Knowledge communities commonly use the Motivation, Opportunity, Ability (MOA) model for their community efforts.
If you have a community that isn't sharing the quantity and quality of knowledge you need, it's a problem with one or more of these three elements. Each can be dissected.
The most common problem is motivation. Members simply don't feel like sharing information. Motivations are intrinsic (people doing it because they enjoy the process of sharing knowledge) or extrinsic (people doing it for an external reward; praise, recognition, money etc…)
It's easier to use prizes/gamification, but this does more harm in the long run. Members tire of rewards and participation plummets.
Members are more likely to share knowledge if:
a) the community is active, no-one wants to waste their time on an inactive community.
b) their contribution will have a significant impact. Self-efficacy is a powerful motivator. People will share knowledge if it will positively impact many people.
c) it helps integrate them into a group. If sharing a lot of knowledge is seen as a standard way to feel part of a group, more members are likely to do it.
To increase the motivations of someone to share knowledge in a community, you can tweak these. First, remove any dead/quiet areas of the community. This makes the community feel more active (see social density). If you have no discussions, initiate a few and then directly solicit people to participate in those discussions to get things started.
Second, highlight the impact which contributions have made. Have a place that shares details of the best advice shared, how it helped people in the community. Keep a rundown of the best advice of the week. Create a wiki/eBook of the best advice shared in the community and it's impact.
Third, encourage a sense of community. A key part of this is off-topic discussions. Members are far more likely to share knowledge with people that they like. However, if they can only talk about knowledge sharing issues, they will never get to know people. They might only visit the community when they need information. You need to allow and encourage other discussions/activities that help facilitate these group bonds.
You don't have to go wildly off-topic here, but you do need to encourage members to get to know each other personally. At least, have discussions that let members blow off steam about the biggest challenges/frustrations they have.
Members need the opportunity to participate. Of course, for online communities members always have the opportunity to participate. We need more than that. BJFogg would call these triggers (make sure you watch the video on his site).
How would a member know when to participate? What triggers this behavour?
If visiting the community isn't a habit, the answer will be never.
For professional communities, most people visit during work hours. Pick a time, perhaps during lunch or towards the end of the day, and aim to trigger a visit then. This can be via a daily outreach e-mail. That e-mail could included unanswered questions, latest success stories, or tips you feel all members should know.
Alternatively, you can have a lunchtime quicktips feature. A twitter-length tip based upon what members are working on during that particular day. Now members know that after they have lunch they browse the community.
Having a list of unsolvable questions that is updated during a lunch hour can be effective too. You need to trigger the behaviour. You might also let members contact specific individuals for advice – if they are particular fans of that person. Tagging members they want to reply in posts can provide simple, direct, triggers.
Ability here comprises of two elements.
The first is the literal ability to contribute. Do members have the time, money, and resources (computer with internet) to participate? You need to have a simple homepage in your community that reveals all the relevant questions and new knowledge in a single location. Your members need to be able to scan this in a matter of seconds.
The second is the ability to contribute good knowledge. Health communities would be terrible if the advice didn't come from doctors. If you the majority of your members are new to the topic, it will be difficult to share high quality information. The problem for many communities is to attract, keep, and motivate the experts to participate.
That often means a deliberate recruitment effort.
Big asks are generally a bad idea.
A big ask is asking members to do something that takes considerable time, resources, or physical/mental effort to do. Considerable, here, is in comparison with responding to a discussion.
Asking members to record a video of themselves and post it online, is a big ask. Asking members to write an essay (or even a blog post) is a big ask. Asking members to do anything that is difficult tends to slightly reduce the level of activity in the community.
Members that can't be bothered to undertake the ask tell themselves they don't care about the community that much. It changes their relationship with the community*.
It's better to ask members to do small, simple, specific, things. Ask members to respond to a discussion, vote in a poll, share their best tip about x. These investments build up. Members keep telling themselves that they increasingly like the community, that's why they spend so much time here.
Ten tiny contributions to a community is better than a single, big, contribution. It's the tiny contributions over extended periods of time that build habits and an understanding of the person. Stop asking members to do things that are difficult, look for tiny contributions they can make instead.
