Communities go through recognizable life-stages as they grow. As a community manager, you need to be aware of them so that you can predict and prepare for the community’s needs in each stage. If you’re building a community platform, knowledge of these stages will help you figure out what tools you need to build each new community in each stage.
Douglas Atkin of MeetUp, AirBnb, and the Glue Project has provided a great outline of this cycle and has broken down each period into more detail. I will briefly describe each stage, but be sure to follow the link provided for Atkin's take on it all.
This is the stage where your community isn't exactly a community yet. You are slowly starting to build relationships with members and should focus your energy on making sure these relationships are fruitful for both sides. Take this time to really understand your users while you have the time, and listen to them. Users often teach community managers much more about the community than you'd ever imagine!
Your goals are to:
- Define the purpose and goals of the community.
- Focus on recruiting contributors who can quickly fill the community with desirable content and make connections.
- Make the community appealing by showcasing content with photos, video and activity!
- Make new members feel welcome
- Encourage interaction between members
- Avoid the ‘empty restaurant’ syndrome by encouraging activity and showcasing it on an activity feed and by showing a rising member count.
Now your community is taking off! Organic growth is happening because existing members are recruiting others and the content is growing and making the community look useful and active. So you need to promote less but manage the relationships more.
There’s a growing sense of group identity that should be celebrated! You'll have inside jokes, group stories, etc, and they're all being documented right there in your community.
- Tools for members to recruit others (sharing!)
- Strong sense of group identity
- Member-management dashboard and metrics
- Member blogs/Newsletters
You're really moving now :) Time to recruit a larger management team! It’s also time to offer more sophisticated interaction as people have formed friendships and want to interact (think better messaging tools.) Now is also the time to anticipate spawning (it's not a bad thing!) Poll the members to see if they want to form sub-groups or local groups.
This stage is characterized by:
- Rapid organic growth
- Strong identity
- Sophisticated interactions
- Potential for spawning into sub-groups
LATE MATURITY AND SPAWNING
At this point the community is large enough for you to encourage spawning to maintain those strong relationships you had when the community was much smaller. Atkin warns that you may be getting tired and a little burnt out. Don’t worry, it’s normal. You've worked hard :)
What characterizes this stage is:
- It’s likely to spawn smaller communities that maintain a sense of intimacy
- You will have to anticipate this by identifying those needs by forming sub-groups!
Exciting stuff isn't it? Let's get growing!