As you learned long ago, water follows the path of least resistance.
Sure, momentum and external forces might temporarily drive water uphill or along a more circuitous route, but the principle remains true.
This is true of your community members as well. Members follow the path of most convenience (or least resistance) to achieving their goals.
Similar to momentum, they might go along with the crowd and follow trends at times, but over the long-term, they pursue the path of least resistance (time and energy) to achieving their goals.
This increasingly matters for managers of hosted communities because members are far less likely to visit an external site outside of the flow of their existing habits today. The resistance is just too strong.
Worse still, well-intentioned security requirements (e.g. two-week cookie limits on remembering passwords, two-factor authentication, forced changing of passwords every month) are greatly adding to this resistance.
One of the major forces shaping the new era of community building is the ‘convenience first’ principle. In the majority of cases, convenience greatly trumps any emotional connection to the brand or a community. If your community is the most convenient place for members to satisfy their desires, that’s where they will go.
This has three big implications.
First, you need to be measuring the effort score of members (often via a pop-up poll or survey). This question can be as simple as:
“On a scale of ‘very easy’ to ‘very difficult, how easy was it to achieve your goals in the community today?”
Second, you need to ruthlessly prioritise activities that improve your effort score. This means removing as many features/groups/content/discussions which are no longer providing value.
Finally, be honest about the times where you can’t match the convenience of other channels and integrate or link to those channels instead. It’s better people visit your site to find where to go than avoid your site altogether.