#TipTuesday: Community Value Cycle

eyork HLV Staff
edited May 23 in Talk Community #1

“If we build it they will come!” How often do we hear this refrain as community leaders and assume that our members will feverishly start posting to our forum? All too often and, in my opinion, this is a highly unrealistic expectation. While creating a community environment- digital or otherwise- for people is the first step, building a thriving community takes conscious effort and consideration from the host organization to be successful. Especially if you are launching a net-new community. 

User Behavior 

From what we know of user behavior, at any given time your community members are going to be consumers/lurkers/learners-  

Everyone has- what I call- a different “visibility threshold” - some of your users will be ready to start contributing off the bat: these are your Super Users, and you should be ready to leverage their enthusiasm for things like beta-testing and seed content. However, this is only a minority of your user-base (< 25%). Nobody wants to be “the first to house party”, so to speak. So it stands to reason that if there isn’t content supplied from other users regularly to consume, then where will the rest of that content come from? The answer: your organization, which brings us to something I’ve dubbed as The Community Value Cycle. 

The Community Value Cycle 

The Community Value Cycle* is based on the idea that different segments provide directional value as it relates to the community adjusted over time.  


*Not based on empirical data; these are purely anecdotal observations I’ve made working with hundreds of communities over the last several years. 

The Organization Adds Value – Point ‘x’ 

The impetus for Community Value starts at point ‘x’ with the organization. This is where coming up with a clear value proposition of your community comes into play. Having answers to questions like, 

  • What can our members get here that they can’t get anywhere else? 
  • How does our community differ from our website? 
  • Who at our organization can contribute & evangelize our community purpose? 

...will help drive the conversation for what types of the things the organization can provide to users using the community as the vessel to do so. We generally recommend creating a content calendar in batches so that there is a reliable cadence of a variety of consumable assets. Your team may be nervous about staff showing up in the community too much- this is a valid concern. However, the strategy of staff/organization presence in the community is a temporary tactic with the knowledge that the ultimate goal is to encourage peer-to-peer engagement over time.  

If we continue with the idea of a house party, point ‘x’ is where the host is expected to announce the venue, set up the space with seating, add an area for food and drinks, maybe even provide the sound system! Is it a party yet? No. But there’s potential, and we’re headed in the right direction. 


The Members Add Value – Point ‘y’ 

The time continuum between point ‘x’ and ‘y’ can vary greatly; it could take several weeks, it could take several months; potentially even years depending on the conditions of the community (eg- bandwidth of the community team, promotional efforts, user demographics etc). Generally speaking, over a period of time where user behavior is modeled regularly, members may begin to cross that “visibility threshold”, or point ‘y’.  

Users may become contributors by request (because you’ve personally prompted that behavior from them), out of need (getting a question answered), or out of a sense of pride (to share expertise), among other reasons. It should be noted that the diversity and transience of contributors varies greatly- check out this Super Forum presentation on Community Personas for more details.  

At this version of our house party we have guests bringing extra dishes to pass, people who are offering to control the playlist, and people having conversations in different parts of the house. The host still has to refill the punch bowl, introduce people to each other, and empty out the rubbish bins, but generally speaking this is where things start to run more smoothly from the groups’ energy. 

The Community Adds Value – Point ‘z’  

Point ‘z’ is really a magical place in a community’s lifecycle: it comes at a time where the community intrinsically has value based on all historical efforts from the community team and the community members. Now, instead of the value going from the outside-in (org adding content/ users adding content) the directional value is going from the inside-out (there is a wealth of knowledge within the community that can be distributed outwards). There has been a build-up of content, knowledge, and resources that most anyone who comes to the community could find something of value to them. 

However, this is not to say that the community team can "set it and forget it”. This stage of our house party has potential risks: there are too many people who maybe weren’t even invited, the next-door neighbors could submit a noise complaint, we’ve run out of potato chips.... you get the idea. Evidence to the contrary suggests that the larger a community gets- both in resources and in user count- the more thoughtful the community team should be about the user experience. It will be important for community leaders to streamline and optimize their “mature” community. Adjusting for, 

  • Search optimization 
  • Consolidating latent communities 
  • Creating a tagging taxonomy  
  • [Advanced] Gamification 

...can assist with member utilization and satisfaction of community at this phase of development.  

It Starts With You(r Organization) 

As much as we’d like to believe that our community users will “automagically” engage in the exact way we expect, that type of behavior is the exception, not the rule. Knowing that it will take the efforts of the [host] organization to “get the party started” can help set expectations with what “success” looks like, especially in the first year or two of a newly launched community. The efforts are worth it, but it will take time to reap what you sow. Community is a slow-burn, and setting those expectations to our Supervisors and Leaders from the start is the best way to ensure your “proof of concept” has a chance of succeeding over the long term. Because ultimately, don’t we all want a community that will stand the test of time?