The New Yorker calls it "a world of virtual Anna Wintours." Social fashion and e-commerce site Polyvore topped a million users in its first year and six years later it has more than 17 million. It has gotten attention from The New York Times, Lady Gaga, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It's a great success story that's all the more remarkable considering that Polyvore has no marketing staff.

How did this little start-up get all this visibility without marketing? At TheNextWeb's first U.S. conference earlier this month, co-founder Jess Lee shared Polyvore's secrets for building a community that can carry your own company to success:

1. Make your community part of your culture.

At Polyvore, the walls are decorated with images created by its community. Every new employee gets an initiation with the company's community manager, and a weekly digest of news and comments from the community is distributed to all employees. It all sends a very clear message: Our community is our life blood.

2. Listen to what your community has to say.

"We read all comments, emails, and messages from our community," Lee says. "We thank them for their feedback and tell them what we are doing in response." Does this mean the company will always do what community members tell it? Not necessarily, she says, but Polyvore takes those suggestions very seriously. And every time the site launches a new product or feature, it does a careful count of favorable and unfavorable comments.

3. Act like a human being.

You're running a company, but your communications shouldn't be corporate. Engage with your community on a human level, let them know who you are and what you like and don't like--and be yourself. Very importantly, Lee stresses, "Say you're sorry when you screw up."

4. Engage individual community members.

Just because they're people and you're a company doesn't mean you can't connect one-on-one. Polyvore built community loyalty by flying in very active community members and buying them gifts from the "sets" of beloved clothes and accessories they compiled on the site. Lee and other execs send handwritten notes and gifts to members, for instance when they learned that a user who'd vanished from the site was ill.

5. Help community members achieve their dreams.

This year, Lee decided to skip Fashion Week and instead flew three community members to New York to cover the event for Polyvore. "One was from Australia and had never been and she was really excited," she says.

Polyvore helped a different community member get an internship at a fashion company; it helped another get the opportunity to design a pair of Madison Harding boots.

That kind of encouragement will build the engagement to carry you to the top, Lee says. "The community's success is your success."

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