Why Your Community Isn’t Growing (And How To Get Unstuck)

When you first begin to manage any online community, your day probably involves posting discussions, replying to posts, creating content, and welcoming new members.

That’s logical for an inception/establishment stage group. This is what brings a new community to life. However, if you’re still doing this a year later, you’ve become stuck.

You’re probably stuck if:

  • New members are joining, but the number of active members is consistent.
  • New discussions are being posted, but the level of activity isn’t growing.
  • You haven’t seen any big wins in the group.

A lot of us are stuck at the moment. Many try to get unstuck with a big idea. That’s usually either a big marketing push (where new members dissipate as rapidly as they arrived) or a new platform (which only helps if yours is terrible to begin with).

You don’t need a single major change, you need dozens of minor tweaks. All of these tweaks fall into one of two buckets. You’re either going to do entirely new things or do your current actions better.

 

1) Do fewer tasks, but do them much better

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto principle. 80% of your results comes from 20% of your effort. Much of what you do today has no long-term impact upon the community. This is normal. You need to identify what isn’t working and stop doing it. This frees up your time to do other things.

This begins and ends with numbers.

  • Survey your audience members. Use surveymonkey and ask your members about their problems, hopes/ambitions, and what they spend most of their time doing. Narrow the scope of the community to these core areas.
  • Post fewer, better, discussions. Using the info above. Only post discussions on these topics. Guide newcomers to see these types of discussions first. Spend more time promoting and documenting the big discussions.
  • Participate less. As the community grows, you usually participate less – not more. You can stop replying simply to keep discussions going and instead create better quality responses that enhance the quality of discussions. This attracts more people to participate. Delegate the basic level responses to volunteers. This is beneath you now.
  • Test your on-boarding. Only welcome half the new members. See if this has a response. Typically the impact is minimal. Instead invest the time in tweaking each stage of the user journey until you’ve increased registration and first contribution by 15%.
  • Develop referral material. Develop joint ebooks for each member to share their best story/piece of advice. Publish the book with a lot of inbound links to community discussions. Invite everyone featured to share it on social channels and other sites. Create a system where members can proposal their own ebooks and everyone can share their best tips without you involved. Set up autoresponders for members who have made {x} contributions or been members for {y} to invite specific people to join the community (colleagues etc…). Create newcomer material just for people new to the topic. Find out what they search for and rank highly for your material.
  • Develop inbound links. You can pitch guest posts to sites and sharing remarkable community case stories. Ask a virtual assistant to create a list of the top bloggers/journalists in your scene. Spend time building relationships with each. Introduce them to the most remarkable stories and case studies in your community. Inbound links on big sites drive a sustainable number of members to your community.
  • Call for authors. Open up a weekly slot for an expert in a topic to publish a column/post. You can rotate the authors frequently or stick with the ones you love. Call for nominations. Task authors with publishing one item per month. You will increase their status, they get to post. Now you can post one less item per week.
  • Outsource basic tasks. Offload any tedious, repetitive, tasks (e.g. collecting data/reporting, welcoming, replying to bad quality discussions) to virtual assistants or other staff members.
  • Write down the community principles. It’s easy to get sucked into endless minor issues around a principle of the community that isn’t well established. Take the principles in your head and write them down into a page. Then reduce it to a paragraph. Then a sentence. Now, just 3 words. What are the 3 words that define your community? What makes this unique from anything else out there?

This isn’t comprehensive list. However, if you engage in just half of these, you’ll have find your community grows rapidly and you’ll feel less bored/stressed.

 

2) Optimising your existing activities. 

The second path is to do what we’re already doing, just much better.

Almost every task you do, from creating content to replying to a member’s e-mail, can be done better if you take the time to understand how. I’m going to tackle a few of these here.

  • Read outside of communities. Managing groups covers a range of topics ranging from e-mail marketing to personal influence. You can identify the top advice in each field and bring it into your work. For example, many internet marketers have mastered the art of getting e-mailed opened, read, and clicked. User experience professionals know what colours/font to use. There’s plenty more advice on conflict resolution and onboarding members too. Commit to becoming an excel in each tiny element of your role.
  • Resolve the emotion, not the question. Take a second to have an empathetic moment in every communication with every member. Some members truly do just information, but this will be the minority. Most people in most social situations want to experience some kind of connection. They want to feel listened to, valued, respected. You can be far more effective if you take a second to ensure you include that in every message.
  • Revamp/update your biggest attractions. Many members will arrive on pages which aren’t the landing page of the community. This will be the most popular items of content and discussions. Instead of continually creating new material, you can get far more mileage out of revamping old material. This might include using better keyword optimising, adding new facts to previous discussions, or simply releasing a new edition of a popular content item (authors do this a lot). Spend more time on your winners.
  • Use images of people in posts (especially social media accounts). Don’t use stock images of inanimate objects. Unless the image is truly spectacular it has little impact. Instead use images of people. Take photos of your next event and use images that match the expressions of different members. We empathise with people. Images draw us in.  You can prime people for the right emotions. On social media accounts, images also take up more space.
  • Tag people in discussions. If  you’re replying to a post or creating a discussions, tag the people you want to reply in it. Most modern platforms let you do this today. It notifies people and draws them in to post their own discussion. You also get to identify the experts early and ensure the quality of discussion is good from the beginning.
  • Add member opinions in content. When publishing an item of content, ask a member for their opinion and publish the quote in the article. More people will begin to read to see who was worth of being quoted.

If you can reduce the number of tasks you do, but do the core ones better, your community will grow rapidly. If you can test new ideas for long-term growth and participation, you will also find the community grows much better. All of which will help you get unstuck without spending a huge sum of money or time on platforms or marketing efforts you don’t need.

If you want to learn more of these sorts of tasks, we want you to come to our FeverBee SPRINT. This event is designed solely for community managers who want to get unstuck using the latest psychology. You’re going to learn from ourselves (and 16 of the world’s top experts) how to get into your members’ heads and use that knowledge to get more people to join and participate in your community.

I really want you there. Please sign up at http://sprint.feverbee.com.

Comments

  1. Nick Emmett says:

    Great article @richard_millington thanks for posting. some awesome tips that we should all look at how to incorporate into our workflow. I wouldn’t say we’re stuck at the minute, very much on an upward curve, but there are definitely areas I want o improve on and this will help greatly.

    Cheers

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