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7 Contrary Truths About Online Communities

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

There are many contrary things to what is frequently assumed about online communities. These include:

  1. Online communities should be small. The bigger a community gets, the less people participate. This creates wastage and makes it impossible for the community manager to identify and work with the top members. Better to extract 1 hours a day from 100 committed members than have 50,000 mostly inactive lurkers. Stay small and extract maximum value from the few, not a little from the many.
  2. Famous online communities are terrible examples. Most successful communities were usually lucky. They’re bigger than yours will be. You will have unrealistic expectations, strive for growth and ignore proper community management. Look for mid-sized communities instead.
  3. Fights are good for online communities. Fights are healthy forms of expression and self-disclosure. Shut them down if they get personal, but let heated debates happens. No-one quits a community because it’s too active with fierce debates, they quit when it gets boring.
  4. Online community websites should be cheap and ugly. People hate learning new things. Fancy community websites need to be learnt. It’s usually easy and better to use a simple forum platform or mailing list for people to participate.
  5. Publicity is bad for online communities. Traffic is useless unless you have the foundations of a successful community (regular members) to catch it. Forge a regular group of members first, then try to grow. Early publicity creates dumb expectations and destroyed the first impressions.
  6. You should kill your registration page. Registration pages restrict the number of people who participate in your community. We’re in the age of OpenId, Facebook Connect and dozens of data-portability options. Use them.
  7. Don’t ask influencers to join your community. Influencers are too busy with their own communities to help. By far, the overwhelming number of active community members are those given the platform for the first time.

Some of these are difficult to accept. They’re contrary to what works elsewhere. Those that consider community work to be similar to marketing are going to be especially disappointed.

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