Diagnosing Decline In Participation

Many of us are experiencing stress over declining activity within the community.

If you’re in this position, the first step is to determine the cause of the decline.

This will be in 1 of 3 categories. Only the first is directly your fault.

1) The community isn’t as good as it used to be 

This has 3 possible causes. (1) Either the existing community discussions and activities have become stale and boring (2) the activities have changed and they’re not as fun as they used to be (3) you’ve changed something on the onboarding process and it’s driving people away.

If you’re still attracting the same number of unique new visitors but the participation is declining, this is probably a major cause.

Look at your Google analytics. Look at the number of unique visitors. Then look at how many of them are unique. Multiply the two together (e.g. 7000 new visitors, with 60% new = 4200) for the past 6 months and see which way the trend is going.

The solution here is a deep analysis of your health metrics, surveying and interviewing your members, identifying exactly what most interests them, and ensuring the community personifies that interest.

2) You’re in a declining sector.

The number of people in the topic has declined. You’re just declining within it. Reading this post by Daniel* it’s pretty clear there is absolutely nothing a video store can do to survive today. Building hyper loyalty with top customers didn’t save the store – and it won’t save your community.

Look at Google Trends for relevant terms here. See if less people are mentioning and talking about your sector. Reach out to members whom have disappeared and find out why. If the majority say “I’m not interested/involved in that sector anymore” you have a problem.

If your sector is declining, you need to shift sector. Find out where your current audience is moving to and go with them. You need to evolve with your audience. This will mean gradually broadening and shifting your focus. Expect a lot of turbulence in this time.

3) Increased competition.

Another community, app, or tool is now the hub of your sector and you’re being left behind. Social media platforms, Reddit, and others have now become an easier place to visit to discuss your community.

This is the most difficult problem of all. By the time the competition has established itself to this level, it’s very hard to stop the momentum. Reddit has decimated many gaming communities. You can’t copy your way against a competitor. You have to take a bigger bet on something your members want that another competitor can’t match.

Social media tools may be easier locations for members to interact, but they don’t have the depth of tools, customization, and ability to create customized experiences in the way you can.

We will go deeper into this next week. For now, make sure you understand the root cause of why participation is declining. Don’t guess or assume you know the answer. You might be surprised.

This determines your entire strategy going forward. For example, if less people are visiting the community in the first place, no amount of on-site activities will change that. Let’s figure out the problem to begin with.


  1. joel galbraith says:

    I may be dense, but I’m not getting this math. The number of “unique visitors” should be the same as “how many of them are unique” the example is equally confusing to me. How is “7000 new visitors” related to “60% new”.
    What am I missing here?

  2. Richard Millington says:

    that should’ve said the number of visitors, then the number of unique
    (think Analytics calls this ‘sessions’ now but I need to check.

  3. Nick Emmett says:

    Unique is still unique in GA - Sessions is more akin to cookies, i.e. it starts when someone enters and finishes when they leave the site, staying live for x number of minutes/hours. Possibly not wholly accurate but something like that.

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