Rules of Engagement
DeviantART is thriving after 10 years because it has a super-engaged community that buys into the deviant lifestyle with subscriptions, toys, clothes and even llama accessories. Using his community-building skills, Angelo Sotira has created a place where 14 million independent artists around the world can feel deeply connected to one another. Here's how he wins (and keeps) their loyalty.
- Listen to the crowd, but don't get ahead of it. When you release a product, even one that's sorely needed, don't do it without first seeding the concept and getting approval. "Pitch it, blog it, be transparent about it, and do some outreach and education," Sotira says. Or else people will feel betrayed and leave.
- Fire up emotions. Before Sotira adds a new art category, he waits for the community to request it, and then he denies the request, even if he thinks it's a good idea. "If they say they want a tattoo section, we'll say, 'We're not sure you guys really want that category.' Then there'd be this stuff, these emotions and feelings about this category, and just as there was enough of that, we would launch and it would take off."
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- Don't play favorites. DeviantART employs a "fair exposure" policy so that all users feel as if they belong, even if they're not part of the "popular" crowd. The system makes sure that no matter how big or fast a single community grows, the front page always features a balance of groups and mediums--important since the site now has 2,400 categories. (It started with just 12.)
- Keep your cool. "Don't just react to what the community says. You'll never release a feature without negativity. Ever," notes Sotira. "You just have to know what volume is too high."
- Act as if you're in public office. Remember that you'll be held accountable for any change you make on the site. "If there's a fireball of negativity from hell, react superfast, be very apologetic, express how you feel about it and promise that you will adapt to whatever is necessary--or revert the change if necessary," Sotira says. And, most important, follow through. --J.W.