Brenda Peterson
Brenda Peterson
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The majority of communities struggle to sustain high levels of activity in their communities. We typically only hear about the rampant success stories. It’s fun to believe that a community will just attract members and explode to life.

Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to happen. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, an understanding of why people participate in communities, some principles of activity, and a clear plan of action.

 Why do people participate in communities?

People participate in communities to satisfy their informational and social needs. The mistake most organizations make is they focus on the former and ignore the latter. The problem with the former is once someone has gained the information they need, they leave. Your challenge is to focus on their social needs.

To increase activity, you need to apply proven community building techniques. These techniques include content, moderation, relationship development, and events/activities. The best communities are able to use all four to sustain extremely high levels of activity.

Principles for high levels of activity

Before we get tactical, let’s cover some basic principles of successful activity:

  • Activity should be planned. Don’t wait for activity to happen by chance. Proactively drive the level of activity in your community. This means have a clear idea of what activity will take place when. Everything else is a bonus.
  • Good activity –vs– weak activity. Good activity is when members interact via discussions, blogs posts, or another medium where they can meaningfully share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with one another. Weak activity are poll votes, likes, clicks, and anything that doesn’t allow other members to know each other better. Focus on driving good activity.
  • Group identity. Communities with a strong group identity and sense of community also have sustained high levels of activity. If you can build a strong group identity, you will have high levels of activity.

Develop a community management plan

Put together a template community management plan that highlights what content, activities, and discussions will take place in your community over the next few months. Try to have some sort of sustained narrative or broad themes to cover. If you run the 50 Cent community and there is a new 50 cent tour/record coming out, then you might be planning 3 big discussions a week:

  • Monday: On a scale of 1 – 10, how would you rate 50 Cent’s New Album?
  • Wednesday: What’s your favourite song on the new album?
  • Friday: So who has tickets to see 50 Cent in {city?}

Then you might plan 2 online events that week. For example:

  • Tuesday: Live chat with tour manager (it’s not as hard to arrange these as you imagine).
  • Thursday: Community discussion of the week: Theme – best places to buy 50 Cent tour tickets

Then you might schedule regular content for example:

  • Monday: Interview with a community member
  • Tuesday: Community predictions for next 50 Cent album
  • Wednesday: Poll:What was the best 50 Cent song ever?
  • Thursday: 50 Cent crazy fan of the week…
  • Friday: Roundup of the week’s 50 Cent news
  • Saturday: Welcome the newcomers.

Note that the best content for a community is content about the community. You want content that involves you proactively going out there and interacting with members. Imagine yourself as a local reporter and the community being your local beat. Go out there and find stories about what your members are doing.

Now you have fresh activity taking place every day in the community. You’ve given members a reason to continually return and visit your community every day. You might need to individually nudge a few members in the beginning, but over time you will see it taking off.

Practical tips

In addition to having a great plan, there are also a number of practical tips you can implement to increase activity.

  • Remove the dead areas. The appearance of success is crucial. If you have posts with no replies, areas of the community that aren’t used, features that don’t get much activity then remove them. You want your community to appear as highly active as possible. This leads to…
  • Concentrate activity. Just because you can have blogs, pictures, chat boxes, groups (especially groups!), doesn’t mean you should. This dissipates activity throughout your community. This does a lot of harm. Initially you want to concentrate activity in as few areas as possible. For most communities, just a forum is enough.
  • Prioritize interactions over content. Too many communities prioritize content over interactions and then wonder why people come to read instead of participating. This is a mistake. Make sure the latest discussions between members occupies the key position in your community. The Rock And Roll Tribe does this well.
  • Highlight what’s popular. Social proof is a powerful thing. Members want to see what other members are doing. Make sure you highlight what’s popular in your community. If you have a popular discussion, turn it into a sticky thread for other members to see and participate in. Then send an e-mail out to members asking for their opinions/thoughts on the issue as well.
  • Highlight the contributions of members. Remember that members want recognition and the feeling they have influence over the community (or could have). If you regularly recognize the contributions of members (by name!) in content, blog posts, newsletters, e-mails, and discussions, you will encourage more discussions.

How to Increase Activity in Your CommunityRichard Millington is the founder of FeverBee Community Consultancy, The Pillar Summit Professional Community Management training course, and the author of The Community Management Manifesto, The Proven Path, and his newest book, Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, And More Active Online Communities.

We’re giving some books!

Want to hear more from Richard? Ning is hosting a free webinar next Tuesday, November 27th, 1-2pm PST. Show up and you’ll receive half of Richard Millington’s new book “Buzzing Communities” as a PDF download. Submit a great question and you could win a hard copy of the book! Please join us. RSVP today!

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Brenda Peterson

Brenda is Technical Specialist at Ning