Nobody likes a desperate community administrator

by Martin Reed on 19 September 2008 in Articles

Desperation in online communities

So you have your brand new online community and need to encourage visitors to register, and registered members to post. One of the best ways of doing this is to create content yourself – ask questions, create a little controversy and never allow new threads to fail. You certainly don’t want to be anonymous, but you don’t want to appear desperate, either.

Desperation stinks

Desperation is not an attractive quality – it makes people feel awkward and doesn’t say much about your personality or character. Visitors and members of online communities can tell when an administrator is desperate, and they will not like it. If they see a desperate staff member, they will start to question why that individual is acting as they are – do they feel the community is failing? Do they feel members aren’t posting enough? Either way, if you act desperate you are not creating a positive environment within your online community.

Create content and encourage interaction without appearing desperate

You need to encourage interaction within your online community without appearing desperate. You can do this by observing the following five rules:

1) Do not create too many new threads

You will need to start new threads in order to ensure there is fresh content when your members return. However, they don’t want to see you creating every single new thread. Not only does this appear desperate, it can give your members the impression that they don’t need to create new threads themselves as this is your job. This is the exact opposite of what you want to achieve!

Encourage your members to start new threads themselves – if an existing thread starts to move off topic, encourage that poster to start a new thread with the point they just made. When you welcome new members, encourage them to start a new thread discussing any interests they mention. When you post a reply to a thread started by a new member, give them a confidence boost by telling them what a great topic they have just started.

2) Do not bombard members with questions

Questions are not conversations – they are conversation starters. It’s great to ask questions, and I strongly recommend you follow this strategy to encourage interaction in your community. However, you also need to listen to the answers you get back and then develop a conversation. Don’t just reply to their answers with fresh questions. You want to talk to your members – not interrogate them.

3) Keep out of their PM box

I like to send a personal welcome message via PM to all new forum members. This private message thanks them for joining, invites them to post an introduction thread and asks them to contact me should they ever have any questions, comments or suggestions. That is the only time I will ever PM a member unless they contact me first, or if they break the site rules.

A desperate community developer may be tempted to constantly PM members asking them to post, or thanking them for their posts. Don’t do this – if you do, instead of being a friendly community admin you will be a stalker.

4) Don’t beg members to promote your site

I have come across a number of forums where the admin writes a thread asking members to promote the site for them. This is a sign of desperation. Sure, you can encourage your members to spread the word amongst family and friends but as soon as you ask them to add your site to social networks or promote your community on their blogs, you are crossing a fine line between encouraging promotion and asking for it.

Members don’t want to be asked to promote your site. The will do so of their own accord if your community caters to their wants and needs. I used to work in customer service many years ago and would sometimes hear colleagues asking customers to send a thank you letter to their bosses so they would get praise from their managers. This is cringeworthy stuff – just don’t do it.

5) Don’t criticise your competitors

Businesses and individuals only criticise their competitors when they feel threatened by them. As soon as you start to say bad things about another community or website, you are sounding desperate and insecure. Not only that, but you might even be promoting that site to members who had never previously heard of it.

There is plenty of room online for more than one community in a given niche. Make sure you offer something unique, and be confident in what you offer. Accept the fact that there will always be competition and embrace it as a motivator – use the knowledge that you have competitors to pursue excellence. Don’t badmouth your competitors – it makes your community seem ugly and it makes you personally seem ugly.


Of course, it is very difficult to strike a balance between ignoring your community and getting too involved in it. You should be a visible presence. You should welcome new members. You should be posting from time to time, and creating new threads from time to time. You shouldn’t be pressuring your members to post, and you shouldn’t be the chief provider of content.

Be a visible presence, not an overwhelming one.

Your thoughts

How do you encourage interaction without appearing desperate? Do you agree with the points I make in this article, or do you feel that a community developer needs to employ all methods possible to encourage activity? Have you been a member of a community where the staff came across as desperate and demanding? How did that make you feel? Share your thoughts, comments and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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Smiley September 20, 2008 at 5:21 am

Pretty solid advice, there. It is hard to strike a balance, especially if it’s your first community.

One thing I’d like to add though, is never mass e-mail your visitors via the forums “mass e-mail” function. Ie: “Where are you guys! Come and post, the forums are great now, it’d be fantastic if you’d return!”

