Members of your community do a lot. You rely on them to make the community a success. You can influence the direction of your community, you can influence its content and you even have an influence over the type of members you want in the community. However, when it comes down to whether your community is going to be successful, your members are all that matter. You need to not only attract members that will help your community grow and continue to develop, but you need to keep them. You can do this by making sure they feel special.
Making members feel special
When you make your members feel special, they will remember you and your community. In fact, you don’t need to hold all the responsibility for this. Your members can make other members feel special with minimal input from you. You just need to lead by example. Pay attention to members and remember things about them. Be personal. If you do this, other members will do the same thing.
When members see that they are being treated as an individual – as a real person rather than just a username – they will feel valued. We all want to feel valued – why bother investing time in a community if you are ignored or if you feel your opinion is worthless? Even those that remain as members of communities like these will hesitate to get involved as often as they would in a community where they feel valued and respected.
Ways to make online community members feel special
Here are some easy ways to make members of your online community feel special:
1. If a member uses their real name, refer to them in the public community with that name rather than their anonymous username.
2. If a member mentions an upcoming event or important date, make a note of it. Then, follow up and ask about it. A job interview next month? Ask them how it went.
3. Engage in conversation. Don’t just answer questions from members. Don’t just ask questions. Engage in a conversation. Answer their questions, and ask some of your own. Bring in some of your life experiences and advice. People don’t want to be interrogated – they want to talk. This means more than just questions and answers.
4. Don’t forget there is a private side to community. Drop members a personal private message from time to time, thanking them for their contribution. Did they just make a great post? As well as publicly acknowledging them, send them a private message with more words of thanks and encouragement. Don’t see private interactions as a waste – they still add huge value to your community, even though they can’t be seen by others.
5. Public recognition is a great form of flattery. Be careful with this one – some members won’t like being in the spotlight. Most do, though. If you come across a great forum post, give it additional recognition by featuring it on your homepage or other prominent page. Let visitors that may not be fully involved in the community see it. Not only are you extending recognition, you are also showcasing some of your best content to new visitors and potential members.
6. Members want to feel unique – allow them to express themselves with some personalisation. Allow members to upload their own avatars. Allow them some control over how their profiles will appear. Bestow upon the members that are most deserving unique badges or custom ranks.
7. Don’t forget the real world. Snail mail still has value. Has someone in your community recently received some bad news? Why not post them a card? Has someone just has a baby? How about sending them a small gift? What you send doesn’t have to have monetary value (indeed, it shouldn’t) – it really is the gesture that counts.
8. Give members additional responsibilities. Some community managers seem to be hesitant in giving members additional powers or responsibilities. This is a mistake – primarily because most members will actually want these extra responsibilities. You don’t even have to give them any additional powers – just offer them tasks or additional roles. In Female Forum, some of my most valued members are ‘Community Reps’. Some are responsible for welcoming new members, others for ensuring no conversation or new thread goes unanswered. You are not only lightening your own workload, you are engaging with your members and making them feel even more valued and respected.
9. Privileges. As I mentioned before, often the gesture is the real evidence that you value a member. Why not give additional privileges or allowances to those members you feel are most deserving? Larger image upload allowances, or the ability to have a larger private message inbox are all easy to implement, and will speak volumes to the member you have singled out for special treatment.
10. Be contactable. You are the public face of the community. The focus should be on your members, but they need to know who to turn to in case of trouble. They need to know there is someone around to support them and recognise them. In addition to being active in the community yourself, you need to be contactable. Make sure your members know how to contact you. Make sure they feel comfortable contacting you, and make sure they receive a response when they contact you.
Looking through the points above, I think they all come down to treating your members like human beings. Remember that behind every user name is a real person (or at least, there should be!) with real human needs. This can be easy to forget. Every time you see something great that a member has done, make sure they know about it. You need to encourage and reward at every opportunity. Don’t take this to the extreme – your members don’t want to be stalked. Be sensible, and give thanks when they are due. Make your members feel special and valued, and they’ll stick around and continue to add value to your community.
How do you make members of your online community feel special? How have you been made to feel special as a member of an online community?