Your online community is attracting visitors and converting them into members. These members then go on to make a few contributions, but slowly fall silent and then disappear. This is one of the most frustrating issues when it comes to community building – after all, you’ve got someone interested enough to contribute, but the value added is minimal if that person didn’t stick around long enough to develop a relationship with other members or continue to add valuable content.
One way to keep members active and interested in your community is to provide them with a community roadmap.
Direction and purpose
Joining a new online community can be an overwhelming experience for new members – regardless of the actual size or scope of your community. They are unknown, and they are unfamiliar with your community’s members and culture. Even if they appear to initially settle in, you can’t be sure they are going to stick around long enough to form an attachment.
One way you can increase the likelihood of them being active and involved for the long term is to provide them with more direction and purpose. Suggest things for them to do, and open up new areas of the community based on their activity level and length of membership.
Take inspiration from video games. Why do game players end up addicted? Because there is always a target that needs to be reached. You want to beat your previous high score, or reach the next level. Perhaps you want to find all the bonus tokens in order to open up a bonus stage.
You can take these concepts and apply them to your online community. When new members join, invite them to introduce themselves (or introduce them to the community yourself). Ask them to fill out their profile. Highlight some discussions they may be interested in. As you get to know them better, give them additional suggestions. This can be labour intensive – but you can still do this on a large scale.
Empower other members of your community – have them do some matchmaking. Get them to match members up with relevant discussions. Get them to encourage and (socially) reward others for contributing. Have different membership groups – some of which are easy to join (for newer members) and some that are harder (for the best contributors). Consider opening up new features to members based on their level of engagement. You could even increase their allowances (for example, more image storage). Give them more responsibility – how about giving them the keys to your community’s Twitter account for a week?
Motivation and mission
If your members have something to aim for, they have a mission. Some members covet their post count (dubious). Others covet the social rewards (respect, admiration, status). Some people will join your community without a clear or specific purpose. Perhaps they just want to ask one quick question. Perhaps they are just lonely at that point in time. Perhaps your community is geared towards a specific stage of life that people outgrow.
By setting specific milestones and providing a clear mission and purpose for your members, you are encouraging them to get more involved in the community. If you see a physical ‘to do’ list in front of you, you are more likely to get working on it compared to when that list is stored away in your mind. Members of your online community may appreciate some visual prompts, too.
Engagement shouldn’t be a chore
Don’t give your members a ‘to do’ list, though. Contributing to your online community should be a pleasure, not an obligation. Suggest activities or interesting discussions for your members. Then, suggest some more. Then, some more.
When a member logs in, have an area that has some suggested activities for that day. Mention and link to some great forum posts that have been made. Link to the best photos that have been uploaded to your member gallery and ask members to share their opinions. Tell them that in two months, they’ll have access to feature X. Invite them to apply for membership to certain groups (ones that are easy to join at first, then ones with tougher entry requirements).
In essence, you want to ensure that when members return to your community they immediately have something obvious to do. Quantity of content doesn’t matter so much here – someone could log back into a community and see five new posts or one thousand. You need to make it easy for them to find something to do and give them a reason to get involved.
Give your members ideas. Motivate them. Inspire them.