these types of posts and more concerned that discussions are actually occurring. The balance required is a fine one, moderating is a good thing, in moderation, but make sure you don’t over do it.