It is an all too common problem – you have a couple of hundred members (maybe even a couple of thousand) but only a few actually interact in your community and create content. Some have even tried to declare this phenomenon a ‘principle’. I don’t like that idea as I feel it can make community managers lazy – I don’t think it is acceptable to suggest that having only 1% of users creating fresh content should be the norm. You should definitely have more than 1% of your users creating content. If you work hard, this is perfectly achievable – let’s debunk the 90-9-1 principle right now!
Community numbers and community activity are different
You should never be obsessed by the number of members your community has. It is the least important metric for measuring the success of an online community. You need activity. You need content. You need interaction. You need all this to happen repeatedly, in a cycle. I would rather have 250 members and see 90% of them contributing on a regular basis than have 10,000 members and only see 1% contributing regularly.
Work to generate interest and interaction – not your membership count. If you have an active community, you will naturally attract active members.
Why only a minority of members create content in online communities
Web users are a fickle bunch. They are lazy, and they are easily distracted. Many of your members probably stumbled across your site and decided to register in order to ‘test it out’. They may have even made a few posts. You might never see them again. Here are some reasons why you don’t have many members contributing in your online community:
- The member only wanted to respond to a specific article or post
- The member has got bored with your community
- The member doesn’t know how to use your community
- The member doesn’t feel valued in your community
- The member has forgotten about your community
Luckily, you can overcome all of these issues. You need to build a relationship with your members – new and old. You should be complimenting your members – make them feel valued. If they have a connection with you, they have a connection with the community. Create a team of valuable members whose sole job is to make new members feel welcome. Call them ‘Welcome Reps’ or something similar.
If your members are getting bored, you are doing something wrong. I get bored in online communities when I return to see no new content. I’ll give the site a few chances, but after my third or fourth visit if I still see no new content I will leave – and then probably forget about the community. I want to be engaged and interested at all times. Your members are the same. See potential in a member but are worried they are getting bored? Give them a role in the development of your community. Make sure your site has new content every day. How about killing two birds with one stone and giving some members a role as ‘Engagement Reps’ whose sole job is to create fascinating, thought-provoking content? How about creating targets and ‘to do’ lists for new members? Each time they cross something off the list, they are recognised and rewarded.
I launched Female Forum because I felt existing online communities aimed at women were far too complicated to use. Remove everything your community doesn’t need. Make it as simple as possible to use. Bells and whistles are useless if nobody knows how to use them. Does your community have a prominent, easy to use help section? Do your members know who to ask for help? Do they feel comfortable asking for help?
If your members don’t feel valued, they won’t stick around. Sometimes members don’t feel valued because you allow sniping and other abusive comments in your online community. Others don’t feel valued because they don’t receive a response to their comments, suggestions or posts. I really can’t say it any better than Angela. You need to stroke egos. Suck up! Never forget to say, ‘Thank you’.
Members don’t forget about your online community overnight. They only forget when you let them forget. Do you really want your online community to be ‘forgettable’? Focus on making the whole experience of your members very unforgettable. Personally welcome them to the community (get rid of the tinned welcomes and make it personal), ask them for their thoughts, suggestions and comments. If you haven’t seem them for a week or two, send them a message to check everything is OK. How many online communities send you a personal message to see if you are OK after not visiting for a couple of weeks?
Already I know that two or three of my members will never forget Female Forum. Recently, one member received bad news in the family. I sent her a hand written card and a book – she lives in Australia. Another member recently fell ill. I mailed her a get well card.
Being unique is the key to success in online communities
The underlying theme of everything I have written so far: do what other online communities aren’t doing. You need to be more involved. You need to encourage interaction by making your members feel valued. You need to make it impossible for them to resist getting involved and contributing content. According to the 90-9-1 principle ‘in action’:
167,113 of Amazon’s book reviews were contributed by just a few ‘top-100′ reviewers.
Over 50% of all the Wikipedia edits are done by just .7% of the users – 524 people.
Does Amazon have online community managers? I have never heard of them if they do. Have you ever written a review on Amazon and then been personally thanked by a member of their staff? How hard does Wikipedia try to get readers actively involved? From what I have heard the editing interface is extremely difficult to use, and there are somewhat hostile editing cliques that don’t always look too kindly on newcomers. I wonder if they hide behind the 90-9-1 principle rather than work at improving the situation?
Never accept inactive members as ‘inevitable’. Strive to get all your members active and involved. Don’t look for excuses. Have you asked inactive members why they haven’t contributed lately? Is your online community different to the competition? Keep thinking and keep working – the more effort you put into getting your members active, the more success you will see.
How do you get your members active and keep them active? What makes an ‘active’ community member? Perhaps you are a firm believer in the 90-9-1 principle – try to convince me! Please share your thoughts, comments and experience by leaving a comment below.