Don’t be jealous of other online communities – just be better!

by Martin Reed on 11 December 2008 in Articles

jealousy and competition amongst online communities

You shouldn’t compare your online community with other online communities. It will only distract you from making a success of your own. It doesn’t matter how large other online communities are, you can still compete. Jealousy is a destructive pastime. It can be a great motivator, but a terrible time waster. In any case, are you really sure that their community is ‘better’ than yours?

Never play the numbers game

The numbers game is a mug’s game. Here are some scenarios why:

That community has 5,000 members – yours has 50

That community devised a competition rewarding those that ‘referred’ the most members. Most members simply registered a number of new accounts themselves under their referral ID.

That community has 50,000 posts – yours has 500

That community is full of abuse – abuse breeds abuse. It gets the post count up – but is that the kind of content you want?

That community gets 20,000 visitors per day – yours gets 500

That community could be spending large sums of money on attracting new visitors rather than cultivating and developing the community and its existing members. A community takes time to develop – people take time to bond. Existing, entrenched members are the key to developing ‘community’. On that note, I will finish off with:

That community has a beautiful site design and unique, expensive additional features

Forget the technology. You are developing a community of people, not machines.

If, despite these scenarios you are still jealous of your competitor(s), it’s time to really focus in on your community. Forget about numbers – focus on the community experience.

Consider the following:

  • What do your members love best about your online community? (Do more)
  • What do your members dislike about your online community? (Fix)
  • What are the most popular sections of your online community? (Develop)
  • What are the weaker sections of your online community? (Improve)
  • What do your members want? (Act)

Competitors are your best friend

Competition is healthy. Competition helps you focus on your community. If you don’t look after your members they will go elsewhere. Be aware of your competitors and keep an eye on them, but don’t copy their every move. Your online community needs to be unique. Focus on what your competitors aren’t doing. You need to add value to your online community – you can’t do that if you are too busy putting yourself down and wasting your energy on jealousy. Besides – your community should be unique, so do you really have ‘competitors’?

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Tyler "Gunn3r" Conlee December 11, 2008 at 11:19 pm

Great post, Martin. It really applies to my community and how others have compared themselves to us. But more importantly, how we’ve compared ourselves to others. We are too focused on one community in particular that we sometimes lose sight that we are our own independent functioning forum from them. We are generally self-sufficient, but those italicized lines really are what makes us go back to that other community time and time again. We have strong sections of our website that are setup to where having more users will improve them, but right now, they are lacking the steam needed to make their effects known. It’s kind of an inescapable circle. We need more active members to post in these new sections, but in order to get more members, we need more active sections.

Stephie December 12, 2008 at 10:24 am

Surely, that would be worse situation, to think more about competition then yourself. If you watch more over competition, you will loose your focus, and wont be able to be effective in your community building. At the end, if you can’t beat them, join them ;)

Amish December 12, 2008 at 2:24 pm

As a businessperson, I can vouch for this strategy. While it is indeed necessary, in fact vital, to keep track on what the competition is doing, the focus should be on internal improvements. Ideas for innovation come from two sources – competition and the users of your product or service. Constant innovation, kaizen as it is now a days called, is what will keep your community growing and prospering.

jennifer December 12, 2008 at 7:16 pm

Sometimes smaller communities are better than the larger ones. More worthwhile content, committed readership, etc. Rather than compare, I say yes, look at the other communities but learn from them–what is working and what isn’t. Feel free to apply what you see to your own community but understand that one isn’t always necessarily better than the other.

Mr Woc December 12, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Hi there

I agree competition is healthy and will help u keep on your toes, and help you strive to make ur community better.

Its healthy to keep one eye on your comptetors and not heathly to be jealous of them.


Steven Leung December 14, 2008 at 12:47 am

> Forget the technology

That’s an important point, there’s a Wall Street Journal article about businesses that try to build online communities. One of the points they make is that the businesses spend a lot of time creating a technological marvel and forget about the people.

The broader point they make, though, is that businesses that build communities spend a lot of time focusing on the benefits to themselves and not the membership that drives the community! The cliche about leading a horse to water seems about right for that.

Ray December 16, 2008 at 3:02 pm

There is a lot of truth in what you say – numbers is a mugs game, but you can’t ignore them altogether, either.

In a lot of areas and fields you are competing against a forum that has ‘got it right’. Just being around for a long time can give a forum an advantage, too. If you are a small forum it might be because you are new and are still feeling your way and no-one has heard of you. The reality could be that you are competing against a forum that has become the best known forum in its field. Think of Sitepoint, DNForum or TheAdminZone for example – you could never ignore their numbers.

In that sort of David v. Goliath situation you are simply going to struggle if you are competing head-to-head for the same customer group. You either content yourself that you will run a small, close knit, community (and there is nothing wrong with that) or find a new angle or a different unique selling point forum if you want to have a chance of growing and attracting and keeping enthusiastic members.

The competitors statistics may, or may not be true picture of a sites success – but I would still take them seriously, all the same.

Shayne Tilley December 18, 2008 at 2:55 am

Being an admin of a larger forum (one mentioned by ray), I come at this from a different point of view from most.

As you mentioned – there a big red herrings in statistical examples you use in the article — members, posts, and page views:

Members: How many of them are still active members of the community. Depending on the age of the community, they could be members long since departed, and if they choose to count them, a great number of banned spammers.

Posts: Are they valuable and insightful or are they fluff, self promoting, or spam.

Page Views: We’re talking about communities here so how much of that is search engine traffic with people looking for answers, rather than page views by community members.

You should always keep watch over your competitors, but never use them as your main source of ideas. Your community will be unique, and there needs and desires also unique. Do what you think is best for them, and listen and care about what your members ask for.

And don’t try to be the next XYZ overnight. Make sure you put in the time and effort to grow your community over the long term.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 22, 2008 at 6:50 pm

Tyler – Perhaps if certain sections of your community are underused, they are not in demand?

Jennifer – I agree. I think the real challenge comes in keeping the close-knit, strong and positive community when you become large. Maybe you don’t even want to become too large, and should limit membership? Now there’s an interesting strategy!

Steven – It’s all too easy to forget (so it seems) that people and relationships are the driving force behind online communities. Therefore, your members are always your number 1 priority.

Ray – I agree. Numbers can be good for you to use when measuring achievements against your own goals. They shouldn’t be used to compare against other online communities though – that’s a waste of time.

Why is there always an urge amongst community developers to have the largest online community possible? What additional value does a large member count have?

Shayne – Thanks for dropping by. I absolutely agree with you – firstly, no online communities should be alike – therefore, comparing numerical statistics is flawed. Secondly, numbers cannot measure the strength of your online community – they cannot reflect the relationships that are being formed and developed. They can however, be a good way of distracting you from the continued positive development of your own community!

jbslife January 3, 2009 at 7:19 am

Great post…it’s really nice to hear some really positive advice. Stick with the game plan and everything eventually works out. 2008 was a great year for my community, 2009 will be better. I have lots of work to do.

Lisa Udy September 15, 2009 at 2:15 pm

If you’re jealous of your competitors that means you have work to do. You can’t just sit there and mope around, you have to take action.

Paul November 25, 2009 at 4:53 pm

It’s hard not to see an amazing online community and get jealous. It can also be discouraging if the community is huge because you may feel you can never reach that point.

It’s important to remember online communities take a LOT of time to develop into something amazing.