This is a guest post by Anita Campbell.
When my company, Small Business Trends, LLC, first purchased BizSugar in the summer of 2009, the best way I could describe it was as a miniature version of Digg, except that BizSugar focused soley on sharing information geared toward small and mid-sized businesses. This is still true. But as BizSugar has grown over the last couple of years, it’s also become a small business networking site where business owners can discuss issues, get and give advice, and gain insight into the ins and outs of running a small business.
As the site has changed and evolved, so have I, both in my understanding of how the site functions best, and how to help it continue to grow. If you’re considering acquiring or building a user generated content site, here are a few things I’ve learned that may help you.
Learn to Use the CMS
BizSugar is built on Pligg, an open source content management system. The great thing about it is that it’s free. The not-so-great thing is that it’s not quite as user friendly as WordPress. It has fewer plugins and a lower level of functionality, but the benefit is that it’s geared toward managing a user generated content site, so it
makes sense for BizSugar. Pligg has improved a lot since we acquired BizSugar, but we had to learn many of its quirks. We tried working with a few developers who said they knew the software, but in reality, they didn’t. Because it’s not as popular or widely used as WordPress, it’s difficult to find developers who know Pligg well.
We were fortunate to find a developer well versed in PHP, and who was willing to take the time to learn Pligg with all its idiosyncrasies. We invested in him learning the software, and he’s now a full time employee. Whether you learn it yourself, or find someone who knows it or is willing to learn, and whether you use Pligg, WordPress, or some other CMS, it’s essential to be able to fully administer the site from the back end. Take the time to learn which features to use and which to ignore because they don’t fit your strategy, or your market.
Work on Building a Community
A community does not build itself. Many entrepreneurs and companies will launch a community site only to be disappointed six months later when nothing much is happening on it—when it’s a ghost town. You have to bring energy to it, and you have to “prime the pump” at first, until enough people know about the site that momentum builds on its own.
In order to accomplish this, we implemented initiatives like our Contributor of the Week, where we interview and recognize valued community members. We also run contests on BizSugar to bring attention to it. And we highlight top contributions in our weekly “Top 10″ newsletter. Reward your members for contributing and participating, and your community will not only grow, but thrive.
Actively Manage the Site
Many people think a web business runs itself. I know of very few that do. The idea of “passive income” is an alluring one, and there may be some ways to create that, but a small business networking site isn’t one of them. For instance, Pligg sites are magnets for spammers and those who try to manipulate the voting, so you have to actively manage the site, or it will be overrun with spam, effectively killing the community, and the site.
BizSugar sees more than 10,000 spam entries every day. The best way we’ve found to combat this is a combination of technological spam filtering and manual moderation. Automatic spam filters only go so far, so having a team in place to actively manage the site is essential. Without our moderation team, BizSugar would be destroyed by spam in the space of a week. Make sure you have a moderation plan in place before launch, or your site could be dead before it even really gets off the ground.
Remain Committed to Your Target Market
BizSugar’s target market has always been — and remains— small businesses and entrepreneurs. We’ve worked to stay true to that niche. Many people have suggested that we expand the site to include other topics such as entertainment, sports, and the like. But once you stray from the site’s original intent, it becomes far less valuable for your niche market.
Small business information isn’t as exciting as celebrity pics, and the business information would quickly get buried if we tried to expand into unrelated topics. We’d prefer that small business information shine and take center stage, and our members appreciate that because that is where their interest lies. We want BizSugar to be known as the place to find blog posts, tips, and advice from small businesses, for small businesses. It may take longer for your site to take off and grow in your chosen niche, but the end result will be worth it. And really, does the Internet need yet another celebrity pic site? Offer something of value, and your members will reward you for it.
Shortly after acquiring BizSugar, we redesigned the site, keeping it fairly simple. We made the navigation more prominent, and eliminated several extraneous features from Pligg. Just because a feature is included in the software doesn’t mean you have to use it. Also, by our moderators being ruthless in eliminating off-topic information or borderline, low-quality content, our users have only the best content available to them, and don’t have to slog through spam to find useful, actionable information.
We are continually working to improve BizSugar, to make it better and easier for members to use. Just a couple of the initiatives we’re currently working on are integrating Facebook and Twitter logins, and adding more community features. Some of the ideas for optimizing the site’s usability have come from our members. Because they’re invested in the site, they have an interest in seeing it succeed, and in helping us to improve it. We’re appreciative and grateful for the suggestions we receive from members. That level of interaction and interest in the site is a testament to the work we’ve put in to make BizSugar a useful, trusted site.
There’s so much more that goes into building a community site like BizSugar, but I’ve found these five lessons to be the most helpful in continuing to push the site toward success. BizSugar wouldn’t be what it is without the outstanding team I’m fortunate to work with, or without every member who contributes valuable and helpful information to the site every day. And that collaboration is really the most rewarding part of running BizSugar.
Anita Campbell is the Founder of the Small Business Trends website and CEO of BizSugar, an online community of small business owners.