Building an online community is incredibly difficult. In fact, it's insanely hard for most websites to do. That's why sites like Reddit sometimes game growth by creating thousands of fake accounts. For most companies, it's a slow, slow process.
Creating a thriving community is a lot like becoming a full-time gardener. To encourage growth, you're pulling weeds (spam), watering (commenting and interacting with other members) and toiling hour after hour in the hopes that the sun won't burn up what you've carefully created (lack of income). Oh, and you have to do this every day, over and over.
That's why it's imperative that you spot the "power member" in your community. This is the person who's sending frequent emails with ideas to improve the community. They're frequently sharing unique information and interacting with other members.
In short: They're waaaay more engaged than almost every other member of your community.
As Good As Gold
I believe that a power member is worth 1,000 regular accounts. I'd much rather have a single power member than 1,000 email addresses of tire-kickers sitting in my database.
In fact, this was the topic of a conversation I recently had with my Gentlemint co-founder, Brian Mckinney. We've found that a few key members on our site are worth their weight in gold, working almost as hard as us. They invest almost as much time and energy as we do, which helps make our jobs just a little easier.
If you want to find and hook the power members of your community, there are a few things we've learned that might help:
If you're running a community site or a blog, odds are you've already singled out your power members. On Gentlemint, we locate our power members by such factors as how often they post content to the site, how often they comment (and what they say) and how many or what kind of emails we get from them.
In truth, locating the power members in your community is pretty easy. But locating them isn't enough. Power members can often be created—they just need a push to completely become full-on community monsters.
Now listen up, because here's where most people stop. You've located a few power members. Don't get passive now! The critical step in creating a power member is to engage them. Reach out to them on social networks, email, comments—however you can—and have a conversation with them. Thank them for what they're doing, and ask how you could do a better job. And, above all, make it personal. Don't send a stock email. Tailor it to that particular member.
This is one of the hooks that makes all the difference. A personal touch goes a long way in a world of stock, pre-filled messages. I can't tell you how many times I've had people say how great it was that I was responding and not some employee, bot or automated email.
So now this member of your community has had a conversation with you, and you've got their attention. This is when you empower them. Give them some responsibility, accolade or some other distinction that lets them know you trust them.
This might mean making them a moderator in your forum or comments. It might even mean you give them direct access to you when they have questions or suggestions. (Oh, and be sure to respond.) All of these things show them that you trust them. And when people are empowered and know that others trust them, they step up their game and start engaging on a whole new plane.
While thanking could actually be part of the engaging process, we've found that taking it a step further and publicly thanking our power members is even better. On Gentlemint, we'll post a featured member's profile picture in the sidebar of nearly every page.
A massive turning point in the direction of Gentlemint was when we decided to do anything in our power to make sure we publicly appreciated the power members on our site. And guess what? Their already high engagement on the site went even higher. Appreciation is powerful stuff. Actually, if you take anything away from this article, it should be this: Publicly thank the people who put out the most effort on your site.
We've found that the power members on Gentlemint are almost like extensions of us: They're reporting spam quicker than any algorithm, encouraging other members and posting the best content. Find these people within your own community, and empowering them will be the biggest indicator of success that you'll have.
“Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have.” ~ Margaret Mead
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