At the beginning of the month, it looked like strong and committed user communities didn’t mean much for cash-strapped social networking startups Sprouter and Akoha, but now those communities appear to have revived both sites in different ways.

It looked like Canada was going to lose two social media gems after Sprouter announced plans to shut down on Aug. 2 and Akoh

followed suit Aug. 15. But now it seems the loss won’t be as great as it seemed. Sprouter continued online past its announced shut off date, and has announced it may be near a deal that will keep its operations going. Meanwhile, Akoha’s site did go offline, but the user community has simply moved their altruistic game playing to a new online home.

First, what little is known about the Sprouter reboot: the Q&A site for entrepreneurs issued an update Aug. 24 that “there’s something

Brian Jackson, Associate Editor, ITBusiness.ca
Brian Jackson, Associate Editor, ITBusiness.ca

going on.” Community manager Erin Bury’s post skimps on the details (because lawyers are involved) but promises an impending announcement that may help Sprouter continue.

“We’re dying to tell you everything but are bound to confidentiality agreements until mid-September,”

Bury writes in the post. “Know that we’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll have some good news.”

Whether Sprouter has found an acquirer or stumbled upon an angel investor late in the game to keep the assembly line moving is not clear. One strange development was the creation of a Twitter account named “zombiesprouter” that Erin Bury says she didn’t create. One of the two messages on the account alludes to Trevor Stafford’s Google+ post on Sprouter’s shut down.

No similar mysterious announcements came out about Akoha’s social network that encouraged members to do good deeds in order to complete missions and earn points. But the sites’ user community has started up Akohan’s Wall to continue the spirit of that social networking system. Described as a site run by members who want to continue the journey, and encourages players to share mission experiences using a forum.

Missions so far include sharing the story of the best burger you’ve ever eaten, and following Gandhi’s advice to change yourself for the better in order to have positive impact on the world.

Both these cases are a testament to the importance of building a strong user community around your business. Even when an entrepreneur’s own time is consumed by other business tasks or it looks like things will go completely off the rails, a good user community will step up and act as advocates for the business. When there are many voices that speak enthusiastically about a product or service, the effect is infectious (much like a zombie virus) and others start to believe the business should be successful too.

Some have been critical of Sprouter founder Sarah Prevette’s penchant for speaking at conferences and networking at industry events too often, suggesting that time could have been better spent seeking fundraising or product development. But in Sprouter’s case, the user community equates to the value of the business. It’s not the technical solution provided by the Q&A platform offered (though it is more than adequate), but rather the experts behind it that offer their niche wisdom up for free and the user community that all have the same shared experience of entrepreneurism. What better way to ensure Sprouter’s success other than spending time on building that?

In the case of Akoha, the business may not continue, but its user community hasn’t drifted far. When co-founders Austin Hill and Alex Eberts set out on their next startup, they’ll know who to tell about it first.

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