If people have signed up to a monthly newsletter, then use that medium to do it more subtly. Such as write a topic about all the current news going on the forums, any new features, have a “post of the month!” segment.

But I’ve been a member of several forums where I end up getting mass e-mailed via them, without giving my permission to do so. These were all mass e-mails asking all the members to “post more” and “come on guys let’s stay active!”… if anything, these kind of e-mails only encouraged me to leave, after editing my e-mail address of course to prevent further spam, as that’s what it is.

Smiley September 20, 2008 at 5:23 am

p.s: You wouldn’t wanna knock that mean looking bloke’s pint out of his hand accidentally whilst in a crowded pub, huh?!

Not unless getting beaten within an inch of your life is a fetish of yours, obviously. :D

Bat September 20, 2008 at 8:19 am

Martin everything you have done so far with Female you have done exactly right. Everyone who joins is made to feel welcome, like they are part of a new family. It,s one of the most friendly welcoming forums on the net. I,m not being a big creep either, just saying it like it is.
And I have to agree with Tommy about the picture of that bloke. Where did you find that? I wouldn,t argue with him either!!

Amish September 20, 2008 at 11:24 am

Allowing, even encouraging actively, the members to start threads will be the right way to go about it. Desperation becomes apparent when one attempts an overkill.

The best advise given here is not to ask questions.

Smiley September 21, 2008 at 7:53 am

Questions are good. I think a better sentence would be not to ask too many questions.

Nicole Price September 22, 2008 at 4:15 am

I know what you mean, any hint of desperation makes the visitor/member suspicious, makes them wonder what it is that is wrong with the site or the community. And certainly asking members to promote or maligning the competition really smacks of desperation.

Mike Pascucci September 22, 2008 at 2:32 pm

It is so important to start off on the right foot with both your community (tools, platforms….) and the way that you manage it. Being over-eager can actually push potential members away, and severely reduce your traffic. Organic growth (with a little assistance) is the best possible scenario.
You also do not want to grow too fast because there is a potential for your community to spiral out of control – in which case the members that helped you build your community would leave.

Archie Pennies September 23, 2008 at 5:42 am

Well said Martin!! There is nothing more annoying than forum Admins that bug members. I joined a forum some time ago and the Admin was desperate for backlinks. He even commented on my blog just to ask me if my top commentators plugin was working or not because he didn’t see his keyword on the plugin. Fact is that that plugin resets itself over a period of time. But I thought it was rude since he used a harsh tone in the comment. Anyway this post deserves a nice solid stumble. I am sure there are a lot of Admins out there that have to read it.

Smiley September 24, 2008 at 1:27 am

Mike has made a very good point regarding growing too fast. I encountered this problem a while back. I went from 10 simultaneous users to 50 almost overnight, not sure why or how. But I had to upgrade my chat package and my hosting package as I was running low on bandwidth each month, which doubled my expenses overnight. The forums have grown so much that I just can’t read every single thread anymore – there’s just too many a day! I’ve installed a ‘report post’ feature to better help me keep track of threads.

kouji September 24, 2008 at 10:54 am

quite true. can be tricky to strike the balance, but it’s worth working on. i think that if i were faced with such an administrator i’d have very serious second thoughts about that community. :(

Seal September 24, 2008 at 3:48 pm

That is so true. You have to be dedicated, give your members support and show them you’re there, but you mustn’t exaggerate. It’s hard to make the interaction between you and your members balanced, but it can be done. You just need to think about every step you do.

Mr Woc September 25, 2008 at 7:07 pm

hi guys

I agree with a lot of points, its all a bit of a learning process really, I have probably made some of these mistakes on the way, trying to encourage people to be more active in helping the site.

We have leant to step back and let other members of our community take the lead.


Eva White September 26, 2008 at 3:52 am

May be regular features that are monthly or weekly in nature will help keep your presence registered and not seem too intrusive.

John September 27, 2008 at 6:34 am

This is a very informative post. Reminds me of a forum that I started around a year ago. I was desperately trying to invite more and more people. Asking people to contribute more, adding more quality content.

But I guess all those efforts were sending out the wrong signals. Now after reading the post now I realize where the mistake was.

Thanks for this.


