Give members of your online community a roadmap

by Martin Reed on 15 April 2009 in Articles

community building roadmap

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.

Level up

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.

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Barbara Hannan April 15, 2009 at 9:13 am

Well said. You make such a good point about members who come and participate and seem to have a commitment to the community and then disappear. It happens all the time. Difficult as it may be to find the time, it seems the most effective way to really get them committed is by engaging them on a one on one basis. I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet on our community. You’re right. Giving them something to build or aspire to is really key. Love the handing over the keys to our Twitter account idea. Fresh.

GregR April 15, 2009 at 5:22 pm

This is so true. People stay because there is something to do, an activity or a sense of belonging. Sociologists call this tribalism, people building or participating in communities of interest.

Angela Connor April 15, 2009 at 10:08 pm

You know, I was just thinking about this a few weeks ago and spent some time looking at my community and what the new user experience must be like. I then had a pow-wow with my creative services director about it and shared some of my thoughts on making it better and then I decided to get busy. I created a new section and pulled in a bunch of helpful blog posts that provide ideas on getting involved quickly and also some tips on how to do certain things like create groups AND reasons why you might want to do it. I’ve really been thinking about my front door and what new members might see right away that will encourage them to act. I recently held a “Signs of Spring” photo contest and made the form available on the front page where uploading an entry was easy as pie. I’ve also posted a gallery of user movie reviews encouraging others to post their own review. This is something we have to constantly think about. Thanks for the reminder.

Nicole Price April 16, 2009 at 10:01 am

One of the ways that you can get them to commit is to keep asking their opinions and implementing what they suggest with due credit given to them.

Maddie Grant April 17, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Fantastic post. It’s so important not only to define the social objects that will get people interacting in an online community, but knowing how to nurture that community by finding those actions and “level-ups” that will keep people coming back for more.

Erik April 28, 2009 at 9:50 am

I like the idea behind leveling up. One then needs to find a balance between offering members something to shoot for, making that goal worthwhile and attainable, but still a bit of a stretch, but also making it something even new members can immediately sink their teeth into.

Chris May 2, 2009 at 7:35 am

Now it makes sense why forums have difference levels of members based on the number of postings. It rewards loyal followers with a nice little title which some users will be motivated to obtain.

Jeremy May 8, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Yes the forum reward systems are a good idea. Through these systems the people are willing to post on a regular basis and in return they gain reputation and trust amongst forum members. One forum I am a regular poster on has several different reward systems together. Now that I have achieved the maximum level for number of posts I can still work at building up my reputation points.

Joseph Bennett May 27, 2009 at 1:27 am

Well put information. I agree wholeheartedly that forum reward systems are a great idea. With some of my online communities I execute this practice, and it helps for sure.

Shawn July 2, 2009 at 10:03 am

What types of membership groups have you created? As in, what was the basis of the group creation? Had been around so long? Posts per day? Rep count?

I’d advise AGAINST giving them your twitter account or any other account really, for the same reasons that you suggested not to have more than one admin account, sure it’s only Twitter, but it’s still something to be cautious of. Now if you want to use their API to develop a module that would allow them to post from your twitter with the account details locked into the files (and not their e-mail account), that might work. Or just ask them to write a guest twitter and you submit it yourself.

Paul November 16, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Giving members various levels of status should help motivate them to participate more. Forums have been doing this for years and years.

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