* The exception here is to take a pledge to do something big in the future and then hold members accountable to it. These seem to work well.
Few communities collapse over a single incident. It's unlikely a majority of your members will quit in disgust over one issue. Instead, they will gradually drift away.
Members won't leave if you make a single bad decision. They won't leave if there is a fight. They will tolerate a lot (but will complain about it). Anger isn't the emotion you need to worry about, it's boredom.
Members leave communities when they no longer find it interesting.
If the community no longer provokes an emotional reaction, has fresh/interesting discussions, provides useful information, or doesn't help someone satisfy their ego needs, they will leave.
Members don't quit communities, they just visit less frequency. Eventually, they don't visit at all.
This means you have many opportunities to reverse this trend. You can monitor the number of visits per member, the average time spent on the site per visit, and the number of active members in the community.
If the community begins to fade, you need a new programme of activities. You need to try new themes/topics for the community. You need to set new goals/targets for the community and interactive heavily with the regular members of the community.
Remember when we discussed member segmentation?
Here's a related question, which group is your priority?
For mature communities, it might be regular members. Without them, activity would fizzle out quickly. If they visit the community and see too many 'newbie' threads, or repeatedly asked questions, they might begin to visit less frequently. That soon becomes a problem.
To cater to regulars, you might make regular references to key members, previous events/activities, and ensure the balance of discussions are about things that go beyond the basics.
In this situation, you assume that most members know what came before.
However, if the community has a growth problem, you might focus upon newcomers. Not just people new to the community, but new to the topic.
Imagine you've just begun fishing. You need some equipment advice. You find a and join a fishing community. When you join do you want to see discussions about obscure/new fishing techniques, or do you want to get the basic equipment information. Yet, after a few years in that community, you probably don't want to see the same entry level equipment discussions anymore.
These are two ends of a wide continuum. You need to shift the balance to suit your community. It might be 70/30 split towards regulars, or 30/70 to newcomers. It's your choice.
It helps to have a good design, groups, and ensure everyone can find what they need. However, being easy to find isn't the same as influencing what people see when they first visit, what appears in the communications, and how you spend more of your time.
Sayid asks how to get people to join his struggling community for people that like beach holidays.
That's a tough sell.
First, it's a struggling community. Who wants to join a struggling community?
Second, 'people that like beach holidays' is a weak concept. This includes 70% of the planet. Mass inclusion isn't good for communities.
Third, the level of interest is low. 'like' isn't the same as passion. We might spend a week planning a beach holiday and then take 2 weeks enjoying the holiday. How does the community survive for the rest of the year?
But this overlooks the biggest problem with this question.
By the time you've launched a community, you should already know who, specifically, you're going to target, what you're going to tell them, and built relationships up with the first members of the community.
You should NEVER struggle to get a community off the ground.
This is why you don't skip the conceptualization/audience analysis stage. This tells you who to target, what to tell them, and whether the community is viable.
Not much help for Sayid, perhaps, but maybe some help for a few of you.
We're commonly told to listen, but rarely told what to listen for.
Go to any community, and look for three things:
1) What sort of information people ask for.
2) What members tell each other about themselves.
3) What people do in the community.
In a previous community, we noticed that people liked to post what equipment they used on their profile page. They also compared different types of equipment. We incorporated this into a specific profile question and created a category solely for equipment comparisons.
Likewise, members liked to subtly boast about which events they had attended, so we made this a profile feature too. Members could choose to list all the events they had attended.
In one community, members always debated who was the best in their field. This also became a profile question and an ongoing poll.
In another community, members spent a lot of time talking about upcoming events. We created a place in the community for this.
If you know what sort of information members seek for and the format they like it, you can create areas in the community solely for this. If members frequently ask questions related to a specific issue and like simple tips, you can create a place in the community for this.
If you know how members like to create their identities, you can help them do this. If members like to refer to the famous people in their field they've met, or post photos of themselves with famous people, you can create areas where they can do this. If members like to display their collections/equipment in photos, you can create a specific place for this (and let other members vote on it).
If you know what members do in the community, you can incorporate this in to what you do. If members like to debate politics, you can create a place just for this.
