Taking Care of Your Best Community Members

User participation in content creationOnline community builders love to toss around gross numbers – twenty thousand members, two million posts, and so on. Amid all the statistics, it’s important to recognize that all community members aren’t created equal – some are a lot more prolific. In Why Users Create Content, we cited a McKinsey research brief, How companies can make the most of user-generated content. In addition to offering reasons that explain why users post content, the report also included interesting data showing that a small number of users are responsible for creating the bulk of the content on most community sites.

As shown by the graphic, at major social networking, file sharing, and other Web 2.0 sites, a mere 5 – 10 of the users create at least half and sometimes almost all of the content. In essence, one out of every ten or twenty members are responsible for creating most of the utility of the site. The challenge for community operators is to recognize these prolific contributors and keep them happy without ceding control of the direction of the community to them. What are some simple things a community operator can do?

1. Display level of contributions. Just about every kind of community software has the capability of displaying how much a member has added to the community – i.e., the number of posts, photo uploads, thread starts, files shared, etc. Be sure this is visible.

2. Recognize tiers of contribution. Another common software feature is to automatically “promote” members to new titles as their participation increases. This is a surprisingly powerful motivator for some people – I’ve seen forum members make a bunch of inane posts just to get rid of their “New Member” designation or to make the leap to “Senior Member.” Others are oblivious to this, but I think it does make sense to recognize big contributors with a different title or class.

3. Grant special privileges. I’ve seen communities which automatically grant more privileges and power as members hit various levels of contribution – these range from small things, like being able to report problem content, to giving them limited moderation powers. Other possibilites are access to private content areas, file upload ability, a bigger avatar, etc.

4. Swag. Many communities may not have a business model that allows this, but sending members a t-shirt or mug when they hit an important level of contribution would certainly help cement the site’s relationship with that member.

5. Personal recognition. Sometimes, the best reward is a quick, personal note to a member letting him know his contributions are noticed and valued. As an admin for multiple communities, I know how hard it is to find time for this, and I always feel I could do a better job of it. But as a member, I’ve always appreciated receiving a note like this. Take the time to type a quick private message or email when you see a great post, upload, etc. from a prolific member – it can make all the difference. Posting publicly can be good, too; a bit of public praise can go a long way.

A big challenge looming for all Web 2.0 sites is that these valuable members have many more venues to create content now than a few years ago. Yesterday’s lengthy and insightful thread-starting forum post may end up on the member’s blog today. A product review site may have to compete not just with other review sites, but with reseller and distributor sites, the product maker’s site, and just about any other venue where the product is sold, discussed, or mentioned. The moral: pay attention to the care and feeding of your best community members!

Feel free to add your own ideas for taking care of your best members…

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