Community Building 101 for the Bootstrapped Startup

Despite a worsening economy, some bootstrapped startups are witnessing tremendous growth, both in user participation and back-end development. Case in point, Tip’d, a four month old financial news site which has seen its monthly traffic double, submissions almost triple, and its user base increase by an average of 60 new members every day.

But what is it about this niche vertical site that has in such a short period of time grown to become one of the leading financial news sites on the Web? According to Muhammad Saleem, Tip’d’s community director, there is no secret ingredient to success. Instead, it’s about maintaining focus on community and continuously delivering tools to help them sort through the noise that has become an unfortunate side effect of today’s information age.

“There really isn’t any secret to our success. In fact, it’s community building 101 in the truest sense. Instead of focusing on ourselves, we’re focusing on what the financial blogosphere (i.e. the content creators) wants, and what the financial news readership (i.e. the content consumers) wants,” Saleem explained. “As the economic situation worsens, people need tools to find better news and opinion and find it faster,” he added.

So what can we learn from this young start up? Plenty it seems, and where better to start than by looking at the new features the company is rolling out today.

Focus on making it easier for your community

Tip’d’s biggest news today is the launch of SocialTickers; pages that track any given stock ticker across the Web. They feature the latest stories, bookmarks, tweets and links to data resources in order to provide additional information about every stock listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ.

While this fits in perfectly with an audience that is interested in financial markets, the bigger lesson here is to recognize what information your community wants and then provide it in an easy to digest manner. Tip’d, uses the SaneBull stock widget to implement part of this feature for its users, but by looking through sites such as Widgetbox you may just come across the perfect way to add more value to your community.

Information comes in all shapes, sizes and formats

Tip’d, which recognizes that financial news doesn’t just come in article format, has today given its community a simple way to share relevant videos. It’s also made it easier to access video only content from the site by providing a video feed.

Information doesn’t always come in the form of text. The use of podcasts and video as content delivery systems is growing at an astronomical rate and if you’re not making use of these mediums, remember that your competitor could be. Most online videos and podcasts now offer simple codes that allow them to be embedded on your site. Are you making use of them?

Bring your friends

The new Tip’d Inviter Tool allows any Tip’d user to invite their contacts form a Web-based e-mail address book or social networking platform such as Twitter or Facebook. Making it easier for its community, the tool tells you in advance which friends are already registered and which have already been invited.

Do you make it easy for your community members to bring their friends to your site? And if not, why not? Given the greatest recommendations are those given to us by friends, the best thing you can do for your start up is to give your evangelizers a simple way to bring their friends to your party.

Facebook matters and so does sharing

Facebook, with its 150 million+ user base is home to many fan pages including Tip’d. But how easy do you make it for your community to show off its latest stories on Facebook? Tip’d with its recently launched Facebook application provides its community with an easy one click option to share the latest crowdsourced financial news.

The importance of acknowledgement

Although some social news sites prefer not to list top users, Tip’d likes to acknowledge the contribution of its members. Not only does it offer a top users list, it now offers a top domains list to highlight which domains are consistently supplying the site with great content, as well as an ambassadors list that highlights users that have recruited the most members to its community using the Inviter tool.

While creating top lists is certainly a way to say thank you to your community, keep in mind that it isn’t for everyone. Two years ago Kevin Rose pointed to the potential pitfalls: “Some of our top users – the people that have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours finding and digging the best stuff – are being blamed by some outlets as leading efforts to manipulate Digg.”

Surviving the econaclypse

As observed by Walter Mossberg several months ago, the companies that succeed in this miserable economic condition that the All Things Digital team have dubbed the econaclypse, are those which focus on innovation. “The companies that can hold together and continue to work on their innovation, whether it’s business model innovation, but especially if it’s product innovation, those are the companies that come out of these things strongest.”

Will Tip’d survive the econaclypse? Who knows? But certainly, it won’t be through lack of trying.

Disclosure: Tip’d co-founder Muhammad Saleem is a co-host along with article author Lidija Davis on The Drill Down; a podcast about the Digg community.

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