Listening is fine, knowing what to listen for is better.
If you make a big change in the community, members will complain.
Even if it improves what came before, members will complain.
This doesn't mean you've done something wrong, it's more simply the natural human response to change. You're fighting against system-justification theory. Members will typically defend the status quo (when if they don't particularly like it).
The danger here is you make a big change in the community, receive a brutal negative feedback, and decide to change back. This prevents you from guiding the community to where it needs to go.
There are steps you can take. You can let members know about the change in advance, involve members in the change, and frequently seek their opinions. However, you're still likely to face a negative impact.
This means you need to appreciate that you will face a negative feedback in advance. You need to ride out this storm. After the first month, see what your data tells you. Over time, the new changes will become the status quo.
If people are participating in a community for extrinsic reasons, they're likely to participate more frequently.
If you run competitions, offer prizes, add gamification systems, people might participate more frequently (gamification studies typically show a small impact in larger, established, communities). However, the quality of contributions is low.
Worse still, you need to continually increase the rewards to maintain the level of contributions. Once the rewards are removed or become stale, the level of participation plummets.
When you begin offering rewards, you change the participant's motivational state. A member that might respond to questions because she likes to help people and believes in the community, now participates to get prizes.
You can do serious long-term harm by offering extrinsic rewards.
Studies show that extrinsically motivated people participate more (until the rewards become stale), but intrinsically motivated members create the best quality responses (and stay for longer).
It's the quality responses that attracts more people. It's the quality responses that increases all member's pride in the community. It's the quality responses that spur other members to share their own thoughts/learning.
Two action points here. First, resist the urge to add gamification systems. Second, it's your absolute duty to shine the spotlight on the quality contributions and mention their impact to the author. This self-efficacy, the impact that a member's great post has had on other members, is what will spur on more quality contributions.
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Too often, we think of good conversations as the ones that convey practical information and bad conversations as the ones that don't.
This is a mistake.
When you spend time with your friend, do you spend your time conveying useful, practical, information to each other? I doubt it. You might talk about films, politics, music, your lives, challenges you face, and all manner of trivial issues.
Does that make these conversations any less meaningful? No. They're all bonding discussions. They bring your group closer together. That's meaningful. It would be bizarre to restrict your community solely to conveying useful information. These are all good discussions.
We might, however, want to restrict the meaningless conversations. You might want to close/stop the discussions that don't increase self-disclosure nor reveal useful information. You get to the the arbiter of what's meaningful/meaningless. I suspect at the moment we're too timid about that role. It's a tough one, but one that needs to be performed.
We need to change good and bad discussions to meaningful and meaningless.
About a year ago we introduced something we had been working on for years, our online community lifecycle.
The lifecycle was based upon Iriberri and Leroy's initial work and our own research and experience.
It was the sum of everything we had learnt about communities until then.
If there is one single thing every community manager should know about communities, the lifecycle is it.
Using the lifecycle you can identify exactly where you are now and where you need to go next.
In this post, we're going to explain the full online community lifecycle.
If you take the time to read this post, it will completely change how you approach your community.
You will be more informed about communities than most community professionals you meet. Better still, you will be able to explain to your organization exactly what you need to do next and why.
This might not be a short, pithy, e-mail, but it's an incredibly valuable one.
The Online Community Lifecycle
The lifecycle consists of four stages, 1) inception, 2) establishment, 3) maturity, and 4) mitosis.
The names are less important than the activities that you need to perform at each stage.
* The sense of community is a score derived from the results of surveys.
The tasks you perform in the inception stage of the online community lifecycle will be significantly different from those you undertake in the maturity phase.
You shouldn’t be doing the same job from one year to the next. Your role evolves with the community.
Let's cover each of these stages in a little more depth.
Stage 1: Inception
The inception stage begins when you begin interacting with the target audience and ends with the community achieving a critical mass of growth and activity.
Critical mass is a term from nuclear physics defined as the minimum amount of fissile material to sustain a nuclear chain reaction. This term has become co-opted by social scientists as a tipping point used to describe when any social activity becomes self-sustaining.
