One of the cornerstones of relationship building is the time and attention afforded for connecting with other individuals. This is true of developing personal and professional relationships. In fact, many people will tell you that the foundation of a marriage is communication; actually taking the time to connect and maintain a strong connection with your spouse/partner.

Online community building is no different. It takes time and energy to attract attention and encourage participation. As I often say, it’s the aggregate of a million of small things rather than a reliance on one big whammy to turn a lot of heads at once (likely at a significant cost) that has the greatest chance of success. Besides, building a community on individual relationships is more manageable because you’ll be aware of the individuals and they with you. Consider what it’s like when you meet and have a chance to speak to a few people directly at a small gathering versus meeting tens or hundreds of people in a few hours at a well attended lecture, conference or large social gathering. Who are you more likely to remember? From which event are you more likely to come home with a bundle of disembodied business cards?

I often find myself thinking of a quote by filmmaker Steven Spielberg on how he’s made a connection with his audiences… “I make movies for the masses, but I talk to them one at a time.

Here are five tips to building a community:

  1. Don’t make a big announcement that you’ve joined a social networking or social media site, or how you plan to use it to build a large and influential community. Get to know how to use the tool, establish a rhythm and voice before letting people know you’re there.
  2. Make sure you know about the person you are reaching out to or who has initiated the connection with you before making the link. Read the profile of the person, review some of their online content and check out the names and profiles of others with whom they are connected. Make sure there’s a common interest.
  3. Limit yourself to a specific and manageable number of new connections on a daily basis. Don’t just make superficial links. Establish the connection through a personalized message. Show them it’s a real person, not a robot, at the other end of the connection.
  4. Provide value for your community, even before you start to build it. Without something meaningful or interesting to act as the central gravity of the community, few people will take the time to skim through or participate. Besides, noone likes showing up to a party when the hosts are just setting up.
  5. Make it part of your routine to check in with one to five random individuals each day. Let them know you’re still there and engaged.