10 ways to make members of your online community feel special

by Martin Reed on 13 October 2010 in Articles

valuable members of online communities

The more valued a member of your community feels, the more likely they are to stick around and get involved. Here are some ways you can make members of your community feel special.

1. Read, follow and comment on their blogs, Facebook page, Twitter stream, etc.

Community doesn’t exist solely within your community website. Your members have lives away from the community, too.

Keep in touch with them away from the community website. If a member has a blog, read it from time to time and leave comments if relevant/necessary. Talk to them on Twitter and Facebook.

2. Interview them.

I love seeing members of online communities being interviewed. It’s time consuming (but you can save time by doing these ‘interviews’ by email) but well worth the effort. Not only do your members get to know each other better, the interview subject will feel special about being chosen to be interviewed. It’s a big spotlight being turned their way.

3. Send them stuff.

Don’t send rewards based on activity in the community. You want to see members active and engaged because they’re passionate about the community – not because they want prizes and swag. If a valuable member mentions they like macadamia nuts and you happen to live in an area that grows them locally, send them a pack. It’ll cost you a few dollars, but they’ll remember the gesture forever.

4. Talk to them.

Sounds obvious, but too many community managers are busy talking to their community without talking to the members that make up the community. Have individual conversations – both within public discussion threads and privately, too.

When you’re a community manager, a lot of your matchmaking will take place ‘behind the scenes’ – don’t be afraid of that.

5. Talk about them.

Just as interviewing a member makes them feel special and valued, talking about them can have just the same effect. Don’t go crazy – you don’t want to show favoritism towards specific members. Just make sure you acknowledge the members that contribute great content or otherwise add value to the community.

The more you call out members for the good things they do, the more you’re shaping the culture of the community. You’re demonstrating what you want to see in the community by rewarding those that display the right qualities and make the right contributions. At the same time, you’re turning the spotlight away from the kind of behavior you don’t want to see.

6. Remember them.

When your community grows, it’s all too easy to forget those that helped it become a success. Never forget those early members, but at the same time, don’t forget the newer ones, either.

Obviously, you can run into problems with scale here. You don’t need to obsess over this – just remember things about members and mention them every now and again when relevant. Sometimes a spreadsheet with one or two important bits of information about specific members can be invaluable.

7. Ask about them.

If you don’t see a member for a while, ask after them. Drop them a line – make them know that you’ve noticed their absence. Make sure they’re OK. Get other members to ask after them, too.

8. Give them prestigious titles.

A common mistake is to give the superstars of your community moderator privileges. You should be choosing people that have the right blend of respect and maturity – this shouldn’t be a popularity contest.

Instead, give the superstars of your community unique titles, ranks or badges. Make sure they are marked out as special, and make sure the community knows why they’ve been marked out. They’ll often want the same treatment, leading to more of the kind of behavior and contributions you want to see in your community.

9. Give them responsibility.

This could mean moderator privileges, but I believe that if you can limit the number of people with administrator powers to you alone, you should.

Give members ‘responsibility’ over specific sections of your community. Give them tasks and objectives – put them in charge of recruiting new members (make sure they don’t spam). Set them a target of increasing the number of discussions about a specific topic, or of extending and rejuvinating existing discussions.

If they’re particularly active in a specific section of the community, consider naming it after them.

10. Give them an ‘in’.

Give a small number of members special access to you or important people within your organization. This could be a telephone number or email address that isn’t normally given out. Obviously, be careful to only give this ‘insider access’ to a select number of members that you trust, and that you feel your community really needs to keep hold of.

There isn’t much that’s more special than insider access.

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Dorith October 13, 2010 at 11:41 pm

I think your second point is a really great technique that you can use. I would personally try and achieve a weekly interview if possible. Some sort of “Member Spotlight” moment will always raise their egos on forums.

Georgia October 14, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Very nice article and perspective on the challenge of building communities online. Finding the right touch or angle eludes many of us. Being online back-in-the-days when forums were all the rage (well after the BBS days :P), it seemed to be much easier to get participation on various topics and niches. With social media replacing much of the appeal of certain niches, “playing the game” to gain and build members is stretching every site operator/community manager even thinner. You have to be everywhere now.

