Community building means making members feel special

by Martin Reed on 24 February 2009 in Articles

Making community members feel special

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?

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Amish February 24, 2009 at 9:33 am

I am sending this link to the community from which I quit recently. Thank you.

Edward February 24, 2009 at 11:27 am

Lots of great info as usual, Martin. Great article and I barely know where to start commenting!

The one commonality I see with all 10 tips is that I never say anything to a member that I wouldn’t want to be said to me. Anonymity is not an excuse for rudeness. :)

Sally February 24, 2009 at 6:07 pm

I’m not sure I agree with what you said about giving some members priveleges and allowances. Honestly–you are getting into a very risky area. Every other member will be taking note of this. And wondering why they are excluded. Even if you sincerely value a certain member and their contributions to the board, this kind of thing is sometimes misintrepreted by many others as politics and favoritism. And then try convincing them that it’s not–not a fun job.

I’m afraid I can’t agree with using someone’s “real name” instead of just their user name. It can cause confusion among others. I’ve experienced this personally. I as another member may not know who you are referring to; I don’t know the posters real names. Sometimes a poster does refer to themselves with their real name, maybe they even get into the habit of it, but as a leader I would never encourage it.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 24, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Sally – I guess other members may feel jealous, but doesn’t this give them more incentive to make a greater contribution and receive similar rewards? Only those most passionate about the community will want or care about such recognition, and as a result they’ll rise to the challenge. I don’t see how it could be construed as political or playing favourites as long as everyone has equal opportunity to be rewarded in this way.

As for using real names – as I said in my post, this should only be done if the member often uses their own real name. Of course, it would not be advisable to address someone by their real name at all times if nobody knows who you are talking to! Indeed – some members may not want their real name used in the public community. You should still ensure you always address them by their real name (if known) when addressing them privately, though.

Amish February 25, 2009 at 9:38 am

I agree with Martin that one’s real name should be used if it is used by the member often. What can become more important than one’s name in mutual discussions with the Administrator?

GregR February 25, 2009 at 1:33 pm

You are right, you need to continually celebrate your members>. I make it a habit of replying to every comment made with additional content.

Nicole Price February 26, 2009 at 11:54 am

Those are wonderful tips, i would certainly feel very special and valued if i got that sort of treatment from a community owner/moderator.

Simon Brown February 27, 2009 at 1:15 pm

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.

How would you send a member snail mail, anyway? The only way I could think of would be whois, which would seem like violating their privacy.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 28, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Simon – If you don’t collect this information during registration or from customer orders etc, you simply send them a message saying you want to send them something, and ask them to provide their address if they’re comfortable doing so.

Tom February 28, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I wouldn’t go as far as sending members things in the post, but I do collect my staff members residential addresses, I send them a confirmation number via snail mail before I activate their staff account to verify it’s real (mostly for security reasons!).

So at Christmas, birthdays, weddings or if they’re ill/feeling a bit down I send them a card. Whether it be a get well soon or a cheer up card.

It has excellent results morale wise.

Amish March 2, 2009 at 9:45 am

Excellent ideas coming out now with the sending of snail mails. You know it has been some time since I received some interesting mail in my post box. All I receive are bills and junk mail. I am sure this will be a good idea indeed.

jennifer March 2, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Martin, you don’t need to be a moderator of a board to use these tips. I try to use many of them when posting on my grad school message board, and will incorporate more of them when engaging in “discussion” with my fellow classmates,.

Nick March 6, 2009 at 10:40 am

This post has made me feel like I have been dropping the ball when it comes to responding to my readers. Thanks for putting up this list. It has given me something to work towards now in the realm of staying connected with my community!

Jillian March 12, 2009 at 7:44 am

Getting members to stay active and engaged in your community is important. You can’t have a successful community without loyal, active and dedicated members. Making them feel special and valued is essential.

Ken Fink March 21, 2009 at 1:06 pm

One more thing that can add to the reputation is, an email or a PM from the moderator of the site. It act as a magic though. People are sure to return to your site when you make them feel special.

jonny March 25, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Bloggers generally only want their real name posted, if they include it in the blog they have posted. Ordinarily, they intend for their username to be published to the general public. Moderators and administrators must respect this as it makes your bloggers feel valued and will promote trust in your blog. That way, your users are more likely to be forthcoming with their views, and you will get a much more interesting blog, with increased loyalty. Not so in the case of with groovegenerator revealing identifies and real names of users! Naughty man! Beware!

Lloyd March 27, 2009 at 1:51 am

These are some great tips. I think you’re right when you say people need to feel like they are special and have value. To take a true interest in a member of your community is great positive reinforcement and it can produce great results.

Sid Savage April 2, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Great tips, people definitely like to feel special and I think many businesses forget about this sometimes.

Shawn July 2, 2009 at 10:25 am

Great tips, on general discussion sites members do a great deal to try to prove to everyone that they’re special, it’s a whole different monster.

Daniel July 11, 2009 at 12:47 am

I usually run some type of contest to keep visitors coming back. I make the contest something that requires them to participate on my websites so it creates content and makes them feel that they are contributing.

Martin Reed - Community Manager July 13, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Daniel – What happens when the contest ends, though? I’d recommend you focus on encouraging genuine activity rather than bribing members to be active!

Paul November 30, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Talking about members in your forum, including specific members in your newsletter, and giving your community sincere appreciation will really make them feel special.

Mark December 6, 2009 at 7:42 pm

You hit the nail on the head. Its all about making people feel like they are the only one that matters. Everyone wants to be recognized and get attention, its how we are wired. If you give someone the attention they desire they can do huge things for you for free.

Joel December 7, 2009 at 3:35 pm

“Pay attention to members and remember things about them” — Very true!

When you have repeat visitors and members you quickly get to know people and remembering things they mention and addressing them accordingly really helps build trust and friendship. Great article! – Thanks for sharing these insights.

Jim December 13, 2009 at 1:56 pm

For the best engagement, I’ve found that you have to give people content they want to comment on. Then, try to engage the person who commented and keep the thread going.

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