Keeping your online community small

by Martin Reed on 23 June 2011 in Snippets

People might join your community even though because it’s small. They want to feel as though their voice will be heard. They want to influence the community and be recognized.

That’s all well and good – until your community grows. If it becomes too big you risk alienating these members and turning off new recruits.

Combat this by creating groups and private sections in your community. Create a forum for members who have been with the community for a year. If that’s too arbitrary (or would contain too many members) create a forum for members who are interested in a specific topic. Consider creating a private forum for your community’s superstars. Allow members to form their own groups and build exclusive forums.

Smaller communities will always be stronger than larger ones. You need to plan for growth and maintain a bond between members. The best way to do this is by creating groups; allow your community to grow by dividing it up into smaller communities.

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Jane June 24, 2011 at 3:47 am

I thought about doing this Martin, but then I decided not too. If you have special sections for certain members of the community, would the members who wern’t privy to that special section feel left out? They might feel that they wern’t as important or valued as the rest. It could end up forming *cliques*.

I have a section that is password protected for members to post private pictures of family or themselves if they so wish, but otherwise the forum is open to everyone, except guests. They only have access to a limited section and have to be full members to post.

Martin Reed - Community Manager June 25, 2011 at 11:05 am

Sometimes, members feeling left out can be the actual aim. For example, having a ‘super members’ section for members that have done outstanding things in your community will result in other members wanting to do something outstanding in order to get in.

You don’t really need to worry too much about setting up private groups until your community is relatively large. Before then, pay attention to any groups that are forming naturally and use your own judgement as to whether a private section of your site is warranted for that group.

Sabine June 29, 2011 at 3:12 am

We had a recent project, where the client wanted to divide his community (soccer – fanbase) in special groups (VIP, newby-fans etc..). After long discussions we’ve scrapped this idea. Now it will be one – even large – community, where everybody can find his / hers niche in the forums, blogs etc… I think, this is the best way for communities. So everone is free to choose and nobody can be annoyed. If there’s a commercial aim, maybe it would be working with different private sections.

excuse my poor english – greetings from germany

David Ewing June 29, 2011 at 9:40 pm

How do you keep the community small in a business services setting. for example if you sell online services how would you keep the community small and still grow your brands awareness?

Martin Reed - Community Manager June 30, 2011 at 3:11 pm

How would you normally segment your customers? If you sell more than one service, you could divide up the community by each service or by member demographic. Usually, you’ll see your community start to divide into different topics and themes as it grows and matures so there shouldn’t be too much guesswork required.

Tommy T May 10, 2012 at 4:36 am

You know, on my old community I really wish it remained small. I kick myself sometimes for the ad campaign I launched, what you said might happen – did happen! The old regs became increasingly disillusioned, and strangely, very protective and defensive of their ‘territory’, as described in another comment, it became like an all-out civil war between old regs & new regs, chaos and Anarchy reigned – and not in the good way that I enjoy, either!

In my new project, I will definitely be starting off steady and small, rather than going for the sudden influx. Build relations steadily, grow at a nice, stress-free rate. Having a few new regs come on board each week that you can welcome and integrate into the community is a lot more advantageous than suddenly having a 100 new people flood the chat room from one of your ad campaigns where nobody knows each other and causes havoc with your member base.