Why Most Communities Fail, How to Make Yours Succeed
Communities are experiencing explosive growth at the moment, and almost half of all the online communities have launched over the past four years. COVID-19 accelerated this trend. As in-person events and conferences evaporated, there is now an increased need to find ways to connect with relevant and like-minded individuals. It especially applies to companies and brands, which find communities crucial for business success.
But the success of a community is far from guaranteed. In this article, we’ll explore why so many of them fail. The reason should be evident to anyone who has ever joined an online community: You discover a community of peers, and you are excited and start interacting, then join a couple more, and at one point, you disengage. It is because you fail to keep up with the notifications on all of your ten slack channels, and then you end up losing interest in the community that you were once passionate about. It happens to even the most enthusiastic and active members until the last message on your “community” Slack channel reads “3 weeks ago.”
Humans Naturally Form Communities
Before we explore further why today’s online communities are often short-lived, let’s take a step back and establish why we form these communities in the first place.
“A community is a group of people who share an identity-forming narrative.” ~ Toby Lowe
Toby Lowe’s definition of community suggests that we are looking for a feeling of belonging. It can be because of location, interest, shared experiences. In reality, these can be basically anything, as long as they have strong shared principles. For example, FyliTribe is a community for female founders, and their shared principle is providing support for female leaders. They create a space where women can share their stories, ask questions and learn from each other and the workshops organized by the community managers. For example, in their “Resilience to Rise” series, successful women talk about their experiences and share their learnings with the community. The guest speakers focus on three topics, which are relevant for the Fylitribe members: physical and mental wellbeing during the pandemic, running a business, thoughts about the future, and working from home.
The shared interest is the base of any community as it guarantees that members have something in common and can learn from each other and share experiences. A shared passion gets the conversation flowing and ensures long-term relationships and trust in the community.
Every member’s skills and experience are important to the community, but unfortunately, only a few share these. According to Higher Logic’s report, only 2% of all members are actually generating the content, especially in bigger communities. Harsh Gard, the manager of the SAP People, group of over 43K members on LinkedIn, confirms that less than 5% post content in the group. It is because many people don’t like voicing their opinions and asking questions due to the fear of rejection. What if no one responds, or even worse, what if someone has a different view?
So, What Causes Communities to Fail?
Many community builders start with a well-defined topic of interest and passionate members. However, even the most devoted members stop engaging even though the community seems to have everything for success.
There are several reasons for this.
- Lack of habit: members don’t build a recurring habit of engaging with the community because they become part of too many communities at once. It is similar to starting a strict diet and a daily exercise routine after months of procrastinating – you are attempting too much at once, thus setting yourself up for failure.
- Limited ways of encouraging members to participate: as described by the example of the SAP people group, the majority of the community is just lurking in case something valuable comes up, but they don’t contribute. It creates a Free Rider problem.
- Community fatigue: people join too many communities and feel overwhelmed.
Limited Monetisation Opportunities
You might be surprised by how little community builders get back from the community that creates much value for its members. Don’t get me wrong: there are monetisation options, but none really work, and here is why:
- Paid memberships
Many communities choose to set a monthly fee as they understand that their time is valuable. This also ensures that members who sign up are more engaged. However, this is more likely to decrease the reach and inclusiveness of the community.
- Online courses
Hosting online courses is a great way to engage members and also generate revenue for the community. The only problem is that Community Managers need to know what most of their members really want to learn and support them by providing high-quality instructors and materials. Failing to do so can result in under-attended courses, and the community might end up with a net loss.
- Paid events
Community managers spend weeks organising each event for their members, choosing speakers, organising catering and location (while accounting for COVID restrictions), and then no one actually turns up. The first event can be a major success, but with time people lose interest. COVID-19 has worsened this challenge as people interact even less with virtual events and are not willing to pay to attend these. It makes the profit from events very uncertain and sometimes even negative.
One way communities can monetise events is by recruiting sponsors. A long-term relationship with sponsors guarantees the financial stability of the community. When the sponsored event’s turnout is much lower than expected, the sponsors are not likely to return, putting the community in a volatile situation. Finding new sponsors is time-consuming, and with a bad reputation, very unlikely.
- Sponsored content
Advertising might sound like an easy way to generate profit. In reality, relevant ads and content require a lot of effort and research. Before putting a lot of effort into producing the sponsored content, community managers should also be aware that no one likes seeing ads; very few click on them and generate profit for the community, and the authenticity of the community might be at risk.
Lack of ways to quantify the created value
The CMX community managers performed a survey with over 500 respondents. Value quantification, engagement, and the amount of manual work are top-of-mind frustrations for community managers. Isn’t it shocking that close to 90% of respondents can’t quantify the value of their community? This is mainly explained by the fact that community managers spend a lot of time making introductions for community members but then they do not know the outcome of those conversations.
“I do a 1,000 intros a year, it’s totally out of control. I never sleep. It’s mad!” ~Anonymous community manager
Communities bring people together, who in turn start working together on projects and learn from each other. So, shouldn’t there be a straightforward way to track the community’s impact?
Towards a Solution
To find a solution, let’s run through the problems again. It’s hard to keep the members engaged; there is a lack of suitable monetisation methods; most of the work that community managers do ends up being manual; there is no clear way to quantify the impact on the community.
The first step is to solve engagement. The best way to do this is to build relationships within the community. 80% claim to join communities to network and meet like-minded people. Therefore, member introductions that create a lot of value for the members will keep the community top-of-mind and bring people back to the community ‘Town Square.’
Once the relationships are in place, they unlock new ways of monetising, such as crypto tokens, referral bonuses and bounties. An example of bounties can be a job opportunity posted on the community job board. Once successful, the employer pays a referral fee, paid out to the community and the person making the referral. As a result, the community becomes part of members’ general economic activities and, therefore, improves engagement while providing a source of revenue.
SuperLinked helps community managers start the journey to their financial freedom and reduce the need for tedious and manual work by providing a solution with the AI-powered matching tool for 1:1 conversations. These conversations build relationships and create trust in the community, ensuring high engagement and unlocking new ways of monetisation through bounties and referral bonuses. If you want to learn more about the solution, get in touch with us.
About the Author
Daniel Svonava built user models that power Youtube Ads, published original research, and holds patents in ML. Today, Daniel serves on a board of an NFT game studio and a creator economy startup. But most importantly, he is the CEO of Superlinked—a social infrastructure startup that helps platforms & communities create meaningful engagement for their users.