Don’t draw attention to your community’s weaknesses

by Martin Reed on 11 January 2012 in Snippets

Movie-Vault does a great job at highlighting its weaknesses. Take a look at the homepage; as of Wednesday January 11th, in the left column we see 67 RSS readers and 55 Twitter followers. In the articles section, we are repeatedly reminded that nobody is commenting on the articles -there are four articles all with a large button proclaiming ’0 Comments’ (apart from one article lucky enough to attract the attention of a spammer). Furthermore, on every article we have the opportunity to be the first to ‘Like’ the content on Facebook.

Not all online communities have the audience or level of interaction to support the social proof tools we commonly see online today. Unfortunately, because they’re so prevalent, the temptation to integrate them into our own websites or online communities can often be irresistible. It’s worth thinking this through for a bit first, though.

  • Why draw attention to the fact nobody comments on your content?
  • Why draw attention to the fact your audience is (or appears to be) small?
  • Why give another website (such as Facebook or Twitter) space on your site to draw attention to the fact nobody is engaged with your content?

Move-Vault has drawn attention to the following weaknesses:

  • Nobody comments on their content
  • They have a small readership
  • There is no active community management
  • The site attracts spammers (and potentially, scammers)

Get rid of the social proof tools that are only highlighting your community’s weaknesses. If you really need them (they can be great for cross-promotion and sharing) then remove the numbers if they’re only going to show a zero.

Social proof is all about numbers (and big ones at that unless you’re operating in a tight niche). Only use the tools if you have the numbers to play the game.

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Adi Gaskell January 12, 2012 at 1:11 am

Can become a bit like the chicken and the egg though can’t it? You shouldn’t show off if you don’t have the numbers, but it’s harder to get the numbers unless you make it clear people can share/like/comment/whatever.

Should you get people to ‘seed’ your sharing in the same way it helps to seed a community during soft launch so that when it goes live you have content for people to contribute to?

Martin Reed - Community Manager January 13, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I would argue that if you don’t yet have the audience, why clutter your site with ‘share’ icons and similar widgets? Generating false share counts is dishonest and can often be obvious to the visitor, which will only damage your credibility. If you spend enough time attracting a passonate audience the hard proper way (reaching out and building real relationships), you should find content gets shared naturally. When that happens, by all means, show off your numbers and make it easier to share content others are already evidently enthusiastic about.

Gregory B January 16, 2012 at 8:58 pm

I have to admit, I suffer from some of the very issues that you mentioned in your article. It’s caused me to take another look at how I approach my community. Thank you for the help. Nice post!

Super Nerd February 7, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Hmmm….this article is kind of a wake up call for my up and coming website. I used Fiver to try and buy a community. i figure the more people I get, the more likely I’ll get people commenting. So maybe I’ll take down my comments for now. I do get some here and there, but lots of big 0′s on my site for the moment. But I figured for an up and coming website I’m getting about 10,000 page views in my first month. Maybe I’ll wait till I get 50,000 a month before turning the comments back on. What do you think?

Martin Reed - Community Manager March 16, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Remove the zeros. How about a simple replacement of the term ’0 Comments’ with ‘What do you think?’ or ‘Leave a Comment’?

Pageviews don’t necessarily reflect a successful community. Track the progress your community makes and draw attention to engagement when it happens, not before.

Anna February 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm

I agree that one shouldn’t deceive its visitors with false social media counts for any reason. Think about how hard is to build credibility and how easy it is to loose it. I guess the fear of loosing makes me want people to like my site by their own and not influence the counts. Thanks for sharing!

Tommy T May 8, 2012 at 10:07 pm


On my current project, I do have the various plug-ins and extensions for social proofs, they’re installed; customized but they won’t go live for months after the site its self is launched. They’ll be added once the community grows.

I’ve never understood sites that publish on their main page items; posts; articles etc that sit there for days or even weeks with zero comments. The very least the management could do, is create a couple of alter-ego’s and post to get the ball rolling so others think “oh, it’s active, I’ll reply to that then”.

Let’s face it, unless you’re insane like me, nobody likes discussing content with.. them-self and their one post.

Jonah May 14, 2012 at 11:43 am


How does one gauge when it IS appropriate to include these social tools? And how would you say this rule applies to personal communities, such as ones personal blog on the wordpress platform?

I’ve had some things I’ve written be popular among my facebook friends, and the facebook count rockets up, but it doesn’t get tweeted any. And sometimes something I write strikes a chord with strangers interested in the topic, and the twitter count raises to a good twenty tweets or so…

It seems to me though, that it’s hard to determine where the tipping point is. I feel like there is weight to the argument that all those zeros provide an opportunity to reward the person who is first to perform any one of those social actions – especially comments and such.

To demonstrate, nobody has recommended this particular article you’ve written on facebook – currently, I see a zero there – but _I_ don’t get the impression that it’s a highlighted weakness.

To recap my questions both are:
1) How do you determine the tipping point?
2) How does this concept apply to a potentially smaller blog?

Martin Reed May 22, 2012 at 3:19 pm

The real issue here is the way these social buttons work. They shouldn’t show a number when nobody has clicked on the button – instead, they should only start counting once you hit a certain level of engagement. Even better, let the owner of the site determine the minimum number of shares that needs to be reached before the count appears.

Unfortunately, I believe Facebook recently changed their button – previously it didn’t display ’0′, now for some reason it does. That’s a shame.

Personally, I think as long as you still have visible levels of engagement (through other social sharing platforms/tools or comments), then the occasional 0 is acceptable. You just don’t want your site to be littered with them!