Maintaining an online community takes patience and dedication. But if you spend too much time focusing on introducing new programs to the your members instead With Your members, you may find that your community is not thriving.
Relationship development is one of the best ways to spend your time in your community. The thing is, individual members get involved in online communities in different ways and therefore may prefer a certain type of relationship. It is helpful to know each of the types of members you will find in your online community so that you can best serve all of your members and ensure a thriving community.
In this post, I’m going to talk about how to identify and work with these five types of online community members:
- The lurker
- The social butterfly
- The critic
- The troublemaker
- The tech challenges
Note: These types are not mutually exclusive and each member is likely to fall into several categories. It’s not about squeezing each of your members into a group, but rather getting an idea of common behaviors and how best to deal with those behaviors. Really interesting communities have a variety of personalities and views. It is your job to celebrate these differences and offer your members different ways to connect with each other.
# 1: the lurker
You can mistake a lurker for an inactive member because, on the surface, they don’t participate. Some people prefer to watch the public interactions and participate through one-on-one interactions like direct messages or in smaller private groups. This is different from inactive members who don’t visit your community regularly.
There is often only one way to differentiate between a lurker and an inactive member and that is to contact you directly. Lurkers will likely answer if you ask them questions, so stop by and see if they need anything. Inactive members are unlikely to respond, but your message can inspire them to come back or let us know why they’re not there.
TL; DR: Some people are happy to watch conversations, but the only way to know for sure is to ask them. Drop in on your lurkers occasionally and make sure they know how to reach out to you if they ever need it.
# 2: the social butterfly
Social butterflies don’t need an introduction – they love to be a part of things. They respond to most posts, enjoy reaching everyone, and seemingly always around. These are great members who can help keep your online community alive. They can be tempting to rely on to keep your community going, but don’t rely on them too much. If they feel like an unpaid intern or are pressured to post a lot, you run the risk of losing them as an active member.
TL; DR: Prioritize a relationship with your most active members. Value the time they devote to your community, ask them for feedback on your ideas, and get involved with the content they create to show them that you see it.
# 3: the critic
Every typo, every change is dissected and evaluated by the critic. You will notice even the smallest inconsistencies in the information you are communicating. It is easy to generalize the critic to a know-it-all or a nuisance, but most of the online community who do this are friends, not enemies. Taking the time to communicate mistakes and missteps means they will be invested in your community.
Other community members will either love or hate a reviewer’s behavior and watch you interact with their public feedback. A good rule of thumb is to show gratitude when the reviewer points out a mistake: “Oh, nice catch. Firmly! Thank you very much! ”And continue. Critical feedback on policy or administrative decisions should be heard, acknowledged, and even considered. But it shouldn’t necessarily dictate what you do.
Dealing with critics: a common scenario
Here’s a common example I’ve seen in multiple online communities: merging topics. In many cases, community members or an administration team may want to create a new subject area. Before you know it, there are several themed rooms with a lot less engagement than expected.
It is for this reason that the admin team decides to consolidate areas. This is likely to meet a number of reactions and it is likely that regardless of the personal opinion of the reviewer, they will point to the original decision to create the rooms and question the decision-making ability of the admin team. Probably public.
These situations can feel … frustrating. Even annoying. After all, you have probably already spent some time solving problems to make a decision. But the reviewer only says what others are likely to feel, and their feedback warrants a conversation that goes beyond an announcement post. Why? Because your community members should be part of the steering committee. They are the ones who have invested enough to care about what happens. Have an open discussion about the proposed change, with the caveat that you can stick to your decisions when it still makes most sense.
TL; DR: Give the critic the space to be heard and be transparent in your decision-making, but don’t let their opinion dictate your every decision.
# 4: the troublemaker
Loki has entered the chat
Every church will experience disagreement every now and then, but real troublemakers take chaos to an entirely different level. These members repeatedly test boundaries to see what they can get away with. Whether they have ulterior motives (like ads and spam), are real trolls, or just lack basic online etiquette and awareness, they all deal in similar ways at first.
They should have community guidelines and a moderation guideline to help redirect their behavior. Be clear and consistent with your moderation and allow them to participate within the parameters of your community. If they keep stirring the pot or dancing the line, continue with your moderation policy until they fully deserve the removal.
TL; DR: Make your policies and moderation guidelines clear and enforce them. This will let your troublemakers know that you don’t tolerate these behaviors, and the rest of the community will feel safe.
# 5: the tech challenges
Most of us who are interested in digital communities are pretty tech savvy. We know how to get around and solve problems, especially on a community platform that we use every day in our business. However, this is not the case with all of our members. Some don’t find learning a new platform to be as intuitive as the rest of us.
As a result, the technically challenged member may look like a lurker when in reality they are just unsure how to use the platform. Without intervention, they may give up altogether and miss out on the community you have built. When approaching potential lurkers, you may find that they just don’t know where to start or how to get involved.
TL; DR: Be aware of your members’ questions and problems and let them guide you as you create tutorials and help documents. Regularly review your existing support documentation to ensure relevance. And after big changes, get in touch with tech-savvy members to make sure they’re comfortable with how to proceed.
Effective community management requires versatility
Running a community takes constant work, and it helps to have an idea of what type of members you have so that you can best serve them. Most of your members act like more than one of these types mentioned, so don’t be too quick to categorize them. Instead, keep asking for feedback and giving your community some ways to communicate with you. A lurker may not respond to a public post asking for feedback, but if that post mentions the option to email you privately, they can address it to you. Be kind with your responses, both public and private, to ensure they are comfortable reaching out to you in the future.
One of the best ways to serve your larger community is to model friendly interactions, even in tense situations. This will no doubt help protect that sense of security and community for all of your types of members that you have spent so much time on.
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