For community purposes, the critical mass is the point at which the level of growth and activity in the community begins to take off without your direct involvement.
This point is numerically defined as when more than 50% of growth and activity is generated by the community (as opposed to the community manager).
The sole goal of the inception stage is to achieve critical mass.
To achieve critical mass you need to cultivate a small group of highly active members in the community. This group becomes the foundations upon which to build the community.
Every big community begins as a small community.
Unless a small, active, group is established it is impossible to develop a successful long-term community.
We wrote an entire (free) ebook on this topic; The Proven Path.
During this phase of the online community lifecycle, you should focus upon micro-level activities designed to solicit a high level of engagement from a relatively small number of individuals. It is important to establish momentum, a sense of possibility, and a regular amount of activity from members at this stage of the lifecycle.
During this stage of the lifecycle, you need to focus on performing a relatively small number of tasks many times. These are:
1) Invite members to join the community
You should be individually inviting people you have developed relationships with to join and participate in the community. These relationships should have been developed before you launch the community.
These invitations will usually take place by e-mail, although personal invitations at events and in other channels are also acceptable. Directly inviting people you know is the most reliable source of early growth in online communities.
2) Initiate and sustain discussions
You will also stimulate activity in the community.
First, you will be initiating discussions on topics that research has shown members are interested in. These can be scheduled in advance and mix those which are designed to convey information with those that affect members on a psychological level, such as bonding/status-jockeying discussions.
Second, you should be prompting members to participate in these discussions. This requires individually reaching out to members through the site or by e-mail and letting them know that their opinion on the discussion would be valued.
The purpose of this is to get these members into the habit of regularly visiting the community to see the responses to their own efforts. It takes time for visiting a community to become a habit. Until the community becomes a habit, members need frequent reminders to participate. Automated reminders are not enough.
During the early stage of managing online communities, the community founder (you!) initiates most of the activity
3) Build relationships
At this stage you should also invest time in building good relationships with members. This requires individually reaching out to members and identifying ways to be of assistance or continuing to learn what members are most interested in. This ensures a steady flow of activity, feedback on current activities, and opportunities to initiate activities in the future.
Signs of development
As the community begins to develop, members will begin to invite others in their online and offline social networks to join the community.
A gradually increasing number of new members will arrive without you inviting them.
In addition, members will begin initiating their own discussions in the community. This number should steadily increase. Members will also begin replying to discussions without you directly promoting them. This shows that the community is beginning to become a habit.
At this stage, you should continue to undertake the same activities as before (and at the same level as before). A common mistake is to begin shifting activities to more micro-level activities too soon. Until critical mass has been reached and sustained, you should have a precise focus upon the four tasks we have just highlighted:
1) Inviting members to join the community.
2) Initiating discussions members will be interested in.
3) Prompting members to participate in discussions.
4) Building relationships with members.
This phase can last anywhere from 0 to 9 months. Any longer typically indicates a development problem. It shows the community is not naturally taking off and there is either a conceptual problem, or a tactical problem.
If community members do not begin inviting others to join, nor initiating activity without you directly prompting them, this is a sign that either the community concept is wrong (the community isn’t about a topic members are interested in, see chapter TK), or you’re using the wrong tactics. This may be due to errors in your approach or not testing the different possible approaches.
In the latter example, the way you interact with members, inviting people to join, or initiates discussions is wrong. Approaches that are too long, for example, or discussions which are not relevant enough to members, are unlikely to generate a lot of activity. In addition, in some sectors approaches that are too formal or feel pushy also fail to solicit the desired activity.
Stage 2: Establishment
The establishment phase of the online community lifecycle begins when the community has reached critical mass. This is the point at which the community generates more than 50% of growth and activity.
As the community develops, the level of responses to posts increase and members generate an increasing level of growth and activity.
The establishment phase ends when members are generating over 90% of growth and activity in the community. There also needs to be a limited sense of community to advance to the maturity phase of the community lifecycle.
