Every time I checked in with a newly launched running community, it seemed like there were more and more new people posting.
As a result, I found it harder to find my friends' latest run write-ups and even harder to reply directly to them. Speaking with other early adopters, they felt the same way, and we all eventually drifted out of the community's orbit.
It's natural to want your community to grow; indeed, a lot of community management strategies are based on increasing registrations and scaling upwards.
However, your early adopters may feel very different about growth as they watch their close friendship circles dissolve as more members join and begin posting.
A small and tightly connected community is very different from a large sprawling community, and often our business goals as community managers can be at odds with our member's goals.
Let's take a look at the problem and then the solution.
A new community is small and personal. Your early adopters will make friends fast by sharing their experiences and stories. They start to learn about each other and actively look forward to new posts and content. It's easy to keep track of the conversations and people in those early days when memberships are still in their infancy.
Before themes and topics drive your community, the primary reason your members return is to strengthen burgeoning bonds.
As your thriving community grows, more names appear, generating more posts and content. It can become harder to keep track of those personal conversations and friends. For those early adopters, it becomes overwhelming, and the feel of the community changes.
The key to growth is to do it with consideration and understanding by allowing your members to retain smaller friendship circles within the larger community. Think of these small circles as a secure basecamp your members will use to explore more of the community together.
How you structure your community can heavily influence member behaviour, so let's ensure you are set up for success.
Deciding how many forums to have largely depends on the size of your community. Generally, fewer is better; however, adding more when activity increases is recommended. Using the example of a running community, when you have few members, a single topic can be used to keep track of workouts; however, as membership increases, a dedicated forum where members can post and maintain their own workout log topic makes it easier for others to find specific member's logs rather than trawling through a long busy topic.
If you're in doubt, asking your community is always a great way to draw out real honest feedback and guidance on how to improve.
Creating a sub-community is a big decision. On the one hand, you syphon off discussion to areas outside the main community, but this can be an advantage if you want members to retain their smaller friendship circles. On the other hand, you may find an appetite for more niched discussion within your topic. For example, while your site may be based around road running, you may have a small group specifically interested in mountain running. Using a club allows them to follow that passion without altering the core purpose of your community.
Even though our own community is here to serve our clients, we have a health club where members can discuss health and fitness away from the community's primary aim
Using the robust follow and notification tools is an efficient way to let members know when a favoured member posts something new or a loved topic gets a reply. Make sure your members know how to set up notifications and the different ways to receive them, such as via mobile, email, or the community's bell.
Your members need not miss a friends update again.
Activity streams allow members to personalise their first point of discovery. In addition, the flexibility of the streams will enable members to choose which member's content to see and which forum's content to include in a single news feed style stream.
Giving your members the ability to customise which content they see when they first visit the community allows them to check in with their favourite areas before exploring the rest of the community.
Growing a community from a handful of people to tens of thousands takes a lot of planning. Unfortunately, it's easy to focus on just numbers and forget about the people behind them. However, aligning your business goals with your members' goals is critical when growing beyond your early adopters.
Setting up your community for success using our built-in tools will help your members feel comfortable as you grow.