Don’t lose existing members of your online community

by Martin Reed on 22 September 2009 in Articles

keep hold of existing community members

New members help your community become more vibrant – but you don’t have a community in the first place if you can’t keep hold of your existing members. It doesn’t matter how many posts you have – if members join, say hello and then leave, you don’t have a community. You need to keep hold of existing members whilst attracting new ones at the same time.

How to keep existing members of your online community

Members of your online community need to feel special and they need to feel valued. They need to know that you want them as a members and they need to know that you have noticed them.

Here are some ways you can lower the turnover of your online community:

1. Welcome new members.

Be personal. The auto-generated email doesn’t count – but if that’s all you can do, at least personalise it. This can scale – welcome new members publicly, and your members will follow suit. If it all becomes a bit overwhelming, you’ve already established a ‘welcome wagon’ as part of your community’s culture. Your members will now take over.

When you welcome new members, they know they have been noticed. Nobody wants to contribute to a community if they feel invisible.

2. Praise member contributions.

If members do good, tell them. Feature the best content in a prominent position on the site. When responding to a member’s post, tell them how great you think it is. Don’t forget the value of private messaging, too – you might not want to get involved in a specific discussion, but that shouldn’t stop you from dropping a member a PM to thank them for their fantastic contribution.

3. Communicate with your members.

Don’t just talk to your members. Listen, too. Get involved in the community you are managing. Get involved in discussions. When members contact you, make sure they get a response (a real one – not an auto-responder or link to the FAQs). If you forget to keep in touch with your members, they may forget to keep in touch with the community.

4. Get to know your members.

Similar to above. You can’t get to know your members if you’re not involved in the community. Don’t just reply to existing discussions. Don’t just start new discussions. Ask questions. Learn about your members and learn from your members. Figure out what makes them tick – you’ll then be in a better position to tailor the community to their needs.

5. Show interest in your members.

If you’re not a ‘people person’, you can’t be a community manager. You need to be interested in people and you need to love getting to know people. Show an interest in your members and what they do. Does a member have a blog? Go read it – and drop the occasional comment. Do they have a new website? Take a look and offer some feedback. Share a link to their site with the community.

Show an interest in your members, and they’ll continue to show an interest in your community.

6. Interview your members.

I have to admit, this is something I have only started doing recently. It works wonders, though. Initially, members wondered what the point of interviews would be – after all, they are already getting to know other members by reading their posts and getting involved in discussions. However, after the very first interview, the sceptics were won over.

Interviews allow you to really dig deep into the personality and experience of individual members. They are a great opportunity for members to open up and talk about things they wouldn’t normally share or start a discussion about. They can bring the community closer together, and the replies from other members after an interview make the interviewee feel special and valued.

Don’t just interview existing members of your online community, though – get out there and interview people you want as members, too.

7. Give members additional responsibilities.

Empowerment is a powerful tool. You don’t need to necessarily give away real powers – just assign individual members certain tasks and responsibilities. At Female Forum, one of our members is in charge of the Twitter account. Brave? Dangerous? Risky? No – it just shows the community how much I respect and trust them.

8. Give members a reason to keep coming back.

Nobody will come back to your community if there is no fresh content. You need to get members addicted. Newsletters can be used to highlight the best conversations (or the most controversial). Quiz leagues can bring out a competitive spirit.

Put yourself in the shoes of your members. Would you want to return tomorrow?

9. Know when to use power.

You have lots of power. You can edit posts, delete posts, delete members and ban members. Use these powers sparingly. Don’t oppress members. They don’t want to live in fear. The more they worry about moderator intervention, the less they’ll be inclined to post. Members will make mistakes from time to time – don’t come down on them like a tonne of bricks if they do. Be understanding. Genuine mistakes happen. Personal circumstances may result in someone acting completely out of character.

Use your power sparingly and wisely.

10. Be genuine.

You can’t fake it when it comes to being a community manager. You need to be genuinely interested in your members. You need to be genuinely passionate about the community. Members can tell when you’re faking it – if that happens, you’re in trouble.

How to attract new members to your online community

See above. If you work hard for your existing members, you’ll naturally attract new ones.

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Danny Brown September 22, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Great points Martin.

I always find that featuring your blog community as well helps. Like on Twitter, where you have a #followfriday – perhaps transfer that to your blog and say why you feel this member of your blog community is worth checking out. Or do a feature on their blog and encourage your readers to check it out and subscribe.

Cheers! ;)

Patricia September 23, 2009 at 6:20 am

Another great post with plenty of tips to work on, everyday. Thanks, Martin.

