10 reasons why people aren’t contributing to your online community

by Martin Reed on 31 August 2010 in Articles

online community members not contributing

1. You chose the wrong niche.

In your mind, you came up with a great niche for your community. As far as you’re aware, people love your product. Maybe you didn’t do your research first, though.

Sometimes, regardless of what you think or what you predict, people just aren’t interested in talking about certain topics – even if they’re important to the people you’re trying to reach.

This is yet another reason why community planning is so important – before you build a community website, try connecting people and encouraging discussion. See how that works out before you spend more time and money on your project.

2. It isn’t relevant to them.

You’ll get people join your online community only to find it’s not for them. Sometimes you can turn these members around by asking them what they were expecting and adjusting your offering.

Perhaps you need to make your community’s mission clearer and make it more prominent. That way, you’ll be attracting the right people for your community – sure, registrations may drop but you’ll have a far more relevant (and consequently interested) membership base.

3. It’s too complicated.

Don’t try to build the biggest and fanciest website. Keep it simple – very simple. Don’t feel embarrassed if your site will be nothing but a forum. If that’s all your members need to communicate (they’ll rarely need much more), then you should be proud that you made a smart decision and avoided the temptation to go for technology over functionality. To make things even easier, consider drawing up roadmaps for members of your online community.

Remember – start small; you can always expand slowly as the community develops. Personally, I love the look of Vanilla.

4. Nobody else is contributing.

People won’t talk unless others are talking, too. That’s why you need to introduce people to each other and encourage discussions yourself. You don’t want to be the focus of your online community, though – so make sure you do most of your matchmaking behind the scenes.

Encourage members to post about things they’re passionate about (you know what they’re passionate about, right?) If one member starts a discussion topic on a subject you know another member is interested in, encourage that member to join in. Prompt, cajole, encourage.

5. They’re scared to post.

Being a community manager and being a community moderator are two different things. You should dread having to use moderator privileges and you should only use them as a very last resort.

If people go off-topic in a discussion, let them. That’s what happens when people have real discussions. If you come across posts that are a little distasteful, turn the spotlight away from them. The more you react to the behavior you don’t want to see, the more you’re likely to see it.

Encourage the community to ignore the type of content you (they) don’t want to see. Of course, if things go too far you’ll need to delete content and even member accounts but this should be something you hate doing.

6. They don’t have time.

This is just an excuse. See point 7.

7. It’s boring.

A lot of online communities are boring. That’s because they’re run by organizations that have excessively strict guidelines for the community, moderate their communities heavily and don’t allow much in the way of off-topic discussion. They’re being too protective.

Your online community should have an off-topic discussion section. You should also consider having a humor/games section. These aren’t a waste of space – they’re another way for members to get to know each other and they can be remarkably addictive.

8. They feel anonymous.

Small communities are personal and often far more rewarding than larger communities which are usually influenced by a small number of elite members. New members feel anonymous, unrecognized and ignored. As you grow, make sure you keep things personal by dividing the community into smaller groups.

Pay attention and be sure to remind individual members that you’ve noticed them.

9. They’ve forgotten about it.

Online communities don’t exist solely on one website. You should be engaging with your members wherever they are – and you shouldn’t be afraid of them building relationships with each other using websites other than your own.

Keep in touch with your members (and those you want as members) by using the websites and services they use and by sending community newsletters (with their permission).

10. There’s nothing in it for them.

If your online community offers no benefits, people won’t get involved. I’m not referring to gimmicks like prizes for the most prolific contributors. Instead, reward members by naming sections of the site after them. Draw attention to them in the community newsletter. Give them perks and privileges.

Turn the spotlight onto members who do great things in the community. Make them feel special.


If you still can’t get anyone to contribute, perhaps it’s time to try something a little more radical.

Share this community building advice


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Andrew September 1, 2010 at 8:23 pm

The first time I put up my community/ my website, obviously, there’s really not a lot commenting or participating in the discussion. But that can all change and it’s possible. Just start giving them what they need, post information that your audience can learn from, be informative. Be open and approachable and surely in time people will start contributing and continue doing so. Change the I and focus more on the you and the we.

Anna September 3, 2010 at 7:29 am

Martin, good to see an article that focuses on the common mistakes people make when setting up community engagement.

I especially liked your point 9 about engaging with users wherever they are. This is so true. It’s much easier to get community involvement if your users are already involved on the platform in other ways (for example already members of that forum, twitter users, etc.) as it lowers the barriers for sign-up. However, it’s also important to adapt the community to the evolving needs of customers. Having started with mostly twitter-based community, we’re currently moving part of our workload also to GetSatisfaction as the format of a forum allows us to engage users in different ways and ensure all questions are answered.

Amy September 3, 2010 at 8:21 am

Thanks a lot. I just built a website with my friend and we dont have anyone on the site yet. But like you said, maybe we should ask them what the what or what they expect so we can adjust the site accordingly and see it that helps. This was very educative.

