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Dos and don'ts of community Web sites

Tips on building community, by experts at a blogging/social networking session at Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco.

Just building a Web site is not enough for a blog or online community to thrive--Web site owners have to welcome the members, be diplomatic when disagreements arise and, above all, be honest and ethical, experts at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco said on Tuesday.

The biggest no-no for a Web site or blog is to lie, said Lisa Stone, co-founder of women's blogging site BlogHer, at a session titled "BlogHer Presents: World Domination via Collaboration." Wal-Mart learned that hard lesson after the blogosphere criticized the chain for not revealing that the writers behind a travel blog called "Wal-Marters Across America" were actually being paid by the store.

"What people say about you is your brand," said Jenna Woodul, executive vice president at LiveWorld, which helps people and companies build social networks and online communities.

Caterina Fake, co-founder of popular photo-sharing site Flickr, had plenty of tips on what sites can do to foster community. First, welcome new members when the site is getting started. She suggested that sites do that for the first 100 days. "You are building a culture, a society," and setting the tone for how members will interact with each other going forward, she said.

Fake also suggested that viral marketing is often better than straight out advertising for growing your membership. After Yahoo acquired Flickr in March 2005, it ran ads for Flickr on the front page of Yahoo. "That's not a good way to build community," Fake said, recommending a more grassroots, word-of-mouth approach.

However, community leaders should consider offline promotions to increase the number of users of the site, said Jessica Hardwick, founder and chief executive of SwapThing.com, a site where people can exchange, buy and sell things. A motorcycle-related swap circle grew from three members to more than a thousand after one of the members put up fliers at a motorcycle rally, she said.

Web site owners have to be diplomatic in dealing with rifts within a community. For instance, Flickr established policies on nudity and let people elect to keep photos private after conservative users in countries like the United Arab Emirates complained about photos of "women in bathing suits" posted by members in the U.S., Fake said. "That led to a lot of product changes on our part."

About 80 percent of all photos that Flickr users post are made public, for anyone on the site to see, she said.