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How To Keep Members For The Long Term

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

Look at this table.


It’s a systematic sample (every nth) of 100 members which made a contribution to the community 6 months ago. Of these, 37 were still active after two months, 21 were still active after three months, 19 were still active after four months, 19 still active after five months and 15 still active after six months.

Now look at the same sample only with the number of contributions on the X axis.


47 made six or more contributions, 31 made 11 or more contributions, 24 made one or more contributions, 11 made 21 or more contributions and just eight made 26 or more contributions.


You can see that the number of members that leave after three months is relatively low compared to the first three months.

Armed with this information, you can design a series of activities to keep a newcomer engaged for the first three months. In fact, you can design an entire process for newcomers to go through during the first three months.

Let’s use another example. Imagine that you notice members are vanishing after the third week. You might plan a ritual or some sort of graduation for members every third week of the month. You might write a post that mentions members by name, contains a few details about them, and gives them access to specific forums within the community platform.

You also want to collect anecdotal data on what types of contributions members who became regulars in the community made compared with those who left. What was the difference? Were there particular discussions that those who became regulars participated in at each phase compared with those who didn’t become members?

Can you place these contributions into categories? For instance, “self-disclosure discussions,” “status-jockeying discussions,” and “conveying information discussions.”

You can guide newcomers into participating in the types of discussions that are likely to keep them engaged in the community. In addition, was there anything else that regulars did which the drop-outs didn’t do? Did they complete their profile? Upload a picture of themselves? Submit a story? Have a discussion with a community manager?

The challenge here is two-fold. First, look at the members that joined 6 months ago (April 2012). List them by the date they joined. Divide the total newcomers of that month by 100. Then use that as the nth number. If you had 1000 members, it will be every 10th member. Now look at every 10th member of your list and see how long they remained active and how many contributions they made. 

This takes time, but it’s worth doing. 

By doing this, you should be able to see which type of discussions and activities helped members progress through each stage. Some of this is undoubtedly subjective, and part of it is sheer luck, but it should be possible to review 100 members and get a fairly good idea of what turns a newcomer into a long-term community member.

From here you can identify exactly where they drop out and design a series of interventions to keep that member engaged. These interventions might include:

  • Reminders/notifications. You might add or tweak your notification system. The notification system should be opt-out and remind members when there is a new response to their own contributions.
  • Guide to self-disclosure discussions/status-jockeying. Guide the newcomers into self-disclosure or status-jockeying discussions. Try to get members interacting in discussions in which they have an emotional stake and are thus likely to return frequently to see the responses to their own contributions. This helps create the habit of visiting the community.
  • Rituals/graduations. You might use a ritual/graduation for newcomers after they have made a certain number of contributions or been an active member for a certain period of time. This might be increased levels of access to the community, a detailed sheet of inside jokes, mentions in news posts, or a listing in the community history for that month.
  • Buddy systems. In mature communities, you may have an insider group or base of volunteers with whom you can develop a buddy system—members take responsibility for building relationships with newcomers and keep them active and happy within the community for the first few months.
  • Web reputation system. For mature communities, you can add web reputation systems, scoring/ranking systems that make an individual’s implicit reputation explicit. This motivates newcomers to increase their standing and existing members to continue participating to maintain their standing.
  • Events/activities. You might develop a series of events for newcomers to participate in—quizzes, beginner-level guides to the topics, or even in-person meetings for newcomers.
  • Newcomer threads/forums. In addition to newcomer threads and forums, you might also initiate threads solely for newcomers to ask questions regulars might consider basic (or even dumb). You might also write content about newcomers.
  • Cultural education. You can ensure newcomers get quality, positive, responses from their early contributions. Research shows that the initial response to a member’s first post is a major factor in whether the user will make a second response.
  • Provide ownership opportunities. One method to keep members engaged beyond the initial burst of enthusiasm is to facilitate opportunities for members to take ownership over areas of the site by writing a regular column for the community, conducting interviews, taking responsibility for responding to certain discussion topics. This should only be enabled after (x) months of membership, or after (x) contributions to the community (the figure should vary depending upon when members are dropping out of the community).

You can extend this process further, say from six months to a year, from members who make five contributions a month to those who make 50. Just remember that the goal is optimization of the process.

This is an edited extract from Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, And More Active Online Communities. Available from the links below:

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