Types of Community Growth

How you persuade new members to join a community isn't as interesting as why you are persuading new members to join a community. 

Making a community bigger won't necessarily make it better. In fact, evidence suggests that making a community bigger will decrease the level of participation. It gets noisier, harder to follow, and less personable than it used to be.

Think of the friendship groups you're in, perhaps even the successful communities you're a part of, would you like a flood of new members to arrive?

There are three types of community growth:

  1. Replenishment. Replenishment is the essential growth all communities need to survive. New members are required to replace departing members. On a long-enough time scale, all members will eventually leave.  New blood ensures the long-term survival of the community. Replenishment growth should have a clear target number (matching the average of those who go inactive from a community each month). In many communities, replenishment growth is organic.
  2. Expansion. Expansion is deliberate growth beyond current numbers. Early in a community, expansion helps reach a critical mass of activity. Expansion can also help the community adapt to a change in the broader eco-system (if the current interest is fading) or it might be driven by the ambitions of members to grow bigger or be seen in a certain light. Expansion should not be the default setting. Expansion should be used as a response to extraordinary (out of the ordinary!) events or activities inside or outside the community. Specific growth for a specific reason.
  3. Organic. Organic growth is growth which is not directly stimulated by the organization/community manager. This will usually be in the form of a referral or mention of the community in other popular channels. Organic growth is the ideal passage of growth.

Most organizations will ignore this and pursue their expansion plans regardless of whether it will affect member participation. You can worry about participation rates tomorrow, right? Which is true, except it's far more difficult to reinvigorate inactive members than keep members active altogether. 

You can make a community better without making it bigger. 

(Image: Growth, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from adselwood's photostream)

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