Jessica September 27, 2008 at 6:37 am

I hear you when you are saying that admin shouldn’t be the only cheif contributor of the content. I usually don’t roam around smaller forums. Just check the ones which are interesting enough and interactive enough.

Once the forum has started to grow and new threads are starting every min then I think the role of Administrator becomes easier in terms of staying back. But before that when not much interaction is there then he has to jump in to start things of and create some more interaction.


weedove September 27, 2008 at 4:32 pm

Hi guys, newbie here, I’ve read with great interest about what not to do, now I’m slightly confused lol, if asking questions is a no no, then what can one do to encourage participation in the forum?

weedove September 27, 2008 at 5:01 pm

I’ve read “Here is a method that is helping forums succeed” & that isn’t working either, people join, I welcome them, they say a bit about themselves, I interact back & then nothing, no one else joins in & it all goes dead again. I post at least 2 – 3 articles of interest each week & ask what others think or feel about these articles & yet again no response!!!!!
I am far from discouraged & will continue to help the forum grow I just need a few suggestions

Mike Tonka September 27, 2008 at 7:26 pm

This is a great point. I’ve found that when I am too eager to build community and start getting involved in every little thing, it does tend to undermine the process. Sometimes you have to know when to just relax and trust the process.

Irvin Ryan September 28, 2008 at 2:28 pm

I started a board for my guild in Ran Online PH and up until now i can’t get my friends to sign up… I’d be reading more from you… great site.. i know i’ll learn from this

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 28, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Smiley – I completely agree. Using the mass email function of forum software is not the same as using an opt-in email subscriber list. Members don’t join a forum to be ‘bullied’ or ‘harassed’ into posting more often. As you experienced yourself, this will only alienate members and result in them doing the exact opposite.

Bat – Thanks for your kind comments. The new site is progressing nicely, and all is going to plan so far. The image of the angry man comes from – I get pretty much all of the images for my blog from there.

Amish – NO! I did not say to never ask questions; questions are the key to encouraging interaction in an online community. What I said was, you should only use questions to begin conversations. Don’t reply to your member’s answers with nothing but more questions – use their answers to begin a conversation. Members don’t want to feel like they are going through the Spanish Inquisition!

Nicole – Exactly. If a member feels that those in authority are worried about the success or the future of the community, they are more likely to jump ship or not even register in the first place.

Mike – I agree. It is important to spend time planning how you are going to develop your online community before you even get started and I have gone through this in my ‘A New Community’ series. If you start off on the right foot, you are making it far easier on yourself.

The last thing you want to do is change software shortly after launch because the software you chose isn’t right for your community. Organic growth is probably the most sustainable kind of growth, but remember to plan for huge spikes – who knows when you will next be featured in Time Magazine!

Archie – Thanks for the example! You’re right; not only can desperate community admins be annoying, but they can be down right rude when they follow you to sites you run and ask for links (not to mention unprofessional).

Desperation can lead to aggression which is the last attribute a community administrator should have.

Kouji – Yes, it can be challenging to strike the right balance as every community is different. However, by taking a softly-softly approach, you can’t go too wrong. Just don’t go ‘all out’ from day one – tread carefully, slowly and gently.

Seal – You’re right; it is important to think before you do anything. As an administrator, you have a huge responsibility to keep your members happy, engaged and to encourage new visitors to join the community. If you come across as a little too forward or desperate, you risk driving members away.

Eva – I think when it comes to newsletters, you should explain to users how often they can expect to be contacted before they make the decision of whether or not to opt-in. That way, you don’t run the risk of being perceived as a spammer, and you won’t end up harassing your subscriber base.

John – There is nothing wrong with getting word of your community out and inviting people to join. The problem happens as soon as you start asking members to contribute more – members don’t want to feel obligated to post and create content. Imagine if you were put into a room full of people you didn’t really know and was told to talk to all of them. You’d probably want to leave the room, right?

Jessica – Administrators and community developers need to be involved throughout the life cycle of the community. They will probably be creating more content themselves in the early days, though.

When an online community reaches ‘critical mass’ and no longer relies on staff members to create content, it can be easy to think that you can now just take a back seat. This would be a mistake though – you still need to be a visible presence, and you still need to be around to deal with the numerous issues that crop up when running an online community.

weedove – Please don’t think I said you shouldn’t ask questions; YOU SHOULD ASK QUESTIONS!!! Just make sure you listen to the answers and develop conversations from them. Don’t respond to answers with nothing but more questions – nobody wants to be interrogated!

