The more members you add, the lower the level of participation per member. It's not a rule, but it's impossible for 12,000 members to all participate in a conversation. Usually a dominant group of regulars take over and the rest don't get the recognition and influence to stay active.
There is only one way to beat this. Just one way to conquer participation inequality and have a community where more members doesn't reduce the level of participation of all other members. You need to become an expert at nurturing groups in your community.
This is a proactive task. You need to create the physical and social structure that enables these groups within your community. You need to break down your existing community.
- Set up the correct platform. Ensure that your website physically allows you (and members) to set up groups within the community. You need to have the power to create the group and transfer the control of it to others. If this isn't possible, consider setting up off-site groups.
- Develop a criteria for a worthwhile group. Develop a criteria you might use for spotting these groups. This works best when you notice small groups of people discussing something niche within your community's topic. Alternatively, you can use anything members feel strongly about. Even by demographics, expertise, jobs, fame, those involved in topical issues, people that attended the same events. You can also give a group of friends a place to chat.
- Approach the members. When you see a popular topic within your community unfolding, create a group for it. Invite those discussing the topic to join and talk about it there. Make the two most active people the initial leaders of the group.
- Give groups recognition and power. In your community news posts, mention groups by name. Don't focus just on one group, spread the attention. Interview members from groups, highlight what these groups are discussing. In your main community news page, focus on groups rather than members. Leave individual recognition to these group pages.
- Provide groups opportunities to do things. Let groups have the opportunity to put themselves forward to do things. Create guides, arrange events, review products, nominate community representatives.
- Let some groups have great rewards. Arrange exclusives for highly active groups. Gain opportunities to interview people and let them approach companies for review samples etc...
- Build close relationships with the leaders of the most active groups. These are the representatives of your community. They are the ones you need to make things happen. Invite them to visit you, give them voting powers, address their need for power and recognition.
- Give group recommendations to new members. When members state their interests, give them recognition. Encourage the leaders above to invite newcomers to join their group.
- Call for specific groups to form on issues. You don't have to wait for the initial interest, you can call for people to start groups around problems, upcoming events, hopes & aspirations etc...
- Keep score. Keep score between groups. List the major successes, mini-histories and amount of activity per group. Friendly competition is good.
To beat the participation inequality, it is vital to adapt your role. Don't fear breaking down the existing community structure and rebuilding it under numerous related groups. Ensure that every member can find a group of up to 50 others whom can talk about an issue in a way where everyone can get the recognition and influence they need.