I've been building online community since 1992. Why? To provide a forum for like-minded people who can become potential customers, great word-of-mouth marketers, and even beta testers for my site or products, not to mention a captive audience for my advertisers and sponsors.
How do I do it? I think of building community online as an organic process, like gardening. First, I prepare the soil by building community tools, the most common of which are online posting boards where people can post messages and read or respond to other messages.
Next, I seed the community by posting a few messages to get the conversations going and inviting people to participate. Remember to weed the community by removing offensive posts. And think about enlisting some gardeners (community hosts or moderators) to do the seeding and weeding for you.
Aliza Sherman is an entrepreneur and author of Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web (Ballantine Books). She is currently working on her next book and new company.