The more valued a member of your online community feels, the more likely they are to stick around and get involved. Here are some ways you can make members of your community feel special.
1. Read, follow and comment on their blogs, Facebook page, Twitter stream, etc.
Community doesn’t exist solely within your community website. Your members have lives away from the community, too.
Keep in touch with them away from the community website. If a member has a blog, read it from time to time and leave comments if relevant/necessary. Talk to them on Twitter and Facebook.
2. Interview them.
I love seeing members of online communities being interviewed. It’s time consuming (but you can save time by doing these ‘interviews’ by email) but well worth the effort. Not only do your members get to know each other better, the interview subject will feel special about being chosen to be interviewed. It’s a big spotlight being turned their way.
3. Send them stuff.
Don’t send rewards based on activity in the community. You want to see members active and engaged because they’re passionate about the community – not because they want prizes and swag. If a valuable member mentions they like macadamia nuts and you happen to live in an area that grows them locally, send them a pack. It’ll cost you a few dollars, but they’ll remember the gesture forever.
4. Talk to them.
Sounds obvious, but too many community managers are busy talking to their community without talking to the members that make up the community. Have individual conversations – both within public discussion threads and privately, too.
When you’re a community manager, a lot of your matchmaking will take place ‘behind the scenes’ – don’t be afraid of that.
5. Talk about them.
Just as interviewing a member makes them feel special and valued, talking about them can have just the same effect. Don’t go crazy – you don’t want to show favoritism towards specific members. Just make sure you acknowledge the members that contribute great content or otherwise add value to the community.
The more you call out members for the good things they do, the more you’re shaping the culture of the community. You’re demonstrating what you want to see in the community by rewarding those that display the right qualities and make the right contributions. At the same time, you’re turning the spotlight away from the kind of behavior you don’t want to see.
6. Remember them.
When your community grows, it’s all too easy to forget those that helped it become a success. Never forget those early members, but at the same time, don’t forget the newer ones, either.
Obviously, you can run into problems with scale here. You don’t need to obsess over this – just remember things about members and mention them every now and again when relevant. Sometimes a spreadsheet with one or two important bits of information about specific members can be invaluable.
7. Ask about them.
If you don’t see a member for a while, ask after them. Drop them a line – make them know that you’ve noticed their absence. Make sure they’re OK. Get other members to ask after them, too.
8. Give them prestigious titles.
A common mistake is to give the superstars of your community moderator privileges. You should be choosing people that have the right blend of respect and maturity – this shouldn’t be a popularity contest.
Instead, give the superstars of your community unique titles, ranks or badges. Make sure they are marked out as special, and make sure the community knows why they’ve been marked out. They’ll often want the same treatment, leading to more of the kind of behavior and contributions you want to see in your community.
9. Give them responsibility.
This could mean moderator privileges, but I believe that if you can limit the number of people with administrator powers to you alone, you should.
Give members ‘responsibility’ over specific sections of your community. Give them tasks and objectives – put them in charge of recruiting new members (make sure they don’t spam). Set them a target of increasing the number of discussions about a specific topic, or of extending and rejuvinating existing discussions.
If they’re particularly active in a specific section of the community, consider naming it after them.
10. Give them an ‘in’.
Give a small number of members special access to you or important people within your organization. This could be a telephone number or email address that isn’t normally given out. Obviously, be careful to only give this ‘insider access’ to a select number of members that you trust, and that you feel your community really needs to keep hold of.
There isn’t much that’s more special than insider access.