An easy way to increase activity and engagement in new online communities

by Martin Reed on 13 November 2012 in Snippets

Most new online communities fail because members don’t return to keep discussions alive or get involved in new ones.

Most of the time that’s because new members haven’t developed the habit of regularly visiting the community or members simply forget that your community exists.

Prevent this from happening by:

1. Making sure that all members receive an email when someone replies to a discussion they started (or they’re involved in)

2. Making sure that all members receive an email when someone posts a new discussion topic.

Most community software comes with this functionality but by default it typically requires members to opt-in.

Change this to being opt-out and you’ll see a big improvement in levels of activity and engagement.

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Tom Marin November 19, 2012 at 2:30 am

This is a great post Martin, thanks for sharing it with us! You’ve got some very strong ideas!

Peter Mahoney November 21, 2012 at 2:45 am

Thanks for this! One thing we find quite frustrating here in the EU (I’m based on the UK, where I work to build and strengthen people’s online communities) is the Data Protection Act (1998) that we’re lumped with.

It prevents us doing opt-out messages. People need to opt-in…kind of.

Most people interpret the Act as requiring a really restrictive opt-in, but the government guidance allows for something a bit more relaxed.

I blogged about it here:

Eric Bourdon November 22, 2012 at 10:33 am

What’s the meaning of starting a discussion but not following it? No real communication without continuance; opt-out adds meaning.

Tommy T November 23, 2012 at 6:56 am

You know, I’ve always been a bit on the fence about this. I personally always get annoyed when I get bombarded by e-mails about every new post etc, so I’ve never implemented it.

But to succeed one must take risks and step outside their comfort zone – so I’ve just enabled this option on the forum, members will now be notified of all new posts!

Tommy T November 30, 2012 at 2:18 am

Just an update on this.

Since enabling automatic opt-in of new posts and replies my forums have seen a significant increase in activity and replies to posts.

Just goes to prove that Martin’s ideas and advice are tested and proven true!

Matt December 10, 2012 at 9:47 pm

The email reminders/notifications really work, I incorporated them on some of my latest client sites and they went from a trickle of interaction to a steady flow. Nothing too outrageous, but what was happening in a week is now happening in a day or two.

You on it Martin!

Rebecca December 18, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Interesting…we initially had our community set so that by default you would get an email if someone replied to your post. We got a TON of complaints from members – and actually ended up losing many who insisted that their accounts be deleted – even though on each post there was clearly the option to uncheck the box that told the member they would receive email notification if someone responded.
So I turned the default to that you do NOT receive notification. Just wasn’t worth the complaints and loss of members. If they really want to be notified when someone responds, they can check the box to receive notification.

Martin Reed January 31, 2013 at 6:02 pm

That’s the reason why I only recommend this strategy in new online communities where there’s less activity. Alternatively, you could have a daily/weekly/monthly digest of new replies to prevent email overload.

Matt January 11, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Good post, but what do you recommend using for community software? Any experience with BuddyPress and if so, how would you rate it?

Martin Reed January 31, 2013 at 6:04 pm

I experimented with BuddyPress shortly after it was released but found it a bit too confusing. I haven’t looked at it recently. As for community software, it really depends on what you want it to do.

Thejas Kamath January 30, 2013 at 5:33 am

1st one is the best way to increase activity online. I have implemented it on my blog and has worked well. People come back and reply to comments. An awesome post overall!

Denise Gabbard February 5, 2013 at 9:10 pm

This sounds awesome in theory—but if you follow many communities, it can soon get overwhelming to have notifications coming from all of them. Any suggestions on how to keep it all straight?

Richard February 27, 2013 at 12:56 am

We use an opt-in, rather than opt-out method because we found most people like to be in control of what they receive by email these days. This method could work if you are making the opt-out email explicit, then it’s the visitors choice on whether they want to receive an update in their inbox or not.

David March 5, 2013 at 6:11 am

Tommy T, it looks like you saw an increase within 7 days of changing your opt-in to automatic. It’s always more clear to see feedback like this.

Steve April 20, 2013 at 3:55 am

Thanks Martin, for putting this together. I think users should also have the control over such email notifications. Opt-in options for such notifications should be available up to n levels so that user can subscribe to whole post OR can only subscribe against any other user OR only to some specific posts.
So based on Tag/Category based notifications, which are getting popular these days, if I have subscribed to some tags/categories and some one else posted in that category OR added some tags subscribed by me, I should get a notification. That way, being an interested audience, I shall be loyal to the community.