Once the establishment phase has been reached, your role gradually shifts from the micro-level tasks that focus on individual members at a time to more macro-level activities (tasks that affect several members at a time). These activities will include those that sustain growth, activity, and develop a sense of community.
this phase of the online community lifecycle, the number of tasks you focus upon will broaden an you need to shift your time accordingly. These tasks will include:
The objective of this phase is to continue increasing growth, and activity, develop a limited sense of community and provide the basis for sustainable development of the community.
This final point is important. It would be difficult, for example, for anyone to handle a community membership numbering over 100,000 active members without support. The processes that allow a community to scale must begin relatively early in the community’s lifecycle.
Referral and promotional growth
You should now gradually shift away from direct growth and encourage referral and promotional growth (members inviting their friends and coverage in media outlets read by the target audience).
Referral growth tactics will include ownership/involvement level ideas that encourage members to invite their friends.
For example, you establish an event/goal that members participate in, increase a sense of ownership and thus invite other people in their social network to join the community. Or you might focus upon sharing content/discussions within the community. You will also spend more time converting newcomers into regular members of the community.
There will also be some promotional activities undertaken during this time. This might be outreach to bloggers/magazines, issuing statements on behalf of the community, hosting events that attract interests of your target audience.
Don’t leave growth to chance, you have to proactively stimulate it.
As the community begins to grow, it will be important to embed scaling processes. Most organizations allow their communities to grow until they become unmanageable. Don’t let this happen to you. Embed scaling processes early in the development lifecycle. Prepare to have a big community now. This will involve recruiting volunteers, developing the platform, and optimizing areas of the site.
The community manager will also have to spend more time on moderation. This will involve resolving disputes between members, concentrating and dissipating activity (we will explain this later), removing spam/inappropriate material, highlighting the most popular discussions/activities.
Sense of community
At this stage of the lifecycle, you must begin to introduce elements which increase the sense of community felt amongst members. This will usually involve initiating events and activities as shared experiences, introducing a community constitution, securing the community promotion in other media, and documenting the community history.
You need members to feel they are part of a community together. This sustains a high level of activity amongst members. In essence, it keeps people returning to the community to see what’s new, as opposed to only visiting when notified of a reaction to their own post.
In addition, content will play an important role in further developing the community. Content can help develop a community narrative, highlight the top members in the community, create a social order within the community, and (akin to a local newspaper) increase the sense of togetherness felt by members
Signs of development
During this phase of the lifecycle, the community should see growing levels of growth and activity. These should be closely correlated. Growth should increasingly come from referrals/word-of-mouth activity. This may not be easy to measure, but can be ascertained by asking newcomers how they heard about the community.
In addition, the community should continue to generate an increasing amount of its own activity. The level of responses per discussion should continue to rise and the number of discussions initiated by members should also steadily increase.
A community in the establishment phase should show continued growth and development, in addition to a sense of community. This is often reflected in a growing amount of off-topic/social chatter.
There should also be signs that a sense of community is developing amongst members. This may include in-jokes, a continuation of discussions beyond the immediate subject matter, an increasingly level of direct contact between members, higher levels of self-disclosure in debates and other signals of familiarity between members.
A drop in growth or activity indicates a potential problem for the community. If growth increases but the activity drops, then members are becoming less active than before or a smaller number of members are accounting for an increasingly larger share of activity.
Tracking relevant data is important to spot these potential issues. Once this issue has been identified you can initiate activities designed to change this trend before too many members are lost. Once you enter a dip, it’s hard to avoid a death spiral (less activity begets less activity).
It is also common for community managers to switch roles too early. This means to go from micro to macro-level activities too rapidly as opposed to gradually shifting roles as the measurement of growth and activity shows progress.
Stage 3: Maturity
The maturity phase of the online community lifecycle begins when members of the community are generating 90% or more of activity/growth, and there is a limited sense of community.
This is measured through growth, activity, and sense of community metrics. The maturity phase ends when the community has a highly developed sense of community, but the level of activity or sense of community amongst members has plateaued.
Most of the familiar online communities are in the maturity phase of the online community lifecycle. They are established, highly active, and have a highly developed sense of community. They also merit a lot of attention within their ecosystem.