Reg point 6 – interview your member, you are right that it works like wonder. I recently started an interview series in the community I manage and the response is great. Are you the one who wrote those interview questions? Or you have someone else do it for you? I have seen quite a lot of sites asking their members to submit question they want to ask the person to be interviewed but I haven’t tried it yet.

Reg point 7 – give member extra responsibility. Again, this is good. Some examples include: get them to be the competition manager, content editor (someone who suggest topics to be featured in the community), or the ubiquitous forum moderators.

Nicole Price September 23, 2009 at 8:35 am

This is great advise and I hope that other community managers are reading this.

Martin Reed - Community Manager September 23, 2009 at 8:57 am

Danny – Great idea; a blog can be just as much a community as a forum or social network.

Patricia – I write the interview questions but at the end I ask the member I am interviewing who they would like to see interviewed next, and what the one biggest question they’d like to ask would be. Having members write all the questions could be a bit of an effort, but if you can pull it off, great!

Thanks for sharing additional examples for point 7 :)

YC September 23, 2009 at 9:23 am

I really needed this advice – thank you Martin. I will start putting all these points into practice. The only reason that I have been reluctant thus far to do so is that I don’t want my site to be all about me. I was trying to distance myself as all I could see was my name all over the place and I didn’t want to give members the wrong idea. I was also concerned about looking desperate but your timely advice has put me in a new frame of mind. Big thank you!

Tom September 23, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Good post, and every bit true.

It’s hard work getting involved with every single member, but worth it.

Sometimes you’ll get days when you can’t be bothered – you have to be careful that those ‘days’ don’t become the majority of days.

The problem I seem to have the most at FC, is a clique gets to a certain size, a gang of 4-5 friends, and because they can’t bully their way to the top, or get what they want by being abrupt and abusive, they’ll suddenly turn on FC and start a ferocious hate campaign – which never makes much sense because a week later half of them setup an FC imitation site, and the other half always comes crawling back begging for forgiveness.

It’s a strange trend that happens around once or twice a year when one clique gets to a certain size.

I despise cliques, always have done, I encourage them by getting new users involved and providing a friendly environment where everyone is welcomed into it. But for some reason one or two cliques still end up forming, they then start to ‘withdraw’ from the rest of community then they become abusive, then they decide to copy/paste my entire website onto their own free page.. I honestly don’t know why because all they do is sit talking about FC, missing FC, then a few months later all come back.

Peculiar behaviour – the psychology of it interests me.

I need to address this phenomenon and try to understand what is causing this particular clique cell to form. Because I’m very open and giving to members, we work as a democracy, if they aren’t happy about something I’m happy to discuss it with them.

What set the most recent clique off, is that I enforced our ‘no public scolding’ policy. One staff member didn’t take kindly to the policy, she felt that she should have the right to tell people off in public, instead of talking to me about it she decided to quit and start an imitation site, recruiting this one clique to do her abusing and spamming for her.

Gaining members, in my opinion, is the easiest part. Welcoming new people, chatting to them, getting to know them, being polite, bending over backwards to their every need – I don’t mind all that, infact I quite enjoy it, the hard part is when you get to a certain threshold of users and these little gangs start to form – then it’s hard. Because you annoy one member of the clique and the rest follow like little lost sheep.

Sue September 24, 2009 at 8:20 am

Some really great pointers Martin, I especially like your first point. I try and welcome as many new members as I can personally, but with 100-150 members joining daily it’s extremely difficult. We send out an automated welcome message to all new members and then at the end of the month I send another one to the new members who have not posted that month with a personal message encouraging them to participate, and to also contact me if they are unsure about how to get started. Sometimes people join but as first time users of online communities they may need a little helping hand. I’ve found reaching out to them this way is quite effective.

Martin Reed - Community Manager September 24, 2009 at 2:31 pm

YC – Good point; you don’t want to be the sole creator of content in your online community. Being involved in the community doesn’t just mean creating content, though. You can encourage relationship building ‘behind the scenes’ – introduce members to one another based on their interests. Thanks members for making great posts. Go out there and invite new members to join.

Tom – Cliques aren’t necessarily bad; it shows that your members are bonding. How about creating special parts of your community for these cliques? A ‘ringed off’ section of the message boards or their own chat room? They’ll feel special, they won’t leave (they still have value) and hopefully they won’t continue to generate conflict with other members.

Sue – Once you get a lot of new members joining on a daily basis, it’s impossible for one person to keep up. That’s why you need to create a culture of welcoming new members in your community – when it gets too much for one person, your community jumps in on your behalf.

