The Community Growth Paradox

Once a brand community starts to really grow, the number of high-quality interactions shrinks.

Newcomers with less experience, passion, or commitment sign up in droves. They skew the questions towards newcomer issues. This results in top members leaving, followed by the next bunch and so forth.

This is sometimes known as the evaporative-cooling effect.

Over the long term, most organizations find themselves with large communities filled with members asking average-level questions and getting average-level responses.

You might have a few experts, perhaps those incentivized by some unique access or rewards, but most people have moved on.

This is the natural result of trying to grow as big as possible. It’s also the best argument against it.

To attract the most people, you need to cater to the average member. But to attract and keep the smartest members, you need to cater to the smartest members. Top members in almost every field usually want the same things:

1) A private area. They want a private place where they can interact and engage with others at their level. Today this largely happens in WhatsApp groups no-one else can see or find. Newcomers can join only by the invitation of an existing member.

2) Impress their peers. Top members want to impress other top members. This means raising the standards for content so getting an accepted submission is a badge of honour (many journals do this today).

3) Identify new opportunities. They want access to unique opportunities (especially work opportunities) which others don’t have access to. This can also include invites to events hosted by the brand etc…

This doesn’t have to be a completely binary choice. Big doesn’t have to be bad. However, if you want top experts to stick around, you need to cater to their needs more than the average member.

You need to enforce tougher moderation standards, make having an article or post accepted as a badge of honour, and provide support for them to have private meetings and discussions.

It’s harsh to tell average members their contributions weren’t good enough, but it’s what keeps the signal to noise ratio high enough for top experts to stay.

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