This final element, external attention, is common amongst mature communities. They become the definitive place for those interested in that topic. Mumsnet is the definitive community for parents in the UK. Techcrunch is the definitive community for the start-up companies. 4Chan has a thriving online community for online hackers/pranksters.
By this stage, you should only rarely be initiating discussions, prompting people to participate, or engaging in any micro-tasks besides those that facilitate relationships with members/volunteers.
You should only do this to fill in the gaps (i.e. when there is a lull in activity, it makes sense for you to prompt a few discussions).
Now you should be focused solely upon macro-level activities that have the biggest long-term impact upon the majority of members in the community. This includes scaling processes, events/activities, content, optimizing of the platform, developing a strong sense of community, increasing the profile of the community outside of the platform.
Your volunteers or additional staff should now be handling the micro-activities undertaken in the previous stages of the lifecycle (e.g. conflict resolution, removing spam, responding to member queries). You need to focus on the bigger things.
During this phase, there will usually be a plateau in growth. This is the natural consequence of the community reaching its maximum potential. There are only so many people wh
o can be interested in the community’s topic. Once this figure has been reached, further growth is not possible.
In addition, there will eventually be a plateau in activity. This occurs when members are as active as they can possibly be. This is the outcome of members that have a strong sense of community and dedicating as much time to the topic as they possibly can. The goal at this stage is to sustain this high level of activity and increase the sense of community amongst members.
A plateau is not a major cause for concern. It is the natural and final evolution of a successful online community. You should only be concerned when there is a decline, especially a sustained decline. We cover this topic in the mitosis phase of the community lifecycle.
During this phase, all growth will come from referrals/word-of-mouth activity (such as sharing content/discussions, networking at events, or generally being a well known community within the sector), and potentially major promotional activity undertaken by the organization.
The community manager helps facilitate the latter gaining publicity in major outlets and by developing a system by which all members feel a sense of ownership over areas of the community.
This will involve ensuring the community is frequently mentioned with regards to its sector and also making the community have influence within its realm. For example, by releasing regular statements related to relevant issues within the sector, working with influencers to implement desirable change within the sector. Mumsnet, for example, frequently campaigns on behalf of its members.
Mumsnet proactively runs campaigns on issues its members care deeply about. The success rate is remarkably high.
The level of activity per member will peak during the maturity phase of the community lifecycle. The community will become highly responsive and you should focus upon optimizing activity. This will involve reviewing what areas of the site are used and optimizing the most used features.
In the maturity phase of the lifecycle, the level of activity is extremely high and the community is well known in its sector
This will also include closely analysing the process through which a newcomer becomes a regular and taking steps to optimize that process. This is a data-driven process, not a haphazard series of actions.
Sense of community
The activities undertaken at this stage blur the lines between growth, activity, and sense of community. Releasing statements on behalf of the community, for example, achieves all three. It promotes the community, it increases activity from members talking about the issue, and makes members feel a greater sense of community from the influence their community has upon its ecosystem.
The objective at this stage is, counter-intuitively, to hit the plateau. The goal is to reach the point where the community has reached its initial maximum potential. Everyone in the sector should know it, your members are highly active within the community, and there is a deep sense of community amongst members.
Stage 4: Mitosis
The mitosis phase of the online community lifecycle begins when the community is almost entirely self-sustaining and continues indefinitely (with a view to the community reforming around greater focused sub-groups).
Not all communities progress to this phase. For example, my friend Susan runs Park Slope Parents, a community for a few thousand parents in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, New York. Her community is highly active, but will never grow so big it needs to split into multiple sub-groups. It has a much smaller potential audience than a larger community like Mumsnet.
Mumsnet targets parents throughout the UK, Park Slope Parents is just for a relatively small area in New York. Mumsnet has a potential audience in the millions, Park Slope Parents has a potential audience of a few thousand (see total feasible audience size)
Susan has seen this community through to the maturity phase of the lifecycle. She’s maximized the potential of that community. Therefore, it won't enter the mitosis stage of the lifecycle. If your prospective target audience is bigger than this, the mitosis phase of the lifecycle is more important.
Not all communities advance to mitosis. The message history for Park Slope parents shows a plateau since 2007 without any significant decline.
