Maintaining an online community takes patience and commitment. However, if you spend too much time launching new programs to the Your members rather than With Your members, you may find that your community is less than successful.
Relationship development is one of the best ways to spend your time in your community. The thing is, individual members are involved in online communities in different ways and therefore may prefer a certain type of relationship. It is helpful to know each type of member you can 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 you can identify and work with these five types of online community members:
- The lurker
- The social butterfly
- The critic
- The troublemaker
- The technology challenged
Note: These types are not mutually exclusive, and each member is likely to fall into several categories. The point is not to put each of your members into a group, but to get an idea of general behaviors and how best to interact with those behaviors. Really interesting communities have a variety of personalities and viewpoints. It is your job to celebrate these differences and offer your members different opportunities to engage with one another.
# 1: the lurker
You can mistake a lurker for an inactive member because they don’t seem to be participating on the surface. Some people prefer to watch the public interactions and participate through one-on-one interactions such as 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 distinguish between a lurker and an inactive member, and that is directly. Lurkers will likely respond if you ask them questions. So check if they need anything. Inactive members likely won’t reply, but your message can inspire them to come back or communicate why they’re not around.
TL; DR: Some people are perfectly happy to watch conversations, but the only way to know for sure is to ask them. Reach out to your ambushers occasionally and make sure they know how to contact you should they ever need to.
# 2: the social butterfly
Social butterflies don’t need an introduction – they love to be a part of things. They respond to most of the posts, enjoy reaching out to everyone, and seem to be always around. These are great members as they 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 use the content they create to show them that you see them.
# 3: the critic
Every typo, every change is analyzed and evaluated by the critic. You’ll notice even the slightest inconsistencies in the information you’re communicating. It’s easy to generalize the critic into a know-it-all or anger, but most of the online community who do this are friends, not enemies. If you take the time to communicate mistakes and missteps, 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! ”And go on. A reviewer’s feedback on policy or administrative decisions should be heard, acknowledged, and even considered. But it shouldn’t necessarily dictate what you do.
Dealing with the criticism: a common scenario
Here’s a common example I’ve seen in multiple online communities: Merging topics. In many cases, community members or an administrative team may want to create a new subject area. Before you know it, there are several subject areas with much less engagement than expected.
As a result, the admin team decides to consolidate rooms. This is likely to meet a number of responses, and it is likely that regardless of the critic’s personal opinion, they are indicative of the initial decision to create the rooms and question the decision-making ability of the administrative team. Probably public.
These situations can be … frustrating. Annoying even. After all, you have probably already invested some time solving the problem in order to reach a decision. However, the reviewer only says what others are likely to feel, and their feedback warrants a conversation beyond an announcement post. Why? Because your community members should be part of the steering committee. They are the ones 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 if it still makes most sense to do so.
TL; DR: Give the critic space to be heard and be transparent about your decisions, but don’t let their opinions guide each of your decisions.
# 4: the troublemaker
Loki has entered the chat
Every church will experience disagreements every now and then, but real troublemakers take the chaos to a whole different level. These members repeatedly test boundaries to see what they can get away with. Whether they have ulterior motives (like advertising and spamming), are real trolls, or just don’t have basic online etiquette and awareness, they all deal with it in a similar way at first.
You should have community guidelines and a moderation policy that you can use to redirect their behavior. Be clear and consistent with your moderation and allow them to participate in the parameters of your community. If they keep stirring the pot or dancing the line, continue with your moderation policy until they are completely removed.
TL; DR: Make your policies and moderation guidelines clear and enforce them. This will let your troublemakers know that you will not tolerate these behaviors and will make the rest of the community feel safe.
# 5: The technology challenged
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 as intuitive as the rest of us.
As a result, the tech-savvy member may look like a lurker when in reality they are just unsure how to use the platform. Without intervention, they can give up entirely and miss out on the community you have built. When reaching out to potential lurkers, you will find that they just don’t know where to start or how to get involved.
TL; DR: Be mindful of your members’ questions and problems and let them lead the creation of tutorials and help documents. Check your existing support documentation regularly to ensure relevance. After making major changes, contact tech-savvy members to make sure they are comfortable with how to proceed.
Effective community management requires versatility
Running a community takes constant work, and it is helpful 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. However, if this post mentions the option to email you privately, then you may be approached about it. Be kind to your public and private responses to ensure they are comfortable when you reach 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 that you have spent so much time creating for all of your member types.
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