Thanks for sharing your introduction strategy – I definitely agree that following up with inactive users is a good idea.

Mr Woc September 25, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Hi There

Some nice common sense information, I have had a community for a while now and Im still working hard to try to prefect some of these issues, which just goes to show there is always something to learn when your running your own community, I particularly like the interview idea, but havnt found a good way of doing this just yet.


Tom September 26, 2009 at 2:57 pm

I have thought about that before, Martin. But then I think it’s unfair to newer users. If I caved in to every gang that formed and gave them all their own ‘gated community’ then it kind of beats the point of having a friendly, incorporated community.

I think I’m trying to reach a too wide a crowd. I’m promoting FC as a tolerant and international site, encouraging staff members of foreign descent, religion and ethnicity to apply for staff to represent their country/community, before ordinary Britons.

I want everyone to feel that everyone is welcome, mix and matched together.

But there’s always one gang that feels they should have more power over other users, while I’m trying to create an atmosphere of fairness and equality. So I think that causes clashes.

I don’t know, guess I’ll just have to re-think my approach to having the whole community integrate. Just concentrating on updating the site info and training new staff, then will convert new people to regulars to replace the old ones that are throwing paddies on imitation sites for the time being!

I may adopt your idea of ‘community ambassadors’ that you mentioned in another post.

Dylan Purdy September 27, 2009 at 9:05 am

Another great read Martin, I am falling in love with your site and your sound advice.

I will definitely start using some of your ideas as I can see flaws and ways to fine tune in my own site now.

Although there does need to be some balance as being genuinely interested and involved with your users is natural sometimes, it’s often hard to be around 24/7… Just wish I had more social time.

Alfred September 28, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Well, I think the most important thing you can do is reply to comments on your posts. It shows that their input is important more than anything else could. It also scares away a lot of comment spammers as it says to them “Why even bother? This guy is hands on.”

Viktor Richardson September 30, 2009 at 6:15 am

All very good advices. Thanks!

Even though it can be hard to be involved with all members, I think taking the time to get to know as many as you can, will form a nice atmosphere that spreads to the other members.


Nicole Price October 3, 2009 at 8:49 am

My response to Tom on the small gangs is this. One normally joins a new community on the invitation of someone who is already a member, a friend or a relative. It is but natural that this bond expands within the community to become a mini community within the site. It is not really creating a gated community as much as giving a platform for people with common backgrounds to form their own little group.

Tom October 4, 2009 at 9:40 am

Agreed, that I don’t mind. That’s just making friends lol.

It’s when certain groups start feeling superior to other users, particularly newbies, and feel they have the right to bully – that’s when I need to stamp down on them, regardless of whether they throw a tantrum about it or not, I promised to provide a site that is new user-friendly, and that’s what I’m going to do!

Matt October 8, 2009 at 12:50 am

Regarding #1, I most definitely agree. In fact, one great way to tell if you’re welcome messages are passing the “personal” test is if you receive replies. On many of my welcome emails, I receive a reply back that thanks me for the personal welcome. That’s when you know it’s personal enough for new members to feel the connection. Of course, this is yet another good argument for using a personal (non-auto-reply) email address when sending the welcomes.

Nicole Price October 9, 2009 at 11:08 am

Thanks Tom, after posting the comment, I thought that perhaps I was out of line! I entirely agree that you need to stamp out any kind of bullying if it takes place, regardless of who the perpetrator is.

Eve October 12, 2009 at 10:22 am

I really like your approach. After all, a community is an all encompasing thing, it iis not up to us to chose who we include but to make sure we have our arms open to everyone. I am going to forward these tips to a few of my friends as I think it will be really helpful!

Diego October 13, 2009 at 5:05 am

I think it is definitely important to communicate with members. The trick is to give useful information and incentives that aren’t annoying advertisements. There is a lot of spam email from some communities, and that will chase away members.

Mingo October 13, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Probably a quite common mistake is paying too much attention on how to attract new members for the sake of neglecting the existing ones.
It is hard to keep involved the whole community, better would be to design target groups.

Paul November 25, 2009 at 4:50 pm

After reading through this list, number 6 seems really interesting. I think you would gain a lifelong member if you interviewed them.

Other members might also become more involved after hearing about the interview.

Ed Harris February 25, 2010 at 10:22 am

I know this is a bit late, but I just noticed the “get to know you” comment.

Really, so true. The three Forums that I am very active in…I know the owner fairly well and the moderators. All three are financial Forums.

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