1. You must engage the community in person.
Making digital contact is great and useful but actually meeting face to face is perhaps even more important. Particularly in a community that may not be as technically savvy as others.
Our town has a population of about 30,000 and the outlying areas bump that up to about 45,000 55-60,000. Although I am sure that the majority of those people use email, some of the other web tools are often alien to them.
2. Take small victories when you can.
We’ve tried a couple of community social networks, neither of which grew very big but each of these was able to connect us with a handful of people that have led to other networks.
Our sports community site connected us with a growing but under-reported group of BMX families.
Our general community network connected us to a local dog-owner social network that will be tapped for an upcoming series on local pets and their owners.
Social networks lead to social networks.
3. Do not think of the social network as an extension of the company.
It’s not. If it is, then it isn’t a social network. Be willing and ready to give up the reigns.
If you are lucky this will happen quickly and you will have a core group of users that will steer it responsibly. This is a sign of success.