Sometimes new members do find their way to your community. Sometimes they do invite their friends. Sometimes you don't need to do much work to make this happen.

It's probably not a good idea to bet your client's fee on 'sometimes'. A better approach is to think of tactics and a process to stimulate growth.

Here are a few ideas to grow your community from existing members.

  • Ask members to invite friends. Very simple, often overlooked. Doesn't always work without a reason, though. 
  • Keep score of top recruiters. If a member gets 5 friends to join, reward them. If they invite 10, give them a super reward. Better still, keep score and reward the best each month. If each new member helps you generate a profit, share it with whoever recruited them.
  • The "share this" page. Whenever anyone adds content, use the confirmation page to let them tell their friends. Maybe by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or by sharing it on their blog/delicious etc.
  • Encourage Pride. Related to the above, tackle a sin (pride, wrath, greed). e.g. Imagine you run a poetry website and a budding author is criticised, encourage all authors to get their friends to support them.
  • Competitions. Competitions work, especially ones where the winners are decided by popular vote. This means participants rally their friends and colleagues to visit and get involved. Be sure to keep these newcomers involved.
  • Give members something for their friends. Empower members to become super-popular in their social circles. If you run a wine community, offer a bottle of wine to every friend of who joins.
  • Share the wealth. If there are points, air miles, or any sort of currency involved, let members share it. Let people give their air-miles to people taking a trip soon. Let everyone try to beat the system.
  • Provoke debates between popular groups. If you say Arsenal are rubbish, I'm going to say you're wrong. In fact, I'm going to rally my friends to get involved and say you're wrong. Many blogs and news sites are thriving by provoking political debates. Find the major issues in your community and explore them.
  • Birthdays and celebrations. If someone's in your community, it's a safe bet they care. So let them create a birthday list page of products they might want from your company, and offer their friends discounts/bonuses if they buy from that page (remember to get their birthdays, too). Amazon and JustGiving do this well.
  • Interviews. It's no surprise when you interview someone, they're likely to get their friends to read. So keep these newcomers in your loop, at the end of the interview ask them to participate in a poll on a topic that came up during the interview, or discuss the interview in the forums.
  • Appoint recruiters. Find the true believers in your community, and put them in charge with recruiting new members. It's like outsourcing your marketing, only to people who love to do the work.
  • Delegate Jobs and Ownership. Let the people who want to be more involved, become more involved. Give them part ownership, maybe even establish a little democracy (with voting, of course). The more they feel in control of the community, the harder they'll try to recruit friends - and election season will swell the community quicker than any natural force of nature.
  • Make membership exclusive. Why not close membership and instead only let each member nominate 1 person per month. Imagine 100% growth every month. Even better, why not 1 member per 3 months, or year? 100% growth every year isn't bad. Scarcity is great.

Some of these ideas overlap, some ideas are missing. What great ideas do you have?

(Image: Child Tending Broken Baby Seedling free creative commons, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from D Sharon Pruitt's photostream)

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