Planning For Member Types in Online Communities

With any community, online or offline, you’re going to have member types.  The two member types talked about most often are lurkers and active users.

Earlier this month there was a great post on the vBulletin blog about stickiness factors in forums. The post touched on the psychology of different member types. However this post drills deeper and comes back with three distinct types.

Post author Jasper Aguila cites Wikipedia when breaking down the three member types. I wasn’t able to find the information myself when searching Wikipedia, but despite that, the information is good.

  • The Reciprocation Theory infers that a successful online community must provide its users with benefits that compensate for the costs of time, effort and materials members provide. People often join these communities expecting a sort of reward, whether it is physical or psychological.
  • The Consistency Theory says that once an individual makes a public commitment to a virtual society, they will often feel obligated to stay consistent with their commitment by continuing contributions.
  • The Social Validation Theory explains how people are more likely to join and participate in an online community if it is socially acceptable and popular.

While these are presented a theories, for our purposes, they can also be considered member types that can be planned for in the development of any online community.

Here’s how to plan for them:

Reciprocation Theory: The user needs the community to suite his or her needs first and foremost. Design and aesthetics aren’t as important to them. When building your online community, think of them when you step back and determine ease of use.

Consistency Theory: The user that needs to be part of a community that is welcoming but also has an established meritocracy wherein the most active users feel a sense that their contributions matter, and that if they went a day or a week without posting, someone would notice. Consider establishing a hierarchy of users, whether it’s via status or accomplishment, e.g. 100 posts means you’re a Friend, 150 means you’re an Expert, and so on.

Social Validation Theory: The user needs to be part of a community that is vibrant. They’re here for the information and the connections, but if the community began losing members, or the posting dropped off, they’d be among the first to sign off for good. Ensure that your community has a promotional plan in place, whether it’s on other networks, via Google ads, or any other form of marketing.

These are just a couple of ways to plan for different kinds of users in an online community. Do you have any additional tips? Leave a comment and let us know!