Sarah Harris November 3, 2010 at 12:03 pm

This is a great long list of helpful tidbits. As my blogs have recently started to attract more readers, I see how important it is to stay involved with them, otherwise they lose interest. I also know for myself that I like the blogs I am interested in, but especially the ones where the owner is really immersed in the comments and feedback of their readers. This is so important to keeping people around and attracting even more.

Zach G November 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Great article. The aspect of giving the community responsibility was a good point. I have noticed in my experience that if someone contributes something to a community, they will have more pride and feel more connected, likely even sending more people to join up. Adding a content submission to one of my sites has brought in many repeat readers.

Elizabeth November 24, 2010 at 11:04 am

I love the tip about giving members of your community titles. At my last job, we created a community, and we found that by giving people positions of authority based on their contributions, it really motivated them to continue contributing in a meaningful way. Great tips, thanks.

Jason December 7, 2010 at 5:37 am

Excellent post!! We are in the process of setting up a blog and this is the sort of advice I was looking for. I think remembering them and giving them responsibility are two of the best ways of making them feel involved and part of something

Mick St James December 27, 2010 at 6:39 am

Good post. I will have to try to incorporate some of these (like creating special titles for users) in my some of my online communities.

Vincent Parker January 15, 2011 at 8:51 am

Great tips! Personally I don’t own a membership site, but I do own a blog.

And as it’s grown that is one thing I have tried to do; reply to comments, visit their sites and become active and so forth.

And it just struck me that #2, interviewing them, would still be a great thing for a blog. Aside from being able to easily create new content (free content!) it would really go a long way to building a relationship with other active bloggers and perhaps build a joint venture or other projects together.

Really great tips. Thanks!

Kyle February 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Great list of tips, especially 8 & 9. I can’t help but think that the remaining tips, save for number 3, are things that any community builder should already being doing if they’re truly interested in the community they’re developing. Reading member blogs and tweets, talking about members, remembering and asking about them. These are all things that any good friend or community organizer does for their members.

Though I suppose in today’s busy world it’s sometimes the common sense and basic principles that people forget!

Luca Brammer March 10, 2011 at 12:12 am

I am in a business that caters to mostly senior citizens. Creating an online community for them seems to be a daunting task to me and I am wondering if you have any ideas on how to build an online community for seniors. The website i am promoting is all about manufactured homes. If you have any ideas about building online communities for seniors I’d love the advice!

Michael Anthony March 13, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Good tips. I’d be curious, though, to see if we could come up with some quicker and easier things to do. A lot of them seem like they’d take a good deal of time. I do like the idea of interviewing though, because that’s something that would definitely feel special and you know the person would send a lot of people there, friends, family, etc.

Fran March 14, 2011 at 2:55 am

Dear Mr Reed,

I have a blog on community management and i’d love to use this list as a guest blog? if you’re OK with that it would be great if you could send me a couple of sentences about you as a mini biog to start the post?

Thank you so much,


Mikel March 25, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Great list of tips, especially 8 & 9. I can’t help but think that the remaining tips, save for number 3, are things that any community builder should already being doing if they’re truly interested in the community they’re developing. Reading member blogs and tweets, talking about members, remembering and asking about them. These are all things that any good friend or community organizer does for their members.

Robert Shaver March 27, 2011 at 8:07 am

I remember when I was in college. I made a community for musicians and bands who would love to share their music to other people. One of our forum pages there gives out a profile of the week for new and upcoming bands. It showed their strengths,highlights their music style and music as an attachment.Nice article.
Now I am planning to make a new community that would cater to a bigger audience.
I will take in mind the suggestions on this page.Thanks very much!

Martin Reed - Community Manager March 31, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Luca – The demographic doesn’t really matter; the basics of community building remain the same.

Fran – You’ve got a great blog. Unfortunately, I don’t allow my articles to be posted elsewhere.

David Josh July 14, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Long Post !
final outcome – Interact Interact Interact !
thats the trick, thanks for the information !

christopher July 29, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Nice One – I personally use #3 a lot but #2 point is a great one I never thought of interviewing my members maybe I could do a featured member type thing every week. I will be using this. Thumbs up with a like & +1

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