Jennifer September 23, 2010 at 10:34 am

A good but maybe not a nice way to start a community is to impersonate different members to get the discussion going. It’s a lot of work but worth it in most cases.

Jonathan September 25, 2010 at 6:01 am

The feeling of being alienated by a large community can happen all to quickly and I think that it is critical to ensure that as many members as possible are fully engaging with your online community. This may mean having a focus on different groups of members throughout the month

Lyndsey September 26, 2010 at 10:50 am

Something else I have seen frequently is that people encourage friends / colleagues / others they know to use the community, to get the conversations going. it can be very off putting to an outsider when it is apparent everyone else on the forum knows each other, this has put me off on several occasions.

Sarah Harris October 6, 2010 at 11:29 am

This a great list to consider after building a website. Just by giving people what you think they want, doesn’t necessarily cover it. I had pretty strict restrictions on my first blog and nobody seemed to comment. Once I took those away, I did get some spam, but as long as I moderated it, it was no problem and at least people were commenting.

Victor October 15, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Love this article. I usually face this kind of problems. I think the most difficult problem is point 4 “Nobody else is contributing”. This is why starting a community is so hard, but once it is started users come easily.

Rebecca Williamson October 18, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I think the “it’s too complicated” is something we should all pay attention to. We’re all told we need something that looks pretty, but if someone can’t figure out how to go where we want them to go, looking pretty only gets you so far. Great list.

Britt Phillips November 20, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Encouraging people to contribute starts with offering content that is worth contributing to.

AJ Estrada November 23, 2010 at 11:21 am

I couldn’t agree more with Britt. I’ve started many websites and i cannot stress how naturally the community became involved in the sites that offered original intriguing content. I also like to search google for “url” to see what is being said about my site. Free marketing.

Stephen Dave November 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I’ve tried to start a community a couple of times. I think my biggest problem was not being patient enough to wait the slow period through. I will try and apply some of the reasons on this list to relaunching one of my failed endeavors..

Indu Agrawal November 27, 2010 at 8:28 am

I started a fan page on Facebook, where in people participated a lot initially but then suddenly it started to decline, now people do not contribute at all, rather I see dip in total number of fans on a daily basis, any idea what can be done? It is about Bollywood, Movie reviews etc.

duncan December 3, 2010 at 4:10 am

hi there,
i think the most important point for me is that you have something that your audience keeps coming back for.Take your article for example,if you didn’t have anything important that would help,i wouldn’t have bothered commenting.
everyone always has that question at the back of their head,”whats in it for me?”

Jason December 3, 2010 at 6:36 am

This is article has a a ton of great info in it. I have struggled getting contributions from our online community our biggest issue has been over complicating our websites and also getting those first few customers involved. I’m going to implement some of these ideas and hopefully they work thanks!!

Tracy December 4, 2010 at 3:59 pm

That’s very good information. Years ago when I started my married and flirting forum, I researched everyone to find out information such as this. Thank you for the helpful information. We have members at theflirtingshack now, our goal is to keep things fresh and interesting.

kim January 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm

After reading a book about Google, one thing that really stuck with me is the concept that “communities already exist” and are functioning within all kinds of niches. The trick is to provide that communities with a platform that is useful and productive, enabling them to do better what they are already doing. In a nutshell, don’t build an online “community” (website) and seek out members, but rather provide communities that already exist with a better online platform to express themselves in whichever capacity that particular community functions best.

Mikel March 26, 2011 at 1:35 am

I especially liked your point 9 about engaging with users wherever they are. This is so true. It’s much easier to get community involvement if your users are already involved on the platform in other ways (for example already members of that forum, twitter users, etc.) as it lowers the barriers for sign-up. However, it’s also important to adapt the community to the evolving needs of customers. Having started with mostly twitter-based community, we’re currently moving part of our workload also to GetSatisfaction as the format of a forum allows us to engage users in different ways and ensure all questions are answered.

John April 8, 2011 at 8:09 am

I agree with point 9. people do forget where they have been on the internet however in today’s world of facebook, twitter and others it is so much easier to remind them of your online community. The more they visit it the more they get used to returning!

Talia May 19, 2011 at 11:27 am

This is tough. I’m on my second web site now focused on social stuff [in this case fashion - nail designs, etc.] and I’m holding off on creating a community function [other than normal blog commenting].

My previous site had an opt-in email approach to community – no sales pitch, no spam or selling lists, etc., AND people got a free informative article when they first signed up…but I had less than 5 people sign up from the main page over a 3 month period…

I think the niche thing is the key [and hard], as well as dealing with more established competition that draws same audience

Monique DiCarlo July 19, 2011 at 10:27 am

Martin, so glad you have shared this important info as my company is contemplating the creation of a community. I have read more on this site and it almost seems like creating a community is pretty similar to starting a company?

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