If you have a large potential audience (or a large existing community), when the plateau has been reached you need to shift your role against from optimizing to facilitating multiple, smaller, online communities. The objective of this phase is to sustain and increase the level of both activity, and sense of community.
During this phase of the lifecycle, the growth to the community as a whole should remain consistent, but the growth to the smaller sub-groups should be growing as per the inception stage. This means, initially, the co-founders of the sub-group will invite new members; these will usually be through existing contacts made in the community.
You may also have to stimulate this growth by mentioning new groups through content/discussions, and by hosting events and activities for these groups. Each of these sub-groups should endeavour to achieve a critical mass within the first three months of existence. You will need to train people to manage these groups and provide support when necessary.
The overall level of activity to the community should increase as members reform around stronger common interests (social circles, niche interests within the topic). Each group should be smaller, but more members will have the opportunity to be involved.
In the short-term, there may be a brief dip in activity as members gradually move from the broad topic into a niche group based around their activities.
You need to focus on identifying the potential sub-groups at this stage. This means identifying the topics or interests which have continually arisen within the community, then creating a group specifically for these individuals. This group might be a forum category or any other place within the community platform where people can interact.
In ScienceForums, members each have several sub-groups they participate in. The broad topic ‘science’ has been artfully broken into highly active sub-groups.
Alternatively, you may identify social groups that have developed within the community and build areas within the platform just for close groups of friends. These groups might be elders, newcomers, those that have attended particular events (events especially are a good place for members to bond).
You might want to look at your original audience overview here to identify clusters of people that share the same demographic, habitual, or psychographics traits. These are ideal categories for developing sub-groups.
Sense of community
The sense of community at this stage will dip before rising considerably. Past a certain stage, it’s impossible for all members to feel a sense of connection with everyone. Breaking the community into smaller sub-groups helps sustain these connections. Fewer people are more active in the community.
You should spend considerable time helping boost the sense of community in each of these groups. It is therefore important not to launch multiple groups at
a single time, but to gradually increase the number of groups in the community.
During this phase of the community lifecycle, the community manager balances the role of sustaining a healthy community in the maturity phase with developing self-sustaining groups.
Note with the tasks below, as per the previous phases, there is a gradual shift from the maturity level tasks to the mitosis level tasks. This should not be an abrupt change. It may be possible not to split the entire community into sub-groups, just elements/people within the community.
Whilst the number of mitosis task feels light, it is a highly repetitive process. This means, for instance, the amount of managing of sub-group leaders will steadily increase throughout the lifespan of the community (perhaps until you’re managing the people that manage the sub-group leaders).
Signs of development
As the community advances into the mitosis phase of the community lifecycle, an increasing number of successful niche groups/topics should begin to be visible within the community. These should be independently run with only small assistance from you.
Over time, these sub-groups should be organizing regular events, maintaining a regular content schedule, and become relatively self-sustaining, close-knit, entities within the community.
As I mentioned earlier, it is common for community managers to let their community become too big and too active without proper structure.
Beyond a certain level of active and a certain number of members it becomes difficult for all members to believe they can influence the community.
Past a certain number of active members in a community, it becomes impossible for a high level of familiarity to persist. Members will know fewer and fewer of the participating members.
Therefore, the overall sense of community in the community begins to decrease. This often leads to less ownership over the community and eventually a lower number of participating members.
This is similar for the level of activity in a community. Once a community becomes too active, it becomes difficult for members to stay abreast of what’s new and what’s popular in the community. It becomes difficult to follow the overall narrative of the community. This is often referred to as ‘information overload’.
A member that is used to catching up on 10 missed messages feels less motivation to catch up on 50, or 500 messages. It becomes harder to find the messages that will be of most relevant to that individual.
If you fail to use your data to recognise these situations, it can result in the number of members gradually declining to a small group who retain a limited sense of community with one another.
Another potential danger at this stage is top-down community planning. Instead of reacting to interests which have risen naturally within the community, those that have clearly gained a high level of participation, the community attempts a top-down approach to try and facilitate multiple groups at once. This approach his not suited to community development.
