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Three Tips for Building an Online Community

Focus on the interests of your community, not just your own product, and you're likely to end up with loyal customers.

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This story appears in the April 2011 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When Michael Landa launched a pet food company in 2010 to help combat pet , he knew he'd be fighting a few 400-pound guard dogs. For , Texas-based Nulo Inc. to compete in the $18 billion pet food market, where a handful of giants control the lion's share of sales, he needed to find a way to connect with health-conscious pet owners.

Landa's solution has a lot in common with the share-and-share-alike ways of neighbors hanging out at the local dog run. He built an where people can discuss pet weight loss and nutrition. Integrating website forums and tools like Facebook, Twitter and a blog, Landa has cultivated a loyal following. In the first four months, he estimates that he reached an audience of more than 500,000 people.
Martin Reed, founder of CommunitySpark.com, a Wheeler, Ore.-based consultancy that helps businesses build , says Landa's strategy is a smart one. "Having an online community forces you to become far more customer-oriented. You can't build a successful online community without engaging with your members--this means you learn about them so you can build better products and improve existing ones based on their feedback," he says. Reed's community- 101:

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