Not all online community members are created equal

by Martin Reed on 29 December 2008 in Articles

Identify important members in online communities

Do you know who your most important members are? You should be able to name them all right off the top of your head. When I wrote the article, ‘20 questions for online community managers‘, two of the questions were related to identifying and recognising your most important members so I thought I would expand on this in today’s article.

Step One: Identify your most important members

How do you decide who the most important members of your online community are? They are NOT necessarily:

  • The most popular member
  • The longest registered member
  • The member with the highest post count

Forget the numbers. That’s the easy (and the flawed) way out. Determine who your most important members are by knowing them.

I identify the most important members of Female Forum based on:


Forget about numbers – I want to see well-thought out, interesting and focused debate. I would rather see one high quality discussion started each week than five snippets of irrelevant rubbish posted every day.


I want to see maturity. I want to see them representing what the community stands for. I want to see them welcoming new members.

Overall contribution

I want to hear feedback, comments and suggestions. I want to see members being proactive. I want them to report abusive posts. I don’t just want to hear what’s good about the community – I want constructive criticism, too.

Step Two: Recognise your most important members

Once you have identified your most important members, you need to ensure they know you recognise them as such. Don’t send them a message telling them they are your most important members. Be more subtle. Give them extra responsibilities and influence within the community. Maybe you could get them to draw up a Bill of Rights for members. Make them feel extra special (they are). These are the members you want to keep.

The more ‘ideal members’ you have, the more you will attract. You shouldn’t be the celebrity of your online community – your members should be your community’s only celebrities.

Step Three: Remain professional and impartial

Every single member is important. Even the ones that don’t get involved. Make sure you never publicly give preferential treatment to your more important members.Your community guidelines/rules apply equally to all members. Just as you expect exemplary behaviour from your moderators, this ethos should be transferred to your more valued members. They need to know that just because you are giving them extra privileges and recognising their value, they are not to push or bend the rules – indeed, they apply to them even more than usual.

Step Four: Continue the cycle

Although you have identified and recognised who your most important members are, remember that this list will not remain static. Other members will prove themselves worthy of special recognition in the future. Existing ‘ideal members’ may leave or become less active.

There are no shortcuts here. You need to be able to know your online community’s most valuable members, and the only way you can do that is by being involved in the community. Personality and attitude can’t be measured with numbers – if you determine your most important members by such rudimentary means you are being lazy, and may be making a huge mistake.

Your thoughts

How do you identify and recognise your most important members? How do you determine who your most valuable members are? Perhaps you disagree with me and think all members are equally important? Share your thoughts, opinions and experience by submitting a comment below.

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Sally December 30, 2008 at 12:33 am

This was all good information. With some sites, the “most valuable member” is considered to be the one who is completly quiet and never gives a speck of trouble. The one who never critisizes anything. The one who is always positive.

Of course a member like this has merit. But it comes with a cost sometimes. Does their silence come from being truly content? Or are they afraid to speak out? If there ever comes a time when you want honest feedback, this member will fail you. They either are ‘unable’ to see the faults or have too much invested in keeping the status quo as it is.

Randy Brown December 30, 2008 at 4:18 am

yes, yes, and YES..
even though we have over 15,000 active members it’s easy to see who our ‘standouts’ are and i know them all by first name..
The most difficult part is that ‘impartial and professional’ thing that you mentioned.. I have had serious issues when only a few of the high-profile members got a bit ‘out of hand’ – and actually had to ban one of them. I have found that not getting too friendly with them makes it easier to remain impartial..

Stephie December 30, 2008 at 9:53 am

I agree with you. When determining most valuable members i never look on quantity. I look only on quality of members, and that mostly include factors you have mentioned in your post. Dedication to community is most important factor, and that can be easily recognized by constant unselfish contribution.

Amish December 30, 2008 at 1:17 pm

For a take from the other side, it is always nice to be recognized as an important member of the community. Just the mention of whatever criteria one uses, every now and then acts as quite a morale booster and one tends to rope in other members due to this.

Mr Woc December 30, 2008 at 3:24 pm

Hi there

I think you have just about summed it up perfectly and I cant really add much.

A few things I might add are people that contribute in some way, also what about a good sense of humour ? that always helps on line nothing worse than some people taking everything too seriously.


Angela Connor December 30, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Great post!
I created an unofficial advisory board on GOLO. We have a private group on the site and I pose questions to them about features and other community related issues. They open up and tell me a lot about what goes on with members and they feel very special. I even call it The Unofficial G.A.B. I will say that my top posters definitely are not the most valued. Some just engage in shenanigans. Not saying I don’t want them there because that isn’t the case but I’m with you on this. Stats do not paint the real picture!

Patrick January 2, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Thanks for the mention. :)


Nicole Price January 2, 2009 at 4:58 pm

I would say that the most valuable member is one who not only speaks but also listens; this dual quality makes for interesting but fair debate, keeping things lively but also civil at the same time.

jennifer January 12, 2009 at 5:43 pm

One of my favorite boards is one that doesn’t allow posts without content, i.e., no “I agree!” or “Ditto!” posts. It cuts down on the quantity issue and assures all of us that we don’t have to scroll past 100 posts stating, “You said it!” before we get to something actually worth reading.

Stan January 18, 2009 at 11:50 am

I agree with Jennifer. Forums have thanks buttons for a reason. On some forums where someone posts some useful information, almost all the replies are simply people saying thanks. It means when you’re looking for some added information related to the first post you have to look past hundreds of posts just saying ‘thanks’.

Also, some people assume post count means authority. On some forums people with a larger post count bully the people with less posts.

I personally feel that length of time at the forum is more important than number of posts. Also, post quality has to come into the equation.

Reputation is a good measure.

Sally January 18, 2009 at 7:53 pm

I’m not sure how reputation is “a good measure” I’m just not sure…..

Kyle M January 20, 2009 at 6:53 pm

I would have to say that content really separates regular members from most important members. Anyone can increase a post count, or offer a welcome, but someone who can offer quality, readable posts time after time is a great person to have on your side.

By publishing great content that person is showing that he/she not only values the community but is also passionate about the topic.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 21, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Sally – I agree, that’s why you need to reach out to these members.

jennifer – Those kind of messages can be annoying, I personally don’t like to restrict what people have to say in this way, though. If you do, you are once again raising the bar for getting involved. We should be making it easy for people to contribute, and they should feel comfortable doing so. Sure, they might only say, ‘I agree’ today but they might get confidence from that post and write something far more substantial tomorrow.

Stan – I am uncomfortable with these kind of ranking systems. They can encourage cliques to form with a few members constantly ‘thanking’ their friends, creating an elite which can be intimidating for new members.

Kyle – I completely agree.

Stan January 22, 2009 at 10:00 am

Yeah I guess people could abuse that system but if they don’t then people will only give reputation when they feel the post is good and useful. I think it’s quite a good way of measuring the content of peoples’ posts.

Shawn July 2, 2009 at 9:31 am

Wholeheartedly agree; these are the members that I usually approach to see how they would feel about certain changes or additions to the community. The ones that put in the effort seem to give the most thought out feedback towards the site.

Lisa Udy September 15, 2009 at 2:13 pm

I just created a new forum, but I have a lot more designing to do. I don’t have any members yet, but I can already tell who my most important members are going to be. I do believe they can make my forum stand out, and this just gives me the much needed information that my thoughts were true.

Great article! :)

Paul November 13, 2009 at 4:53 pm

That is an awesome idea about giving your best members some recognition. They will become more loyal and active!

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