Tom Coates is a smart thinker on everything digital. Years and years ago he wrote about 3 steps to community succes. I couldn't find the article anymore, but I remember the highlights clearly. Here they are!
1. Make sure you are valuable for the individual.
If you can think of features that help your user, even without a large user base, you add value from the start. And that is a great thing. Then you don't need scale from the beginning. Then growing slowly but steady is an option too. For example.
Goodreads is valuable for the single reader to track books he's reading, has read or want to read.
Flickr is valuable for the single photographer as a place to store pictures.
Pinboard is valuable to the single user that wants to save links to valuable content.
2. Make sure your community becomes more valuable with friends.
Build in the power of the crowd. Doing It Yourself is one thing, Doing It Together is more fun.
Goodreads is more fun when you see what your friends are reading and what they like. A collaborative book guide.
Flickr is more fun when you see the adventures of your friends in your timeline. A lively collaborative photo album.
Linkboard is more fun when you follow the links of others. They point you to valuable content.
3. Make your site valuable for the passive user too.
It is a fact that only a small amount of people is active online. Only one percent, research says, adds content. Nine percent of people is reactive. They comment, rate, etcetera. And ninety percent is passive. They mainly consume. Think about that when launching your product. How can your site be valuable to the passive user too?
Because there are 50 million reviews in Goodreads, even a non member can find the best fiction or thriller according to this huge community.
Because of the huge collection, everyone can find great pictures on Flickr. To look at or to use with a Creative Commons license.
Because the enormous amount of saved bookmarks, Pinboard knows which content is popular. It helps you find stuff you might be interested in.
When you start a site, want to build a community, think about these three steps! It helps in the creation proces!