What other content do you have in your online community? Welcoming users is a great way to ease them into your community, and getting answers back should always be seen as a success. If you aren’t hearing anything back after asking more questions, you need to consider the fact that perhaps that member isn’t comfortable with revealing more about themselves before they have gotten to know and understand the community better.

Make sure there are other conversations and posts in the community for that member to sink their teeth into. If all they have to post about is themselves, they’ll soon get bored and you won’t be seeing them again any time soon.

Mike – Yes, sometimes you do need to relax and just enjoy your online community rather than be focussed on continuous growth. If you love your community and its members, it will shine through. If you see community development as a job you are being forced to do, your members will pick up on this and will certainly not feel particularly valued!

Irvin – You can’t get your friends to sign up? If you can’t even get your personal friends to join your online community there must be something seriously wrong with it. Ask them why they don’t want to join, and make sure they answer honestly!

weedove September 28, 2008 at 7:37 pm

Thank you Martin, I will put thought to how I ask questions so that they seem more chit chat rather than an interrogation, I see what your saying about he way a question is asked, thanks :)

Amish October 1, 2008 at 1:48 pm

I thank you for your clarification. Assume that I ask the question to begin the conversation, will it not be better for the forum to take off commenting or developing the subject? It may well be necessary to push matters by commenting on comments but, this will tie one down.

Michelle October 2, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Oh, BTDT. Sigh. I’m tempted to go back and delete all my desperate posts. Far too many posts on my site are me explaining how things aren’t done yet but please stick around because it will get better Real Soon Now. Ugh. You know, I think I will go delete those. I’m taking a break right now and waiting until I have some real time to devote to the community and I’d like to start fresh without all that whining hanging around the forums.


Martin Reed - Blog Author October 6, 2008 at 7:09 pm

weedove – No problem, glad I clarified it for you; I think I was a little unclear in the article.

Amish – I am not sure I completely understand what you are saying. Sure, asking a question and letting a conversation develop is the ideal situation; however sometimes you may need to get involved again to keep the conversation alive. Just don’t interrogate – listen and develop a conversation, not just a series of questions and answers.

Michelle – Think long and hard before you delete posts; remember that posts are content! If on the other hand, they really do appear desperate and add no value to the community then get rid of them. I think it is always best to avoid saying what you are going to do and what you are going to get done. Save your time making the post and work on actually getting things done!

Try not to leave the community if you plan on going back to it – if your members see you leave, they’ll likely do the same and it won’t be easy to get them to return. If you can’t devote a lot of time to the community right now, just do enough to keep it ticking over – please don’t abandon it.

Michelle October 6, 2008 at 8:20 pm

It’s been a while since I wrote any of the posts that I’m thinking of deleting. So maybe I’ll just leave them and hope people don’t go trawling through the archives. LOL

I’m not going to abandon the community… I still peek to see if anyone posted anything and take care of any spam. I don’t want it to get covered in weeds. I’m just not posting right now. The community has never taken off. It’s been 1.5 years and I can count the number of posters on my fingers. If I don’t post, they don’t, either. I think maybe this was just a bad time in my life to start this. With two little ones, I just don’t have the time I need to devote to it.

Thanks for the comment,


Craig October 12, 2008 at 7:25 am

The only thing i would somewhat disagree with in the article is about not PM’s all members. I too send an automated PM on registration. BUT, I also PM them all at xmas with good wishes and a thank you

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 23, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Michelle – I think you should leave the old posts. Some of the older posts on this blog are pretty dated now, and I have considered deleting some of them. That being said, I didn’t as at the end of the day they still add value to this blog, and every post is content which will attract search engine traffic.

I wonder why your online community didn’t work. How did you promote it? Did you engage with new members?

Craig – I think it’s nice to send a welcome private message, and a friendly note at Christmas. Nothing wrong with that at all. It’s only a problem when administrators send their members PMs every day, week or month urging them to post and get involved.

