Too often, we treat communities as a homogeneous, single-minded, group of individuals all looking to satisfy the same motivations at the same time.
This isn't the case. Communities are complex organisms comprising of eclectic groups of people with varying levels of interest in the topic, different personality types, and means of participating within that topic. The goal of the community professional is to ensure each is as actively engaged in the community as they can possibly be.
If we can segment members effectively, we can develop specific messages solely to engage each individual group.
Most community professionals send the same messages to every member. This is a mistake. The majority of members receive messages that don't appeal to them and ignore all communications from the community (This may be a cause of participation inequality; we're only catering to the needs of a tiny group of members.)
Basic segmentation can use the two simplest metrics:
1) Date of registration. The date when the member joined the community.
2) Post count. Total number of contributions to the community.
Using just these two segments (how long they have been a member and how many contributions they have made), we can still develop segments to which we can cater our messages and activities.
These metrics are proxies for their level of interest in the community and whether they consider themselves veterans or newcomers.
A developer should be able to integrate mailchimp, salesforce, or your e-mail tool with the platform in a day to automatically create these segments.
If you're unable to do anything more complex, use this and send different messages to those with higher post counts and those that have been members the longest. Better yet, use this information in all contacts and relationship-building activities with members.
A better method is to develop segments within segments.
3) Number of contributions within the previous month. This shows you how active members currently are. This is a good indicator of how interested they are in this community at this very moment.
Your categories here are generally 0, 1 to 5, 5 to 29, 30+ for lurkers, casual participants, regular participants, and heavy users (more than 1 post per day) respectively.
This gives you a good idea of how interested in the community they are right now.
Far better, however, to identify members by either the types of activities they have engaged in or look at the individual needs of members.
4) Type of activity. The type of activity members have participated within should also be considered. This gives you a baseline to identify the motivations of members. You can look to see if they have participated in self-disclosure discussions when they joined, completed their profiles, attended key events etc…
5) Needs. The needs of members (power, achievement, affiliation) can also be used as a simple heuristic to segment groups. Using responses to a survey or simple task, you can divide members into 3 groups and cater your messages to appeal to them. Use an automated survey to automatically filter members into distinct groups.
Now you can craft specific messages to the specific needs and motivations of your community members. You can develop messages specifically designed to urge members to move on to the next stage of the community membership lifecycle.
Better still, you can create unique segments based upon members that are participating heavily and have clear alignment to one of the three needs highlighted above.
The most effective approach is to have several dozens of segments with each carefully catering towards the specific needs of members.
You should be able to fully automate the segmentation process based upon the activities of community members. You might even be able to highlight key forum categories (or keywords) that each member is more likely to participate in.
You can use these segments to craft specific messages to unique groups, ensure you're not overwhelming a community with messages, and conduct important activities (e.g. surveys).
Imagine how much easier it becomes to interact with a member if you can see their key needs, the motivation they need to advance to the next level, how long they've been a member, and how many contributions they have made to the community. You will be far more effective in every interaction you have with every member.
In the 10+ years I've been working in this sector. I've met about 5 community professionals who can design and implement a decent segmentation system. These people have the incredible power to increase the levels of activity in a community many times over.
This is the level we need to aspire towards. We can start at a basic level and get more advanced. You can learn how to do this for yourself (or sign up for the advanced module of our community mangement course).