How independent is your online community?

by Martin Reed on 19 January 2012 in Snippets

A great community manager can build a great online community. That being said, a community shouldn’t be reliant on one person for its success. Yes, it needs a leader – but it shouldn’t depend on that leader for its daily survival.

Here’s a quick and easy way you can determine just how independent your community is – find your community’s total post count, and figure out how many of those posts were made by you.

When you’re building a new community from scratch, it will be largely reliant on its manager – you need to encourage the development of existing conversations and get new ones started. In the early days, it’s likely that you’ll contribute up to around 75% of the community’s content (perhaps even more).

As the community develops, you want to get this percentage down.

  • Insomnia Land is two years old. 22% of forum posts were written by┬áme
  • Female Forum is three years old. 4% of forum posts were written by me
  • Just Chat is twelve years old. 0.17% of forum posts were written by me

There’s an obvious pattern here – the older the community (and typically, the stronger it becomes), the less it relies on contributions from the community manager. As a community grows, more of your work as a community manager shifts ‘behind the scenes‘. That being said, it’s important to interpret these numbers correctly. Your aim isn’t to get your contribution percentage as low as possible.

Insomnia Land is two years old, but it’s clear that it still relies on my contributions to keep it going. This community is one of the most challenging I have ever built, yet I am seeing a clear trend as the community ages – I see more members posting as the days and week go by, so I know the community is on the right track.

Female Forum is three years old and it’s clear that this is a community that is now self-sustaining. That being said, it’s important that I remain involved and visible as the community manager.

Just Chat is a strong, well-developed community with its own culture and dedicated members. That being said, the fact that only 0.17% of forum posts were written by me suggests that I need to be more visible in the community.

It’s impossible (and perhaps, irresponsible) for me to tell you what percentage of contributions should be made by you based on the age of your community. Run the numbers yourself and see if you’re happy with what they say.

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Adi Gaskell January 20, 2012 at 1:30 am

I think this is a really useful exercise and I’ve done it on all of my communities. I’ve often extended it though to include the top 5, top 10 and top 25 posters. This gives me an idea about whether the community is heavily reliant upon a few people or has a much wider user base.

Asav Patel January 27, 2012 at 11:24 pm

I am the owner & community manager of the Indian based Personal finance forum – which is 18 months old. (I started it in June 2010.) I have calculated my Total contribution in the community up to now. It is 38%.

Total 10969 posts have been posted up to now from which I have posted 4181 posts which is 38% contribution.
You are right. My contribution is gradually decreasing as more and more new content is being created.

This is a great post by you. I am a regular follower of your blog since past couple of months.

Vance Miller January 31, 2012 at 8:04 am

Being a community manager can become a full time job depending on the community. I’ve turned the reins over to far more patient soles who can handle the petty complaining that can blow up out of proportion without cause. A good community manager is priceless.

Rados P February 20, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Wow! I’ve never thought about building community in such precise mathematical way. And the numbers you provide show that these communities really grew during the years. I think it works similarly with running blogs, but in that case you need to response to comments, so the numbers will always be different from forums.

David Cousin March 26, 2012 at 10:59 am

It’s the same with any business as well, if you have a manager that the whole business hinges on then without them the whole thing can collapse, every member of a community has a duty and should feel a part of it rather than being peripheral.

Tommy T May 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Ah, this is where I feel one of my main ‘fail points’ was in my last project.

The community is popular – booming at one point, but when I took ill and disappeared from the scene, the Community slowly quietened down, slowly died off.

When I finally returned to the internet, first thing I did obviously was check on my community, and what a sorry state it was in – it heart-broke me. My staff did their best to keep things running, but without their ‘leader’ the community just.. lacked the atmosphere I created.

I came to the conclusion that I made my member base, and indeed the site as a whole, too reliant and dependable on my humour; banter & characterizations. The members were simply bored! No “FC’s very own celebrity quiz host, Malcolm Powder”, no “Drunken Scottish Santa” at Christmas, no “Creepy Stalker Easter Bunny that watches you sleep at night” at Easter, no “Sexual Harassment Cupid” in February, no Tommy ToXen, Man On Fire, Man With A Map and other fun little characters that popped up randomly once or twice a night to give people their cheery fun and laughs.

So if the discussion in the chat, or there wasn’t really any hot topic going on in the forums – I wasn’t around to jump in to liven things up and create Anarchic mayhem that FC was renowned and loved for.

So on my current project, this article I’m definitely keeping in mind. A site manager/community leader should always be involved.. but this article, and my experience I just stated, goes to show that sometimes, you can be a little TOO involved and may need to chill out in the background a while, and allow your community to develop its own character and atmosphere.

I will definitely get the ball rolling, and then slowly cut back my posts and banter, encouraging the members themselves to jump in and take over, rather than having to rely on taking their cues from me.

Sound advice and a good article.

Bruce October 20, 2012 at 2:54 am

Unfortunately I had to work on a personal project that took me away from my online business for about nine months.

I am only just starting to work in it again, but leads have plummeted. for these reasons I have not had time to make a blog or a forum but I post daily on my facebook business page but cant get my 400 people to share the post or generate conversation. They only want to look at my cute dog pics, not listen to serious dog discussions or answer my questions … its driving me insane!