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Ask HN: How do you prime/start a community for your site?
18 points by jmilinion on Feb 12, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 11 comments
I once built a Q&A site for advance technical questions. It didn't work out. It ended up having an overwhelming amount of bots instead of people using it. A while later, Stack Overflow came online and it became a success. While it was more advanced than what I had, it wasn't too different in concept from what I made.

Looking back, it was pretty obvious what Stack Overflow had that I didn't - a following. Joel & Jeff's blog attracted a ton of readers over the years and those readers turned Stack Overflow from nothing into something.

I'm not someone who has the talent to write continually write insightful blog posts nor do I have the mindset to hype things up in forums. I'm not sure what kind of options there are for someone like me to get those first few users.

How do you prime a community for your service?

Hi, I've tried starting multiple projects that faced this chicken and egg thing.

While I wouldn't call ourselves really successful, our latest venture, Fork the Cookbook succeeded by having what we call "single player mode". We had initially got people to add their favourite recipes into Fork the Cookbook (and in the last 5 days or so, this has come back to bite our asses), and thus, the 'single player mode' is essentially letting the users achieve something that can be done on their own (i.e. beautiful looking recipes for their personal collection)

Now after some amount of recipes, we're only starting to actively promote the community features (like forking a recipe).

All these came from our past experience in failing to gain enough traction on community sites. See my profile for more of my failed projects (there are a lot more listed on my latest blog entry where I was feeling rather blue).

This feels like a nice honest way to build a community. I like it.

I was able to prime a community once with my first startup, MyColorscreen.com.

Here're what I did:

I attached myself to one of the already well known forum (XDA-Developers.com) and post regularly with a link back to my service showcasing how my service was better than what people were doing on the forum.

Since I am the user of my own service, I also keep feeding new content regularly to fake that there was activity.

If you are the user of your own service, it is easier to ask yourself "where would I be socializing", and "what kind of content I would like to see".

Ask these questions and fake it until you make it. :)

I have had this issue, as many others have. If your site requires a community to work, i.e. your site will take something from one user and give it to another, then you will need some form of entrance strategy. In this case, your user base won't slowly start building up on it's own, even if the idea and implementation is great.

You will have to do most of the initial leg work, whether you spook yourself as a "real user" or not is up to you.

Additionally, find the problem you are solving, and put yourself in the shoes of a user with that problem, how can you solve it without your site?

Hopefully this will lead you to some communities that are relevant to the one you are trying to create. Now you just need them to sell you your product, one by one, until the site's popularity does it for you.

You need an entrance strategy.

It was actually the traffic from Google since day 1. Advertising may work for just the first few, but it costs too much to be sustainable. Many podcasts and journalists are startup friendly and would love to recommend you to their following too.

You fake it until you make it. Hire some interns and have them develop the community. Then market the hell out of it and watch it grow. Works really well. It also works with offline businesses. I know of a person who bought a couple of used cars and parked them in front of his store. Had someone come in and move/wash them every week. People always saw that the place was packed and stopped to see why.

Find an existing community and make them converts. Make your thing 120% better than the thing they're using and they'll start to use it.

Were you trying for 20% better?

Yes. Math. Hard.


I can't find a link, but Reddit started with the admins having sockpuppet accounts to make it seem more popular than it actually was at the very beginning.

to be honest, sometimes i think it's just luck...

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