First, creating multiple groups rapidly dissipates activity within the community. This can cause a sharp, uncontrolled, drop in the level of activity. Second, it can fail to develop any group to critical mass. Sub-groups need to be nurtured to advance past the inception stage. It’s important to develop these individually before making a huge change at this stage.
Master the lifecycle, master communities
If you've read this far, you now know how to measure the progress of a community and use those measurements to identify what you should be doing in your community.
Your goal, and the goal of every community manager, is to progress their community through the lifecycle.
If you achieve this, you maximise what your community can be, the benefit it brings to your organization, and the benefits that members gain from the community.
If you're serious about your work, and your company is serious about it's community efforts, this course will really help.
Sign up for FeverBee's Community Management course
You've taken the first step to fully understanding how communities work, if you want to learn the rest you can sign up for FeverBee's Professional Community Management course.
You can find the details here:
Registrations closes on Feb 4th (or once all places are taken)
One of the biggest mistakes community professionals make is reducing the friction to join the community. When we make the registration process and participation process as simple as possible, you reduce overall level of activity in the community.
You want to drive some members away. You want to drive away those that aren't likely to participate. You also want to convert members into what we can best describe as the community mindset.
When newcomers join a community, they don't have the same level of commitment, knowledge, or mindset that they're joining a collective group of people. At least not yet.
They haven't accepted and embraced the group identity. The challenge is to make that happen without a) overwhelming the newcomer with too much information or b) lowering the barrier to entry for all participants.
The key is to gradually ease newcomers into the mindset that they are participating in an active community. We've outlined some principles below, your mileage with each will vary, use them in your community as you see fit.
1) Get the right members in the first place. Getting the right members is essential. Stronger communities have members that share the same beliefs, values, and (to an extent) personality. You need to deliberately target the right members to join your community, don't wait for people to join. This means outreaching to relevant people, using data from social media to identify who might be a good fit, and
2) Screen/select members (have expectations). You can have a small challenge/task for members to complete to participate, have a criteria that members should meet (something they have achieved, acquired, or skills gained), or have signifiers of the right type of personality. You should have expectations of the people that join the group.
3) Take a pledge / make a commitment. When members join, invite them to make a small pledge/commitment to the community We know from 'low-ball' theory that agreeing to a commitment to the community both increases the likelihood that a member will participate and that their commitment to the group increases.
4) Provide easy first steps (reduce the social fear). Provide easy first contributions members can make. This should be asking for their opinion on an existing discussion, sharing an experirence (e.g. how they became interested in the topic) in a ritual thread that all newcomers post on (please don't use an introduce yourself thread), or a closed, self-disclosure discussion (e.g. do you think that x is right, yes/no?).
5) Respond quickly and positively to early contributions. You probably lose a lot of newcomers after they make their first contribution. At this stage you need to respond quickly, positively (not just a 'thank-you'), and with a question that sustains the discussion. It's remarkably hard to get someone to make their second contribution to the community. A quick and positive response from you and other community members eases them into the community.
6) Educate newcomers in social norms. You can use autoresponders here. You want to gradually increase the knowledge members have about the community. This might mean sending them a scheduled e-mail about the common questions asked, who the top members are, what the goals of the community are. If you can match this to the number of contributions a member has made or time they have been a member, you can avoid overwhelming the newcomer with information. At this stage you're easing them into the group identity.
7) Highlight potential friends. Building relationships with other members, and feeling that they're entering a peer group, keeps members returning to the community to see what's new. It helps to guide members towards others that share their demographics, habits, or psychographics (who they are, what they do, or what they think/feel). Tagging systems can help, but you can manually do they if you have a community with less than 25 people joining a day.
8) Gradually increase abilities/access/status. As the newcomer continues to participate, gradually increase what they're able to do in the community, what they have access to, and begin mentioning those that cross your recognition criteria.
What you will notice about these steps is it will reduce the total number of registering members to the community in exchange for getting the right members to join and participate in your community. That's an important trade-off you need to make.
If you understand the motivations and psychology behind communities, you can use it to build any number of successful communities. If you want to learn this, sign up for FeverBee's Professional Community Management course. Registration closes on Feb 4th.