Michelle October 24, 2008 at 1:06 am

I haven’t done a lot of promotion. I’m stuck in this never ending cycle of wanting to get the site better before I spend a lot of time promoting it but the site never gets better because I don’t promote it. I do talk with new members… Maybe too much. If someone actually posts on my site I latch on and probably get too needy. I think my biggest problem is that I’m just not very well suited to the community manager role. I’m going to keep working on the back end coding, which is what I’m good at, and hopefully meet someone who can lead the communty better than me at some point.

Thanks for the advice,


Smiley October 24, 2008 at 4:05 am

Also, Martin, you might get people who like to read them for reference. Or people might search for a certain question on Google and come across an old article you wrote. People might not post on the article any more, but they may very well still read it.

I know I often use your search feature to search for old posts that I want to read over again as a reference.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 27, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Michelle – No website is ever perfect; just like you can’t wait until a site is ‘perfect’ before you launch it, you can’t wait for it to be ‘perfect’ before you really promote it. Maybe you should look at hiring a community manager so you can focus on the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff?

Smiley – Content is valuable from the moment you post it, and it never loses that value completely. People will still come across it from searches, and as a result existing content shouldn’t be removed.

Michelle October 29, 2008 at 6:29 pm

Not an option on a hobby site, unfortunately. Anyway, I’ve taken up enough of this thread with whining about my community. :) I’m just going to keep plugging away and hope it gets popular while I still live here. LOL


Martin Reed - Blog Author November 17, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Michelle – Sure, I understand that. Keep at it! Keep creating content, and keep promoting. You will get there in the end!!

Smiley November 22, 2008 at 1:05 pm

I agree, determination is everything when you create a new community. Just keep going, and going.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2008 at 1:27 am

Smiley – Yup, it can be a long, long road!!

Sarah January 6, 2009 at 8:53 am

May be regular features that are monthly or weekly in nature will help keep your presence registered and not seem too intrusive.

Stan January 18, 2009 at 11:54 am

I’ve seen a lot of forums which have rivalry between another forum of the same topic. It’s funny to see but it’s not really what you want to see. In the long run it’ll harm both communities.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 21, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Stan – Friendly rivalry can bring a community together. Abuse just tears it apart – regardless of the high post counts.

Tom January 21, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Stan makes a good point. This is exactly why I started FC by myself. I made a huge mistake with GC, that was involving people I already knew from other sites.

Because all they do is talk about these other sites to each other. They didn’t really want a new community, they just wanted their little clique and slag off other little cliques in other sites.

So I started from scratch and got rid of all my online friends. It’s just counter-productive when you create a site, whether it be a chat site, a forum site or both, paying for the bills just to have users gossip about a “rival” site. What’s the point? So that’s why I started from fresh even though it was harder. There’s none of that, we have our own community. We focus on our own community.

See if you create a community and do nothing but slag off another community, you obviously aren’t gonna get much work done or improve your own because you’re too obsessed on someone elses.

You should create a community because you WANT a community. Not because you want to rival one.

Peter March 17, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Mostly spot on, but I wouldn’t be such a stickler about the asking your members to help you promote the site. When you reach a certain point, you’ll have a good core of members who really do want to help out. Some of them might donate money to help defray the cost of the server, but others don’t have money to give and they jump at the opportunity to help out in other ways. It’s important to pick carefully who you ask, and give some careful instructions on what you do and don’t want them to do, but having your best members evangelize for you is the best way of all to grow your community.

Michelle March 24, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Martin – I suspect #40 is spam unless it’s some major cosmic coincidence. See #23.


Martin Reed - Blog Author March 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Michelle – Well spotted! Thanks for bringing that to my attention :)

How are things going with your community these days?

Michelle March 24, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Ok, now that my comment about the spam has become #40, that looks silly. ;)

The community is doing better. We got a few active users and some nice conversations going. Still a long ways to go, though. One of the more active members got sick and there was a noticible slowdown in the conversation. But I’ll keep working at it.


Shawn July 2, 2009 at 10:52 am

Agreed; I recently joined a community and within a week got about 4 or 5 e-mails from them. I understand that they’re starting out, but man, just telling me to go somewhere isn’t much incentive to go there. I asked him to chill and he said “that’s online marketing” — this is a guy paying over 200 biweekly for an ad at a much busier competitive site, so I can easily take that with a grain of salt.

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